Boise & Garden City

Idaho doctors: What we tell parents who don’t trust vaccines

Idaho doctors told the Idaho Statesman this month that their goal is to educate and inform parents about best practices on vaccinations. Some parents worry about vaccine safety, or they want to delay or space out vaccinations.

Idaho’s state public-health expert on diseases and how they spread, Dr. Christine Hahn of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, offered her advice to parents:

Dr. Aaron Weiss is a pediatrician at Treasure Valley Pediatrics, which is part of St. Luke’s Health System. Weiss cares for newborns and babies, so he often discusses vaccines with parents.

Q: What are you hearing from people when you bring up vaccinations?

A: I haven’t had [parents] who outright refused all of them. More folks want to space them out and delay them. Most of the time it’s worry about it being too many things at once. And I can understand that. Not knowing the details, how immunizations work, how the immune system works — if you don’t know that, then it makes sense that you wouldn’t understand why we recommend them to be given the way we do, and when we do.

Q: How do you respond to parents when they have these concerns?

A: I think the biggest thing is just opening a dialogue and trying to understand the reasons for delaying vaccines or refusing vaccines. It seems like everybody sort of has a different reason, and sometimes when you start talking about it more and more, they have a reason, but they really haven’t thought about it beyond, “I see it this way.”

A lot of times, we can work with folks and help them understand what’s best for their child, because ultimately we want the same thing: to keep the child as healthy as possible.

I bring it up every time I see them. “Are you reading more?” I like to know where they’re getting their information from.

There are pediatricians in town who have said, “We’ll just not see parents who’ve chosen not to vaccinate.” That would have its pros and cons.

Q: When you open the dialogue, what reasons do parents give for not wanting to follow recommendations?

A: The folks who come in and say, “I don’t want vaccines because my religion tells me not to give vaccines,” I ask them [what religion they follow], and usually they don’t tell me.

Q: Which religions forbid vaccines?

A: There isn’t a religion that actually does. [Deseret News: “Religious objections to vaccinations? There really aren’t any”]

I had a parent tell me it was akin to having the mark 666 on their child. And I can’t reason with people like that.

Q: There is a federal system that tracks “adverse events” and a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program . Is that evidence that vaccines are harmful?

A: That’s not really based on science. It’s more based on our legal system. And its sort of akin to when drug companies have to put on the labeling all the things that potentially happened during the trial period when they were testing the vaccine. They [could] put “broken arm” as a side effect of the flu vaccine because someone got a broken arm during the trial.

I can’t sit here and tell you that the vaccine is 100 percent safe. There are side effects, and there is potentially fatal side effects if you have an anaphylactic reaction [or a severe allergic reaction] — you see it within five to 10 minutes of giving a vaccination.

[ A study of risks of anaphylaxis in kids and teens found five occurrences in 7.6 million vaccines, zero deaths.]

Q: Have recent outbreaks caused any change in parents’ wishes?

A: I have seen folks that are on that delayed schedule that have decided to sort of move that timeline up based on everything that is going on lately.

One of the things that’s interesting, as we talk about the delayed schedule: There are some folks who talk about it as the alternative schedule. But there is no alternative schedule.

You’re not as well-covered during the periods when you need the most coverage — that’s when we do as many vaccines as we do during the first two years.

It’s hard when I talk to parents, and they say, “Well, if my child gets measles, you guys would know what it looks like and how to treat it.” I say, “Well, yes, but you put at risk those who are in the waiting room for a well-check and who can’t get vaccinated yet.”

Some folks [space out vaccines] because they don’t want to have as many pokes. You’re still having the same number of pokes ... and you’re coming into the doctors’ office more. There is more risk of getting sick coming into the doctor’s office.

Q: What do you want parents to know about vaccines?

A: I think, as a pediatrician, it’s a bit of a struggle, because we want to provide the best care.

We want what’s best for your child, and as a pediatrician, as a medical provider, I see this as how I can do that best.

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Pick up Sunday’s edition of the Idaho Statesman for an in-depth feature on vaccinations — how Idaho is doing, why parents make the decisions they do about vaccinating their kids, and what public-health agencies are doing. Check on Sunday for more features, including a map that shows schools in your area with high or low numbers of unvaccinated students.

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