It’s the definition of a first world problem: a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) finds strong evidence that the recent rise in cases of measles is at least partly caused by the growing number of “intentionally unvaccinated” children.
In response to 2015’s unexpected outbreak of measles at Disneyland California, Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, wrote a passionate editorial about the importance of vaccinations for our sister blog, Thriving. Her words are especially potent in light of this new research.
The debate continues — should a provider treat an unvaccinated patient? In a 2012 statement, the AAP recommended that pediatricians should not refuse unvaccinated children. A new survey published this month in the journal Pediatrics, however, found that 21 percent of pediatricians do so anyway, “often or always” dismissing families from their practice for refusing at least one infant vaccine.
Ronald Samuels, MD, MPH, associate medical director of Boston Children’s Primary Care at Longwood, is not surprised at the results of the survey. “We see ourselves as a safety net provider and do not feel we can or should turn any patient away, but we worry about the increased risk unvaccinated children present to other patients in the practice. I have very mixed feelings about this.”
I will never forget the first time I saw a child die of a vaccine-preventable disease. I walked into a room in a busy Haitian hospital (where I spend 6 months each year working as a fellow with Boston Children’s Global Health Program) to find an 8-year-old boy gasping for air. A thick, greyish white coating covered his mouth and throat, and his body burned like it was on fire. I had seen it only in textbooks before—a classic late presentation of a diphtheria infection.
A few hours later, despite our best efforts and timely antibiotics, the child died of acute respiratory failure. I remember sitting in the doctor’s room, staring into the space and overwhelmed by an intense wave of sadness. This child could have lived, if he had been vaccinated. This should never have happened.