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One in five pediatricians reject unvaccinated patients

Some doctors blame patient pressure because they are concerned their children will be exposed to dangerous diseases.
By Stephen Feller   |   Updated Nov. 3, 2015 at 12:54 PM

DENVER, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Slightly more than one out of every five U.S. pediatricians has dismissed families because parents refused to vaccinate their children, according to a recent study.

The American Academy of Pediatricians advises against turning families away for nonvaccination, but doctors have come under pressure not to treat children who have not been vaccinated because of recent communicable disease outbreaks -- especially the measles outbreak at Disneyland in California.

Although some states allow for philosophical refusal of vaccination for religious or other non-health-related reasons, the number with this legal loophole will drop in 2016 from 20 to 18 states. Vaccination itself is not required by law, however children must receive certain vaccines in order to attend public school unless they have an acceptable health reason to not be vaccinated, such as a compromised immune system.

"I'm hearing the practice [of refusing care] has become more common, particularly in California, following the outbreak," said Sean O'Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado, told HealthDay. "Parents say, 'I don't want to take my child to a clinic with non-vaccinators and expose them to risk,' so there is parental pressure on some pediatricians."

Researchers conducted a national survey of 815 pediatricians and family doctors between June and October 2012, asking questions about providing vaccinations, prevalence of parental refusal, how often they dismissed patients for refusal, and their state's philosophical exemption policy.

Doctors reported it is relatively rare for parents to refuse vaccinations; 83 percent said 1 percent or more say no in any given month and 20 percent said 5 percent or more of their patients refuse.

When parents refuse to vaccinate their children, 51 percent of doctors require them to sign a form showing they refused, and 21 percent of pediatricians and 4 percent of family doctors said they "always" or "often" dismiss the families from treatment at their offices.

Of the pediatricians who dismiss families, they were five times more likely to be in private practice and four times more likely to be from the South, or a state without philosophical exemption options.

In addition to some doctors having concerns about treating people who have such a difference in opinion about something like vaccines, the researchers said concern for other patients also drives doctor push-back against anti-vaccination parents.

"For these physicians, what I'm hearing them say is they strongly feel not immunizing their children is such a great risk that they're taking a stand," Dr. H. Dele Davies, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases, told the Chicago Tribune. "They may be reflecting their sense that, if you don't want to do this, I don't want to expose my other patients to potential risk."

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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