This morning, a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook that was titled, “Dear anti-vax parents, we’re not mad at you. Sincerely, your doctor.” She had captioned it, “Maybe when all the vitriol and anger and judgment dies down, maybe we can start having conversations like this, instead.”
The funny thing is that I had posted the exact same blog post (which later became an article) about two weeks ago. Since then, I have posted more thoughts on the measles outbreak, and, yes, I have probably fueled that vitriol to which my friend refers.
But that’s because, as a mom, I am angry. I am livid.
I am angry that you are choosing to put what you believe to be your child’s best interest above the public good.
I have an eight month old who is too young for the first MMR dose and a three year old who is too young for his second dose. I now live in fear of my children contracting a vaccine-preventable illness. I am angry at the fact that you have put me and my children in this situation.
I am angry at the fact that you are riding on the coat-tails of those of us who vaccinate according to schedule, and you take advantage of the fact that we contribute to herd immunity.
I am angry that you are up in arms about Ebola, which is nearly impossible to catch, but blithely put the rest of the world at risk of one of the most contagious diseases in history.
I am angry on behalf of the mothers in the Third World who would do anything to be able to have a chance to vaccinate their children, but you squander this opportunity to protect your children.
I am angry that I cannot send my son to pre-school without worrying that he could come back with a disease that could potentially cause brain damage or even kill him.
I am angry on behalf of the autistic community whose disease you hide behind as if being autistic is a fate worse than death.
I am angry that you are swayed by the words of a Playboy bunny, Cher from Clueless, a reality show actress and an environmental lawyer who happens to be a Kennedy. They claim to have done their research, but they refuse to acknowledge the research that the medical establishment has trotted out time and time again, claiming that medical research is tainted by big pharma. None of them have medical degrees, and you refuse to listen to those who have dedicated decades of their lives to researching the best way to keep you and your children safe.
Yes, I am angry. I am a mother, and I am angry.
But I am also a physician. And I cannot be angry.
I cannot be angry because I was taught that medical paternalism is frowned upon and that we should be advocating for patient-centered care. Gone are the days of our parents and grandparents where the doctor made the decision, and the patient would just nod and do what the doctor said. I practice medicine in the age of patient autonomy, and this is the age where medical decisions are made jointly with the patient and the doctor coming to an agreement. And you are doing just that. You are making a medical decision for you and your family. But you are making these decisions without me.
I cannot be angry, but as a physician, I am scared.
I am scared about the return of the vaccine-preventable diseases that have the potential to kill.
I am scared about the loss of herd immunity.
I am scared that we may return to a time when we risked sending our children to the playground, and they would come back with polio.
I am scared that the delayed vaccination schedule is leading to scores of unimmunized children who are the most susceptible to these diseases.
I am also tired. I am tired of arguing. I am tired of fighting off every single statement you make that flies in the face of science and decades of research.
I am tired of defending my profession to you. Doctors do not vaccinate because we are in the pockets of big pharma. Doctors do not get paid a commission every time we vaccinate your children. We vaccinate your children because we know what can happen when we don’t.
I am tired of having to defend my medical decisions. If you trust my judgment for everything else, why do you continue to put up a wall of resistance on this basic matter of science?
Do you know that every time I have an encounter with an anti-vax parent in my office, I come out exhausted and emotionally beaten? Every time you question our studies, and our credentials, and accuse us of being part of some great conspiracy, you belittle us and mock our years of study and training as physicians.
I get it. You want the best for your children. So do I. But you have to help me protect them. Other members of my profession are refusing to see unvaccinated children to protect the other children in their practice. This danger is real. Doctors don’t do this out of spite, or out of whim. We have a duty to protect our patients, especially the most vulnerable.
I still hold out hope that I can persuade people to vaccinate their children. But I’m tired, and it’s wearing me down.
So if you see me on Facebook posting yet another article about the measles epidemic, it is not because I am attacking you. It is because I am utilizing the power of social media to get the message out loud and clear. And I’m running out of strength to do it on my own.
Anna Wolak is a family physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
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