A team of pediatricians from three major Chicago medical centers surveyed more than 300 of their colleagues around the country about their attitudes toward vaccine refusal. Slightly more than half of pediatricians said that in the previous year they had encountered at least one family that refused all vaccines, while 85 percent said they'd had a parent turn down at least one shot.
More surprising to the authors were two findings: 39 percent of those surveyed said they would consider turning away a family that refused all shots -- researchers had expected the number to be about 20 percent -- while 28 percent said they'd think about severing a relationship with a family that refused some shots.
My sister-in-law has three little kids, the most beautiful, healthy-looking kids I know-- Gerber babies, all of them. None have been vaccinated. I don't know if they ever see an M.D. When they're sick, they visit a chiropractor/naturopath/kinesiologist. On a daily basis, they take an array of herbal and homeopathic preparations.
Shortly after she had her first kid, my sister-in-law had an illness that doctors were unsuccessful in helping her overcome. I'm not sure about the details, but the important bit is that a friend got her to try a wheat- and gluten-free diet, and it made her feel a lot better. She read books like "The Yeast Connection" and got connected, in part via the internet, to a network of people who were skeptical of the traditional medical establishment. She became a devotee of applied kinesiology, bought a Chi Machine, started using magnets.
It used to make me crazy. I couldn't believe that she'd dedicated her life to quackery, that she'd entrusted the health of her children to people who defied science. I was furious when she'd send emails and links to articles about how Nutrasweet causes MS or how supplement-and-diet-book peddler Dr. Mercola considers interferon drugs for MS "a waste of money." These days, though, I'm more or less over it. We do not live in an age of reason. For whatever reason, people distrust science and the authority it claims. A Gallup Poll in February of 2005 found that about half of all Americans think "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." This is apparently one of the things that my sister-in-law is teaching her kids.
Now, it's a free country and you're free to believe pretty much any kooky thing you want. But isn't there a public health problem lurking here? Don't we all have an interest in maximizing the number of people receive vaccinations? What about the dreaded bird flu pandemic? What if a significant number of people refuse to follow science-based advice? More generally, as a practical matter, in our health care system, don't we all run the risk of paying for the consequences of bad health advice?
Which takes me back to the article: apparently, if you're a parent who refuses vaccination, you run a significant risk of being "fired" by your doctor. What do these docs think are the likely consequences of terminating these people? I'll venture a guess that a refusnik parent who's been fired by her pediatrician is more likely to explore so-called complementary medicine, more likely to venture further and further from science. Is this desirable, from a public health perspective?
Link to WaPo article.