Today's USA Today story on the increasing trend of vaccine refusal shared some interesting information, but fell short of actually providing useful or workable answers. The article cites a new CDC study that showed in 2003 only 22 percent of parents refused or delayed a vaccine for their child, whereas in 2008 this number soared to 39 percent.
For many years I believe the CDC has been trying to hide the fact that more and more parents are refusing or delaying vaccines. Why? Because if compliant parents hear that their neighbors or friends are questioning vaccines, they might start to think, "Hmm ... maybe I should begin to question vaccines as well. I think I'll start doing some research and educating myself about vaccines instead of just taking my doctor's word for it."
And this story tries to sugar-coat the issue as well, stating that "parents in 2008 had more opportunities to delay shots than they had five years earlier" because three new vaccines have been introduced. I don't by it. This implies that some children aren't receiving all their vaccines because some vaccines are new. I would look at it differently: More and more parents are beginning to question the vaccine schedule -- not just the new vaccines, but the manner in which so many are being given at a time. This trend has nothing to do with the new shots. Compliant parents wouldn't even question new shots anyway. And they wouldn't even be aware that their baby is getting a new shot because they wouldn't even ask. Again, the CDC doesn't want those parents who are being good little patients and getting all their shots, no questions asked, to start wondering why more and other parents are refusing.
Then the story turns to the measles epidemic that has "ravaged" the country. While measles can occasionally be severe and cause a fatality, the fact is that measles has remained the same in our country over the last decade -- about 100 to 150 cases each year, with NO increase and NO fatalities! If the CDC is going to convince parents to stop questioning vaccines, they'll need to come up with some better arguments than that.
Hey, I know! How about some new and expanded safety research! The only way non-compliant parents are going to stop worrying about vaccines is if we can give them the type of safety research they want: large-scale, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled, long-term research. So, 20 years from now we'll have that research. But what do we do in the meantime?
Here's what the AAP says to do in their official policy (found on page eight of the Red Book, sitting in every single pediatrician's office in the country):
• Treat these parents with respect
• Listen to their concerns
• Clearly discuss the importance of vaccines and the risks of the diseases
• If the parents remain non-compliant, the doctor can serve these patient's needs by (and I quote) "developing a schedule of immunizations that does not require multiple injections at a single visit."
• "Continued refusal after adequate discussion (I continue to quote) SHOULD BE RESPECTED."
The number of physicians who actually follow the AAP's advice is dismally small. I've been creating a growing list of Vaccine Friendly Doctor's on my website who WILL listen and respect these patient's wishes and who will provide an alternative vaccine schedule for patients who want to vaccinate differently. But it's slow going. I just don't understand why the AAP would even bother making such a policy if they won't try to get their members to follow it.
Dr. Offit and many other physicians like him who believe we should NOT provide alternative schedules are actually MAKING THE PROBLEM WORSE. By kicking these patients out of their office and refusing to vaccinate these patients in a manner they will comply with, these doctors are leaving such babies unvaccinated. On the other hand, sometimes these doctors DO manage to talk (bully) their patients into starting their little two-month-old babies on the regular schedule. Most of these parents end up leaving such a doctor and going somewhere else.
In my humble (but outspoken) opinion, the ONLY way to increase vaccination rates in our country at this time is to provide alternative approaches that worried parents will feel more comfortable with. The PR campaign that the AAP and CDC are launching probably won't do a thing. That's because the campaign doesn't include new safety research. It isn't saying, "Hey, look America -- we've proven vaccines, and the schedule by which we give them, are perfectly safe!" Instead, it's saying "The diseases can be bad (which they can), so everybody get in line!" I just don't think that's going to work. That's using scare tactics, not education. By adopting the AAP policy of providing alternative schedules, more and more doctors can serve their patients and keep the vaccine-preventable diseases at bay.
Dr. Bob Sears