A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal noted, "More doctors dismissing patients who refuse vaccines for their children." This story was especially interesting to me, as I now only accept new patients who plan to vaccinate their children.
This was not an easy decision to make, and prior to formulating the policy, I had encountered several families who refused vaccines completely, and another group that followed "an alternative" vaccine schedule. I was never comfortable with their decisions, and it always gave me pause and sleepless nights when their children got sick.
At the height of the debate over vaccine safety, when fear was mounting over a possible link between vaccines and autism, it seemed like much of my day was spent "debunking" vaccine myths. I spent a great deal of time discussing the reasons behind the AAP/ACIP (American Academy of Pediatrics and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) recommended vaccine schedule and explaining how vaccinations have saved millions of lives.
As more data was gathered, and the conclusions of a 1998 paper on the topic by Dr. Andrew Wakefield (and colleagues) were discredited, it became apparent there is, in fact, no link between vaccines and autism. The arguments about thimerasol in vaccines also became moot, as thimerasol is no longer the preservative used in vaccines (except for flu vaccine). I decided to take a stand and vaccinate all new patients according to AAP guidelines.
I discuss this decision with families even before a child is born. I tell them it's important to pick a pediatrician who shares their beliefs, as the doctor-patient relationship is a long one in pediatrics (hopefully cradle to college). Even if there may be some other disagreements down the road, you need to begin the relationship on common ground.
I've practiced long enough to remember doing spinal taps in my office and treating children with meningitis or bacterial sepsis. There were long nights spent in the ICU with families, and unfortunately, a few patients died. Some are now deaf or have other residual effects of their diseases. Each case was devastating, and I'm sure the families of every child who perished would have given anything to have a meningitis vaccine or a chickenpox vaccine for their youngster.
I understand that all parents have to make their own decisions for their children. At the same time, I get to choose how I practice pediatrics. That being said, my parents choose to vaccinate their children and we happily start off the parent/doctor partnership together. I also sleep better at night not worrying that their children will contract a vaccine-preventable disease.
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show.