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Wellness Corner April 2015 - Anti-Vaxxers - by Dr. Gary Pace

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Wellness Corner April 2015
Anti-Vaxxers -
by Dr. Gary Pace

by Dr. Gary Pace

Lately, the intensity of the media discussions concerning non-immunizing families has disturbed me. At the risk of inflaming an already over-heated discussion, I want to offer my perspective on this contentious subject.

As background, I have worked as a community clinic doctor primarily in Sonoma and Mendocino counties for 20 years. During that time, we have given thousands of immunizations. While providing conventional care, I have studied natural medicine, and many of my teachers have been skittish about vaccines, if not downright opposed. Lastly, my daughter got most of the recommended shots because of our plans for international travel, but on a modified schedule. 

In my experience, most people who choose not to vaccinate are not “ignorant” or “selfish” as so much of the media coverage seems to imply. Rather, they are well-informed, concerned parents wanting what is best for their children. 

Vaccine Risk 

Much of the disagreement centers on the perceived risk of vaccines. The medical community asserts that they are safe—hence, there is no reason not to give the Hepatitis vaccine on the day of birth (despite very low risk of the illness) because there is no downside to receiving it. Research supports this perspective, and most medical authorities will staunchly defend it. 

Alternative voices express the nagging doubt that injecting a biologically active ingredient into a baby’s body has the potential to cause problems. Concerns about the limitations of scientific studies are widespread, especially since we are bombarded by so much medical research funded by pharmaceutical companies. These critics cite the rise of auto-immune and neurologic issues in children as the numbers of immunizations given have increased. I personally have seen a few cases of autism that strikingly correlated with the administration of a vaccine and raised questions in my mind, despite the multiple studies finding no statistical relationship. 

Currently, I suspect there is a spectrum of vulnerabilities across a population of people. Most kids will have no problem with a vaccine, but some appear to have unique sensitivities that can lead to a bad outcome. Our current research models aren’t nuanced enough to identify these cases, and we lack the technology to figure out who these people are beforehand. A parent may understandably wonder if their child could be one of these vulnerable children, especially when they have never experienced the disease they are protecting against. In their eyes, the risk of the vaccine is greater than the risk of the illness.

Working with Families 

My strategy when counseling parents on vaccines depends on their overall perspective to healthcare. If they want the routine shots, then the discussion is pretty straight-forward: they get the vaccine information sheets, a brief discussion about possible side effects, and the child receives the vaccines on schedule. With families that express concerns about immunizing, we go through the pros and cons of each individual shot. 

In my experience, almost all parents are interested in the best outcomes for their children, and in some way, they employ a complicated risk/benefit calculation when making these types of decisions. For example, polio is no longer found in the Western Hemisphere, thus the individual risk is very low; a public health concern still exists for this devastating disease, hence the rationale for giving it. But if there is any risk from the shot, that is higher than the risk of actually getting polio at this point. Similarly, the measles discussion has recently changed because it was essentially eliminated in our society except for a few intermittent outbreaks. Now with cases popping up, the risk/benefit ratio has shifted, and most parents are paying close attention to how this outbreak unfolds, and many are reconsidering previous decisions.

Conclusions: 

There are clearly public health concerns when families choose not to immunize against certain diseases, but shutting down discussions of risk and demonizing these concerned parents does not bring us any closer to a consensus. Aiming for a supportive, respectful relationship between health provider and patient is an important goal, and it will likely help this complex societal discussion. 

Wellness Corner - Dr. Gary Pace