Vaccinations Face Strong Controversy
by Christina Lin on Friday, February 20th, 2015
The measles outbreak in New York City in February and March of 2014 and the outbreak in Southern California’s Disney Theme Park in December have sparked controversy over whether parents should have the ability to avoid vaccinating their children. Those parents who chose to not vaccinate their children are finding it increasingly hard to find a pediatrician to treat their children because many doctors are refusing to treat unvaccinated patients. The actions and response of doctors has prompted discussion around the ethics of rejecting patients. Nevertheless, it is ethical for doctors to reject unvaccinated patients.
A clause in the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath, a professional oath adopted by most medical schools, states: “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.” Refusing to treat unvaccinated patients is a way to prevent the spreading of contagious disease. For one, unvaccinated patients may bring pathogens with them when they enter the physician’s office, thus endangering the welfare of other patients who may visit. In addition, the difficulty of finding a physician who would treat unvaccinated patients might provide incentive for unvaccinated patients to get vaccinated, diminishing the risk of disease for both themselves and those around them. By refusing to admit unvaccinated patients, doctors are upholding their oaths by preventing diseases.
Many argue that refusing to see unvaccinated patients is unethical because the Hippocratic Oath also states that the physicians will act “for the benefit of the sick,” and those who are not vaccinated fall under the category of the sick. Although it is true that some sick patients will be refused, the physicians are doing so for the benefit of the greater good. Another clause in the Hippocratic Oath says: “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings.” This indicates that a doctor’s duty is not just to his patients, but also to the entire society as a whole. It has been shown and scientifically proven that a lack of vaccination can lead to outbreak of contagious disease, including ones that have already been controlled by previous vaccinations. As a result of decreased vaccination rates in the United States, outbreaks of previously controlled diseases have sprung up across the country. While the recent measles outbreak takes center stage in 2015, there is also an ongoing mumps outbreak in Ohio, which has affected almost 200 people. However outbreaks caused by unvaccinated patients are not new phenomena. In 2010 there was also a pertussis outbreak in California, which infected 9,120 people.
A paper published in 1985 in the journal Pediatrics found that measles-related complications and deaths from encephalitis in America had declined more than 99% from the pre-vaccine era. So why, still, do some choose to fight the facts of science?
Most arguments against vaccination revolve around the possible side effects of vaccines. It is true that some patients may have dangerous reactions to some vaccines; however, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, patients who have declined vaccinations due to a medical condition cannot be denied treatment if that condition rises to the level of a disability. Therefore, if vaccines were actually going to do great harm to the child, the physician would still see the unvaccinated patients. Another part of the problem is the widely publicized belief that there is a link between autism and vaccines. This argument, used by many anti-vaccination parents, is simply not true, and it has been proven time and time again scientifically that the two are not related. Doctors’ refusing unvaccinated patients is ethical because the unvaccinated patients cannot endanger other patients and the welfare of the entire society because of a slim chance of danger that they are protected against.
Regardless of whether refusing unvaccinated patients is ethical or not, many physicians believe that doing so is for the benefit of their patients. According to a 2012 article published in the Wall Street Journal, 30% of 133 doctors in Connecticut said they had asked a family to leave their practice for vaccine refusal. A survey of 909 mid-western pediatricians found that 21% reported discharging families for the same reason. Refusing unvaccinated patients is not only ethical, but also important for the country. I believe Henry Waxman, former U.S. Rep. for California’s congressional district, got it right at conference at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. In his address he articulates, “When we see a disease that was [once] almost eliminated in the early 1980s now come back with a jolt all around this country, we have to ask ourselves what’s going on.” Lack of vaccination is what’s going on, and tough situations require tough measures.
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