1 in 5 pediatricians refuse to treat unvaccinated children, and even cease to offer their services to the family, a recent study published on November 2 in the journal Pediatrics has shown.
Research was conducted by a team of experts led by Dr. Sean O’Leary, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, affiliated with the University of Colorado Denver.
A questionnaire was intended for 815 pediatricians and family doctors, in 2012, and 66% of the participants filled in their answers.
It was determined that occasions when a parent refuses to provide a child with proper immunization are actually rare: approximately 83% of the physicians believe this only happens once per month or so.
Also, 63% estimate vaccine refusals occur monthly among 1% to 4% of the parents, while 1 in 5 doctors believe such rejections are common for 5% of their clients.
On the other hand, although these instances may be highly infrequent, they have major consequences, which are frowned upon by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
More precisely, after hearing of the parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their infants, around 4% of family doctors and 21% of pediatricians decide to stop providing their medical services to the family.
This practice is 4 times more prevalent when it comes to children’s physicians from the South or the Northeast, or from regions that don’t allow vaccine exemptions based on philosophical, conscientious or personal beliefs.
Moreover, such decisions are approximately 5 times more frequent for pediatricians who are part of a private practice than among those from HMOs, public or university hospitals.
“For these physicians, what I’m hearing them say is they strongly feel not immunizing their children is such a great risk that they’re taking a stand”, explained Dr. H. Dele Davies, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases.
Doctors decide to take this controversial decision also so as not to expose other patients to the risk of contracting a dangerous illness.
In order to keep their clientele healthy, they think it’s best to dismiss patients who might act as potential sources of a contagious disease, which could spread among customers who haven’t yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
This also occurs due to parental pressures, since highly-publicized cases of major health crises, such as the Disney measles outbreak, have raised awareness about the risks of being alongside pockets of non-vaccinated kids.
Moreover, children’s doctors place great emphasis on the importance of immunization, so disagreeing with parents on this crucial topic leaves them unwilling to maintain the physician/patient relationship. They believe that having opposing views can only lead to conflicts in the long run, so they prefer to nip the collaboration in the bud.
Sometimes, they only threaten that they will stop providing medical assistance and treatment, in an effort to persuade parents to change their minds about this vital component of their children’s health.
In certain occasions, this strategies employing intimidation are proven successful in boosting vaccine uptake, and eventually the kid receives the necessary immunization, as the family’s reluctance is subdued.
It’s unclear exactly what happens to families who aren’t willing to renounce their fears and hesitations regarding vaccination.
According to Dr. Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, denying these people treatment is an abusive measure, and family doctors are strongly deterred from resorting to such actions.
In fact, as the study had shown, these medical practitioners are 5 times less likely to stop providing their services to those who reject immunization, probably due to the fact that they also treat other members of that family as well.
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