Bloomberg News

Doctors Reluctant to Treat Unvaccinated Children, Study Shows

October 20, 2011

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- More than one fifth of pediatricians stopped treating children whose parents refused to have them vaccinated, according to an online survey of doctors in nine U.S. states.

Such denials run counter to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and should prompt a discussion about how doctors handle the issue, authors of the survey said in a presentation to the 49th Annual Meeting of the Infections Diseases Society of America in Boston.

“Pediatricians are starting to recognize that having unimmunized patients in their practice puts other patients at risk when they congregate in the waiting room,” said Christopher Harrison, director of the infectious disease research laboratory at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri, in a telephone interview. “They’re conflicted and the data shows this.”

The vaccines parents most frequently refused or delayed were MMR shots against measles, mumps and rubella given to children about age 1; the HPV or human papilloma vaccine given to adolescent girls to prevent cervical cancer; and influenza shots given to children of all ages, according to an online survey of 909 pediatricians in nine states in the U.S. Midwest.

Doctors reported that parents’ most-common reason was fear of autism linked to a vaccine preservative and concerns about side effects. More than 95 percent of the physicians said they tried to educate families about the risks and benefits.

Discharged Patients

Overall, 21 percent of pediatricians said they discharged families who continued to refuse to vaccinate their children, said Thomas Tryon, lead author and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.

Doctors’ practices varied dramatically by state, however. Minnesota doctors, who saw the highest number of families refusing to vaccinate their children, discharged them less than 1 percent of the time. In contrast, Iowa doctors saw the lowest number of families refusing vaccines, but reported discharging them 38 percent of the time, the survey found.

“The goal would be to develop state specific programs to support clinicians who administer the vaccines and to educate the public,” said Harrison.

--Editors: Adriel Bettelheim, Bruce Rule

To contact the reporter on this story: Carol Eisenberg in Washington at ceisenberg1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adriel Bettelheim at abettelheim@bloomberg.net


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