The current U.S. measles outbreak is causing providers and pediatricians in particular to consider how they should talk with parents about vaccinations.
Kaiser Permanente Southern California plans to contact 140,000 households via robo-calls to urge parents to get their children vaccinated against measles, as one example.
Illinois providers are taking a variety of approaches to the issue. Adopting a hard line, one pediatrician at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Ill., will not accept patients whose parents are opposed to vaccination, the Chicago Tribune reported. “I think it's malpractice not to immunize,” he said.
But others, like a pediatrician in Skokie, Ill, just outside of Chicago, said he leaves it to parents to decide whether to vaccinate their children. “When you respect their right to disagree, they are much more likely to get it, because they trust you,” he said.
Another suburban Chicago pediatrician, at NorthShore University HealthSystem, takes the middle ground, discussing the facts about vaccinations with parents. But he also said, “We are uncomfortable with kids in our practice who are not vaccinated.”
Any provider who plans to have the measles vaccine discussion with parents should keep in mind the growing skepticism from a sizeable contingent of the American public relative to what professionals view as scientific and medical fact.
Recent Pew Research Center research found wide gaps between what the public and scientists think on issues ranging from the safety of genetically modified foods to climate change and even fracking for oil. The short summary of their findings: What scientists take as fact, the public does not.
As one proof, voices from the anti-vaccine movement have not been cowed by the current measles outbreak, the New York Times reported recently.
Can such voices be reasoned with? Can they see the greater good of vaccinating enough of the population to prevent widespread occurrences or even measles epidemics once again sweeping the U.S.?
If not, what is the duty of providers to limit the number of unvaccinated children they treat out of concern for the well-being of their other patients who could come in contact with the unvaccinated?
Providers who haven't considered such questions will now very likely have to, as the measles outbreak continues to capture headlines and parents choose their sides in the vaccine debate.
Follow John N. Frank on Twitter: @MHJFrank