- Kids Health
Why Pediatricians Refuse to See Unvaccinated Children
The majority of cases of measles and other diseases previously controlled by vaccination are reoccurring because of several demographic trends. These demographic trends plus the current legal climate had driven many doctors, especially pediatricians, to refuse to see non-vaccinated patients. Why are pediatricians refusing to see unvaccinated children?
The Reasons Why Doctors Are Turning Away the Unvaccinated
Pandemics in one part of the world can now travel via the most vulnerable to this nation and into a population more vulnerable. Unscreened illegal immigration has brought foreign endemic diseases to the US, while legal immigration and travel without disease screening raises the risk to Americans as well. When returning to Mexico to visit family, their children are exposed to these childhood diseases and then bring them back to the United States. Since these children either did not get the initial immunizations as babies or the full suite of vaccinations, they act as carriers, bringing measles and tuberculosis from those nations to American schools. Children traveling internationally to visit family with previously eradicated diseases were rare.
The initial studies linking vaccinations at the age of 2 with autism have been debunked. However, the fear remains and the void in the vaccinated population has grown. When a single infected child rarely encountered unvaccinated children, these diseases didn't spread except to unvaccinated younger siblings and perhaps neighbors. Now other children in their classes, childcare centers and social settings can contract the disease, starting a pandemic.
Litigation has made doctors wary of accepting risks. A parent who refuses to vaccinate may have a religious and legal right to do so before their child starts school. However, the doctor could be found liable for letting an unvaccinated child who has measles or another life threatening disease into their practice to infect other children. When medical malpractice suits cost doctors hundreds of thousands of dollars for failing to diagnose a rare birth defect, treating an unvaccinated child with a so-called cold that then lands several babies in the neonatal unit with whooping cough is a case the doctor wants to avoid. All infants are vulnerable due to their age, so the risk to the young children is certain. The fact that thousands of cases of whooping cough and measles have happened over the past few years, the risk of the unvaccinated children pose in acting as carriers is also known. Refusing to treat unvaccinated children is simply risk mitigation for the most vulnerable children.
Doctors are frequently reimbursed at the same rate by health insurers and the government regardless of the diagnosis. Whether spending 15 minutes to diagnose strep throat and dole out antibiotics or diagnose whooping cough and admit the child to the hospital or set up a family quarantine, the doctor will often receive a similar payment for much more work. By refusing to treat un-vaccinated children, the doctor lowers the odds that they will have to cope with these rare but serious diseases.
Advances in medicine have created a new population of individuals who, even if vaccinated, may not be protected. Those with HIV or an organ transplant have permanently weaker immune systems and are thus highly vulnerable to infections carried by the unvaccinated even if they previously had vaccinations themselves. Doctors who refuse the unvaccinated decrease the odds of these vulnerable individuals contracting life threatening infections.
Health insurers and the government are increasingly rating doctors on their effectiveness. One of the basis points for the effectiveness rating is hospital admission rates. Doctors who send a higher percentage of patients to the hospital are rated lower and could be dropped from the reimbursement program. By refusing to treat patients whose families willingly put themselves at risk for life threatening illnesses, the doctors improve their own odds of staying in business.
Refusing to treat unvaccinated patients is not discrimination in the legal sense since parents can correct the condition, so it is legal. Discriminating against patients due to their race, gender and disability is illegal. Refusing to see a patient lacking the whooping cough vaccine is not equivalent to refusing care to an HIV infected child. The child's condition, unvaccinated, can be corrected by getting the vaccinations.
Refusing to take patients who are unvaccinated for routine care is not a denial of all medical care. Just as there are Christian Science doctors and surgeons who refuse to perform blood transfusions, there are doctors who will accept patients who are unvaccinated and even cater to them. Furthermore, unvaccinated patients can still receive care through urgent care centers and hospitals.
Unvaccinated children create a liability risk. Turning them away reduces the doctor's risk of being sued by a different parent whose newborn contracted a disease from the unvaccinated children the doctor allowed in the office.