By Hansa Bhargava, MD
WebMD Medical Editor
As the vaccine debate spurred by the recent measles outbreak in California continues, we’ve been hearing about doctors who “fire” their patients. Some say they won’t see unvaccinated children. Is this OK? What about the parents’ rights or beliefs?
I recently treated two unvaccinated children. One, a 5-month-old baby, came in with a high fever that had been going on for two days. He was also lethargic and not feeding well. His worried mom told me something was “not right.” Because the child did not have his vaccines, we had to perform blood tests as well as a lumbar puncture (a spinal tap to test the fluid around the brain) to check for meningitis. He was admitted to the hospital that night for a possible blood infection and treated with antibiotics.
In another case, a 10-year-old girl came in with a cough that had been going on for five weeks. When I said she might have pertussis, or whooping cough, her father became visibly alarmed. We tested her and put her on antibiotics. The father then told me that they had a newborn at home. He asked if the baby could get pertussis, too. Sadly, I informed him that the baby was at high risk. Newborns or young infants who get pertussis also have a high chance of being hospitalized, having apnea (stopping breathing) and even death. At that point, the baby was already exposed. The baby ended up being hospitalized for whooping cough.
Unvaccinated children in a waiting room can expose newborns and babies who are not fully protected to serious diseases, such as measles or pertussis. They can also expose immunosuppressed children, such as kids on chemotherapy or those with chronic diseases who are more susceptible to illness.
Unvaccinated children who travel to another country may themselves be exposed to measles or other diseases. Unvaccinated adults who get diseases generally have much more severe cases.
As a mom of two children, I understand that vaccines can seem overwhelming. Doctors recommend many shots in the first two years, and it can be hard to watch your child get them. But as a pediatrician, my job is to protect your child and everyone else’s. Measles, pertussis, and pneumococcus infections are highly contagious and can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, meningitis, and death. It seems we’ve forgotten how serious they can be.
Vaccines are studied and researched thoroughly before they are approved for children. As a doctor, I understand why other doctors would not want unvaccinated children in their waiting room. I also know how upsetting it is to see a patient get seriously sick from a preventable illness.
As a pediatrician, it’s my duty to make sure a child stays healthy and does not get a preventable illness.
As parents, let’s make sure we do our duty too. Let’s make the choice to protect our children.
Editor’s note: Please note that comments go into a moderation queue prior to posting. Comments that are in violation of WebMD terms and conditions will not be approved.
Terms and conditions can be accessed here.