Seen at Zoom: Handling Anti-Vaccine Conversations with Care

August 11, 2020

Seen at Zoom

The number of parents choosing not to follow the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule is growing, especially here in Oregon. We’re one of nine states with the largest percentage of unvaccinated infants and toddlers. The anti-vaccine trend is putting pediatricians in a difficult spot. Should they keep unvaccinated kids in their practice or turn them away?

An anti-vaccine ultimatum

In a 2013 survey, almost 1 in 8 pediatricians in the U.S. reported giving vaccine-opposed parents an ultimatum: Vaccinate or find another doctor. They don’t want to be responsible for exposing infants (or children who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons) to kids who are more likely to have contagious, dangerous diseases. Some also mention feeling at odds with parents who refuse to take their evidence-based medical advice.The American Academy of Pediatrics recently condoned this choice, but only as a last resort for doctors who are uncomfortable treating unvaccinated patients. The AAP strongly encourages pediatricians to stick with patients and continue to convey the safety and benefits of vaccines.Persistence is key, because refusing to treat unvaccinated kids increases everyone’s odds of getting sick — and spreading disease at day care centers, schools, playgrounds, and countless other places where kids convene outside of a doctor’s office. It’s also likely to send anti-vaccine parents flocking to pediatricians who won’t press the issue.

Taking a different approach

At ZOOM+Care, we’ve decided to continue caring for unvaccinated kids. Zoom’s Lead Pediatrician Mark Banks, MD, believes in listening to parents’ perspectives, earning their trust one visit at a time, and respectfully providing the facts. “I want to be a nonjudgemental source of knowledge” says Dr. Banks. “If parents trust me, they can allow themselves to ask the hard questions and remain receptive to thoughtful answers.”Dr. Banks also acknowledges that vaccines aren’t perfect. “The claim that vaccines cause autism has been unequivocally shown to be false, and vaccines do not contain heavy metals or other dangerous preservatives,” he says. “But sometimes vaccines just don’t work. The 2016 nasal flu vaccine is a recent example. And vaccines can cause reactions — they are designed, after all, to stimulate our immune systems into action. Sometimes the stimulation is a bit more than we’d like or expect. There are also side effects like fever.”Still, our Pediatric team does everything within its power to keep kids up to date on all CDC-recommended vaccines. “The rate of serious side effects is very, very rare,” says Dr. Banks. “Vaccines are not only safe, they're one of the greatest public health triumphs in the history of medicine.”

Reducing risk in waiting areas

What about unvaccinated children spreading disease in clinic waiting areas and exam rooms? The risk of contagion at any medical facility is both real and impossible to eliminate. At Zoom, we reduce that risk by keeping waiting areas empty. With same-day Pediatric visits that start on time and are never double-booked, few patients ever wait to see a doctor. And with just one or two kids in the clinic at any given time, associates and doctors can monitor what kids touch before during and after a visit. “Most parents are conscientious about keeping children with potentially contagious conditions away from toys and other kids,” says Dr. Banks. “For those parents that forget, we watch closely and disinfect everything they come into contact with.” But pathogens can be airborne and some risk always remains.There is no question that vaccines are safe and effective at protecting us against disease. At ZOOM+ we strongly advocate for vaccination. However, if a family would like to vaccinate slowly, we accommodate their request. "There's so much misinformation out there," says Dr. Banks. "It can take time and patience to sort through it all."

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