I just responded to a New York Times “Armchair Ethicist” chat about pediatricians who refuse patients who don’t fully immunize. I realized my comment on their site belongs here on the blog. (my comment is number 79 but also copied below).

What do you think about pediatricians who refuse patients who don’t follow the AAP schedule? Do you disagree with me? Would you be more comfortable seeing a pediatrician who refused those families who chose not to immunize to protect your children? Have you, or someone you know, ever been kicked out of a pediatrician’s practice?

I’m a pediatrician (w a master’s degree in bioethics) and mother to 2. I will always keep my practice open to vaccine-hesitant families. However, the waiting room risk (unimmunized kids & risk to vulnerable populations–ie infants, those too young for vaccines, and immunocompromised children) is a good one and the only compelling reason to close to patients who refuse immunizations in my opinion.

But it’s not a good enough reason for me to send families away who have questions and hesitations about the AAP/CDC schedule. All children deserve a pediatrician versed in immunization benefit/risk & deserve an expert in conversation w their parents to foster insight & understanding. Frankly, if waiting room risk is the concern, there are ways to create separate waiting rooms for kids “up to date” and kids who are not.

Great thing is, only about 10% of families use alternative vaccine schedules. In a recent Pediatrics article, only 2% of families who used alternative schedules refused all vaccine altogether. So although this is a large issue in pediatrics and parenting, the majority of families do vaccinate on time or nearly on time. I don’t want to lose sight of that.

I practice in WA State. We lead the nation in exemptions for vaccines (over 10% of kids w exemptions vs only 2% nationally) and have recently put into place a law that requires families to consult with a health care provider prior to an exemption. It was designed to avoid exemptions out of convenience. This hopefully opens up the opportunities for discussions with parents & pediatricians!

We all want the same thing: healthy children, healthy communities. Fostering conversation and diminishing a context of “war” or opposition about immunizations is an important step. In my experience, most parents end up immunizing their children over time even when they start out as refusers. The group of full refusers is fairly small. So allowing all kids into my practice feels like a great opportunity.