10 Pediatricians on What They Really Think About Parents Who Don't Vaccinate​

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With all the hubbub over measles in the air, literally, many are wondering: how do doctors and pediatricians feel about parents who don't vaccinate their kids? We're not talking about what pediatricians say to patients' faces, but what they'd say if they could set their professionalism aside and give their honest, no-holds-barred opinion.


Well, it turns out doctors have some pretty, er, strong things to say! And since they're in the trenches fighting for our kids' health and have seen it all -- the good and the bad -- when it comes to vaccines, here's what they want you to hear:

  1. Why do these parents visit a pediatrician at all?
    "As a pediatrician I spend a lot of time and effort explaining why vaccinating children is both important and safe. Unfortunately, some parents choose to base their vaccination decisions on something other than scientific facts or someone other than a medical professional. I often wonder why these parents even bother to take their kids to the doctor? If I’m not being truthful about vaccines, why trust my medical expertise at all? It’s really sad, because the kids ultimately suffer, not the parents." -- Mark Patton, MD, a pediatrician in Avondale, AZ
  2. It's unfair to your kids and your community
    "I think it's ridiculous for a parent to listen to a celebrity's opinion over a well informed physician who has the research to back his or her point, and find it unfair for a parent NOT to vaccinate their kids. It could impact not only their child, but others in the community. I've strongly counseled parents in my practice to vaccinate their offspring, and have discovered that parents who harbored an attitude against vaccination usually didn't understand the complete magnitude of their decision, and often changed their stance when it was presented in a logical, well thought out manner, eliminating emotion from the argument. My medical partners and I often discussed how to handle the rare situation when a parent categorically refused. We decided to advise them that their decision was counter to what we strongly believed as pediatricians and perhaps they would be better served finding a medical practice who condoned their beliefs. I respect any parent's right to raise their child as they wish, but some decisions don't make rational sense: where would we be as a society if no parent opted for the polio vaccine? I think many have forgotten that diseases like measles can a serious and at times deadly disease." -- Michael Howard, MD, pediatrician in Tampa, FL

    More from The Stir: Quiz: How Much Do You Really Know About Vaccines?

  3. These parents are putting their kids' lives at risk
    “While I empathize with parental concern over safety, parents should vaccinate kids because it prevents real disease in children like pertussis and measles that lead to real morbidity and mortality. I tell parents that in my opinion they are placing their child at significant risk by not immunizing their child and that the risks of not immunizing significantly outweigh any perceived benefits. Because I practice at a public hospital we are not allowed to refuse care to families that refuse to be vaccinated. I still see and treat these patients and their families and try to convince them that immunizations area good thing. In my community it is not uncommon for practices to refuse to treat families refusing immunization." -- Pat Bass, MD, a pediatrician in Shreveport, LA
  4. These parents don't understand how good they've got it
    "The problem with vaccinating children is, it’s worked. Our Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had polio, a disease we don’t worry about any more because the polio vaccine was successful. We can prevent illnesses that still ravage under-developed countries. I wish parents could see just how devastating or debilitating measles, whooping cough, polio, and other preventable diseases are to kids, particularly babies. I really hope we don’t have to have children die to convince us." -- Harry Broome, MD, a pediatrician in Phoenix, AZ
  5. I can understand why they're scared
    "Like many pediatricians, our office has a policy that we may ask a parent to find another provider if they absolutely refuse to vaccinate their child. However, that doesn't mean that we don't work with vaccine-hesitant parents who choose to follow a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule. Many of these parents are scared about misinformation they have read on anti-vaccine websites, in message boards, from 'vaccine-friendly' pediatricians, or from friends. You couldn't print how I feel about the folks who spread anti-vaccine propaganda, but I don't often blame parents for allowing it to scare them." -- Vincent Iannelli, MD, a pediatrician near Dallas, TX
  6. They're conspiracy theorists
    "If parents tell me they don't want to immunize, I have a discussion with them, and I find out why. And usually if I spend the time and talk to them about risks verses benefit in terms that people can really relate to an understand, usually they come around. For instance, I try to talk about relatives risks: for measles, the risk of a reaction to a vaccine is about one in a million. The risk if your kid gets measles of ending up in ICU on a ventilator is one in 200. Still, if parents still decide not to because it's an emotional issue for them, I tell them they'll need to find another provider, because I can't risk exposing other patients in my practice to these diseases. I would hope that they would want to understand the actual basis behind immunization, and not give in to rhetoric and conspiracy theories. The science has been out there a long time." -- Clifford Selsky, MD, a pediatric oncologist in Winter Springs, FL
  7. I'm okay if they don't vaccinate
    "While we strongly recommend vaccines for ALL our children, with about 96 percent of our parents complying, we respect our parents' decisions and will continue to see them. BUT we never miss an opportunity to remind them how important it is to immunize their children." -- Stephanie Kong, at Zöe Pediatrics in Columbus, GA
  8. Parents need to do no harm
    "Doctors take an oath to 'do no harm.' Parents should too. When parents decide to not vaccinate, their children can become sick and infect others too -- babies, older folks, etc. I am hopeful that parents will understand this and do the right thing." -- Fred Shulski, Jr., MD, a pediatrician in Phoenix, AZ
  9. They'd change their position in a heartbeat if measles becomes widespread
    "Right now, measles is still rare enough that parents feel safe having their kids unvaccinated. But I guarantee you that I this measles outbreak gets to the point that thousands of kids were getting it and kids were dying, these parents would be running to their pediatrician to get vaccinated." -- Gerald Rakos, MD, Chair, Department of Pediatrics and Medical Director at Cohen Children’s Institute at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT

    More from The Stir: Pediatrician's Viral Rant Slams Anti-Vaxxers for 'Magical' Beliefs

  10. The risks of vaccines are way overblown
    "Many years ago there was a claim about risks of the vaccine. These specific claims have since been proven to be exaggerated and untrue. Unfortunately, this incident has led to today's confusion and spread of the disease. In particular, I strongly recommend the MMR vaccine. It’s important to note that this virus is extremely contagious. Unvaccinated children and pregnant women are particularly at risk. Patients must weigh the risks and benefits of vaccinations; and the benefits usually outweigh the risks, which is why recommendations to vaccinate are supported by the CDC. The vaccine is clinically safe and can protect your loved ones and others from this very contagious virus." -- Pat Basu, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Doctor On Demand

What does your pediatrician say about vaccines?


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