Vaccine Refusal Tolerated by Many Doctors, Survey Says

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As the anti-vaccine movement has grown over the past decade, there's been a lot of talk about doctors "firing" patients who refuse to immunize. The notion has fed an "us versus them mentality," says Seattle Children's pediatrician Douglas Opel. He's hoping his just-published article will dispel that mindset.

The article, which came out yesterday in the journal Pediatrics, reveals the results of a survey of about 200 pediatricians across Washington state. The vast majority--77 percent--indicated that parents "sometimes or frequently" asked to deviate from the recommenced schedule of childhood vaccinations.

Opel, talking with Seattle Weekly, says the findings confirm just how common it is to have doubts about vaccines come up in doctors' offices, particularly in this state. As we reported in our cover story last June, Washington has the highest rate in the country of children entering kindergarten without one or more recommended immunizations.

Perhaps more surprising is Opel's finding that 61 percent of surveyed pediatricians declared themselves comfortable with using an alternative vaccination schedule.

The attitudes of these docs could reflect regional differences. Previous reports about firing patients came out of the East Coast and Midwest. Last month, for example, a Missouri doctor released the results of his survey of 900 Midwestern doctors, finding that 21 percent had dismissed patients for refusing vaccinations. The alternative medicine community went apoplectic at such "intolerance," as an article in Natural News put it.

Opel says he'd like to see his survey diffuse some of that tension by getting the message out that most pediatricians want to work with families, whatever their doubts are. Plus, he says, his findings show that doctors are making distinctions between vaccines. Three of them--including one for pertussis, which has had outbursts in this state--are considered more important than others.

Yet, Opel concedes that the survey does not suggest that everything is kumbaya. Nearly 40 percent were not comfortable with delaying vaccinations. That's a sizable number. Could they, perhaps, be firing their patients? "We don't know," Opel says.

And whether doctors here are tossing out patients or not, the gulf between what most physicians believe (vaccines are a godsend) and what diehard vaccine refusers contend (vaccines are harmful and the product of a fascistic industry) is still very wide indeed.

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