Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Colorado in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a study in Pediatrics evaluating how frequently parents are requesting alternative vaccine schedules and how pediatricians are responding to these requests (Kempe A, S T O’Leary, A Kennedy, et al. “Pediatrician Response to Parental Requests to Spread Out the Recommended Vaccine Schedule.” Pediatrics, Volume 135, April 4, 2015).
The authors found that, in a typical month, 93 percent of physicians reported that at least some parents asked to spread out vaccines. Most physicians (87 percent) thought that delaying vaccines put children at risk for disease. This means that 13 percent didn’t think that delaying vaccines increased the period of time during which children were susceptible to these diseases or didn’t think that this delay mattered. Not surprisingly, most (74 percent) agreed to spread out vaccines at the family’s request, arguing that it was important to “build trust with the families.” Not surprisingly, 40 percent reported that this issue decreased job satisfaction.
It’s tough to be a pediatrician these days. On the one hand, it’s hard to carve out enough time during a busy day to address each of the concerns parents have about vaccines, especially since providing reassuring information often doesn’t reassure the parent. So it’s understandable how physicians can give in to these requests. Also, if a physician asks the parent to leave the practice, where do their patients go? No doubt into the arms of physicians who are willing to delay or eliminate vaccines or to chiropractors who might not support vaccines. On the other hand, as more and more parents delay vaccines for their children, the waiting room becomes progressively more dangerous. Indeed, this is exactly what happened during the 2009 measles outbreak in southern California, where the physicians’ waiting rooms were one of the sources of spread.
Sadly, the only thing that seems to educate parents who hold misguided notions about vaccine side effects is the reemergence of vaccine-preventable diseases. The recent measles outbreak being a case in point. It’s a shame that it has to come to this. That it takes children’s suffering or hospitalization to wake us up to the notion that delaying vaccines is a dangerous and unnecessary game that we play.