This could get families to give another doctor a shot.
Four in 10 parents said they are “very” or “somewhat likely” to bring their child to a different pediatrician if they learned that their primary care physician also treated families who refused to vaccinate their children, according to a new national poll from the University of Michigan. What’s more, three in 10 think their child’s primary care doctor should ask anti-vaxxer parents to find another health provider.
The vaccination debate has spread for the past several years, with an increasing number of parents delaying or refusing to vaccinate their kids over religious reasons, personal or philosophical beliefs, and safety concerns — such as a widely discredited and retracted 1998 study that suggested a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. As a result, the number of kids under age 2 who remain unvaccinated has quadrupled over the past 15 years.
The danger: Unvaccinated kids are at risk of contracting these highly contagious and sometimes serious diseases — such as measles, which has seen U.S. cases spike to the highest level in 25 years. And these children in turn can expose infants who are still too young to get the vaccines, as well as pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
“Parents may assume that when they take their child to the doctor, they are in a setting that will not expose their child to diseases,” wrote study author Sarah Clark, MPH, from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. “Parents may not have considered that there could another child in the waiting room whose parents have refused all vaccines.”
Turns out, many pro-vaccination parents weren’t happy to hear that.
Researchers surveyed 2,032 parents with at least one child under 18 about their views on how health practices should treat kids who haven’t been vaccinated.
And four in 10 parents (43%) said they would want to know if there were other kids at their child’s primary care office whose parents had refused all vaccines. If unvaccinated kids were being seen, 12% of parents said they were “very likely” to switch doctors, and 29% said they were “somewhat likely” to do so.
Parents in this study were also split on how to treat children who haven’t received any inoculations. More than one in four (27%) said unvaccinated children should wear masks in the waiting room to protect the most vulnerable patients; 17% said that unvaccinated children should not be allowed to use the waiting room at all. But 28% felt that their doctor’s office should allow unvaccinated children to continue receiving care, with no restrictions.
“When a family refuses all childhood vaccines, it puts providers in a challenging position,” wrote Clark. Her report concludes that, “primary care providers need to think carefully about whether to institute policies to prevent their patients from being exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases, and then communicate those policies to all patients in their practice.”
But parents should also be proactive about asking their children’s doctors about their immunization policies. More than a third of parents (38%) weren’t sure whether their child’s primary care office had policies around treating unvaccinated children, however. Thirty-nine percent said their provider required children get all of the recommended vaccines, and 8% said that children at their primary care office were only required to get some vaccines. Just 15% said their doctor’s office had no policy at all.
Some states are also cracking down on parents who don’t vaccinate their kids. New York eliminated a religious exemption to vaccine requirements for schoolchildren in June, joining California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia, among others. Last spring, New York City ordered mandatory vaccinations in four Brooklyn zip codes where many members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community were at the center of a measles outbreak. There are fines of up to $1,000 for noncompliance.
The CDC estimates that vaccines prevent 322 million illness, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths, at a net savings of $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs.