For most people, the idea that we need to vaccinate people so that all of us are safe from diseases that can be easily and safely prevented seems like a no-brainer. The risk to other children is not hypothetical. This news report describes one case where four children of a family from Phoenix, Arizona whose parents had not vaccinated their children went to Disneyland, contracted measles, returned and went to their pediatrician’s clinic where they infected a woman with the disease. She then exposed 195 children to the disease. One of the children showing symptoms is a 10-month old boy who was too young to get vaccinated. But he also has a three-year old sister who has leukemia and the parents are terrified that she will get measles because her immune system has been compromised by her chemotherapy and will not be able to fight the infection.
But what horrified me was the reaction of Arizona cardiologist Jack Wolfson who asserts his right to keep his child “pure” (his own word) by not vaccinating because his rights as a parent trumps any risk to other children, even if they should die as a result.
“I’m not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child. My child is pure,” Dr. Jack Wolfson said in the interview. “It’s not my responsibility to be protecting their child.”
Wolfson was responding to a public appeal for all parents to vaccinate their children from Arizona pediatrician Dr. Tim Sacks, whose leukemia-stricken daughter was exposed to measles after an unvaccinated American family introduced the disease into the greater population during a trip to Disneyland.
Wolfson was interviewed last week by television station KPNX as a source on the debate over vaccinations, calling himself “the paleo-cardiologist,” according to the report.
The doctor said that children should not avoid getting infections such as measels and mumps. “These are the rights of our children to get it,” he told KPNX.
Back on CNN, Wolfson dismissed his fellow doctor’s appeal to anti-vaxxers.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s very likely that her leukemia is from vaccinations in the first place,” Wolfson said.
The CNN interviewer asked Wolfson repeatedly if he could live with himself if his unvaccinated child got other children, like Sacks’ daughter, fatally sick.
“I could live with myself easily. It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. And I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child,” he said.
There is something disturbingly Strangelovian about Wolfson’s assertion that he wants his child to be ‘pure’ and have her precious bodily fluids uncontaminated by vaccines. And then saying that he thinks that the other child’s leukemia was very likely to have been caused by vaccines just increases the sense that these people have become terrified of vaccinations. Remember that this person is a cardiologist.
Now pediatricians are speaking out, with about 40% of them saying that they will not continue to have as patients anyone who does not vaccinate, despite this policy being discouraged by the American Academic of Pediatrics. Perhaps the strongest expression of this view came from Mike Ginsberg who wrote the following:
In my practice you will vaccinate and you will vaccinate on time. You will not get your own “spaced-out” schedule that increases your child’s risk of illness or adverse event. I will not have measles-shedding children sitting in my waiting room. I will answer all your questions about vaccine and present you with facts, but if you will not vaccinate then you will leave my practice. I will file a CPS report (not that they will do anything) for medical neglect, too.
I have patients who are premature infants with weak lungs and hearts. I have kids with complex congenital heart disease. I have kids who are on chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia who cannot get all of their vaccines. In short, I have patients who have true special needs and true health issues who could suffer severe injury or death because of your magical belief that your kid is somehow more special than other children and that what’s good for other children is not good for yours. This pediatrician is not putting up with it.
Never have, never will.
In other case, parents are pressuring their pediatricians to require all the other children in the practice to be vaccinated, and are threatening to leave otherwise, because they don’t want unvaccinated children to be in the waiting rooms with their own children. Maybe the increasing ostracizing of the anti-vaxxers may achieve what appeals to science, reason, and the public good have failed to do.
In other cases, the rise of measles outbreaks has persuaded some parents to change their minds, as in the case of mother who had avoided giving her children vaccines because of autism fears but her child developed autism anyway. She has changed her mind and now vaccinates her children
But persuading people to change their minds is not going to be easy. Many anti-vaxxers see this as some kind of war between good and evil and once that way of thinking takes hold, the more opposition they face, the greater their determination to resist. Seeing the public health community, the government, and other parents rise up against them simply confirms in their minds that there is a vast conspiracy afoot to impose something bad on them.