A new mom walks into her pediatrician’s office for a first visit. The mom expresses concern about immunizations. She’s seen so much on TV about the dangers of vaccination, even causing autism, and has found information on the Internet that newborns shouldn’t receive so many shots at once. Then, she pauses and asks the doctor what she thinks?
Most of the concern today regards the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). A study, which has now been discredited, linked the vaccine to autism.
In her more than 22 years of private practice, Audrey Rogers, M.D., has had to calm fears about immunizations a few times. Dr. Rogers understands the hesitancy of a new parent because of all the misinformation out there, but her primary concern is the health of the children she treats.
“A lot of people tell me, I’m not sure if I should get my child immunized,” Dr. Rogers said. “But then you educate them and let them know the facts, and most of them understand and say, ‘Oh, OK. I get it now.’ The only reason we immunize is to treat these awful diseases. Most people have not seen a case of measles. I have. About two or three years after I started practice there was a measles outbreak here and one of the sickest kids I have ever seen, covered in this awful rash, came into my office. He was so sick, running a 105 degree fever. He was just miserable. It was awful. The 105 temperature lasted at least a week. That’s what can happen if you aren’t immunized. Kids really can die and there is really no treatment once the child contracts the disease for that either, except supportive care.”
Shortly, after that patient came into her office, children began receiving booster shots for MMR. Because of vaccines, the impact of many diseases that were common as recently as 20 to 50 years ago have not been seen recently and people have stopped being as afraid of those diseases as they once were.
“People aren’t scared anymore,” she said. “In the 1950s, people were scared of polio and they were lining up to get the vaccines because it was so scary. It’s been decades since anybody’s gotten polio in the United States. Polio caused permanent paralysis and during the acute phase, patients needed ventilation. No one knows what an ‘iron lung’ is any longer. Those things are hard to be afraid of when you haven’t seen it. I think that’s one of the growing problems that people are more afraid of the side effects of the vaccines than they are the disease. But those diseases are so ugly and so deadly.”
Recently, Dr. Rogers has met with parents who want to juggle the immunization schedule of their baby.
“If people are willing to get their child immunized, but they want to get them on a different schedule or space them out differently than what is recommended, then I am willing to work with them on that,” Dr. Rogers said. “I warn them that the disease that we immunize for at 2, 4 and 6 months, are serious and that babies can really die from them. I really try to encourage them to get those vaccines, especially for pertussis because pertussis is very much alive and can very much kill kids or cause brain damage.”
What Dr. Rogers won’t budge on are parents who refuse to get their children immunized at all.
“If we get them immunized eventually, I’m generally OK with that, but if the parents just say, “No, I don’t want any immunizations, I will not treat that family,” she said. “For one thing, this absolutely places all my other patients at risk and I’m not willing to take that risk. Frankly the other thing is medical legalities. If the child gets pertussis and dies, I can’t put myself in a position knowing it could have been prevented from happening and the parents say I didn’t talk to them enough about getting the vaccine. And there’s a third reason too. People who aren’t going to listen to me about immunizations, probably aren’t going to listen to me about anything. And if they aren’t taking my advice, we are wasting each other’s time.
Dr. Rogers said as a board certified physician, she relies on the facts and data supplied by research. But unfortunately, those who are against immunization do not have to rely on the same burden of proof, research, and the Internet can back up many opinions
“Every time you say you need to look at some real facts, they point to the thousands of people who have written that immunization has hurt their kids,” Dr. Rogers said. “There’s a lot of that on the Internet. Anybody can put up this stuff with absolutely no backing or proof. People read it and it seems just as legitimate as the AAP and Center for Disease Control Web sites. Parents really need to investigate, because there is a lot of unsupported information out there. There is no proof at all about the dangers of immunization. The only proof about immunization is that it’s the crowning achievement to the human race of the twentieth century.”