Public health fears will not sway parent opinion on vaccines

Dr. Robert Sears’ The Vaccine Book, is, as Rahul Parikh puts it, “a nightmare for pediatricians like me.”

In a piece from Salon, Dr. Parikh brings his issues to the author.  The controversy of the book is the so-called “alternative vaccine schedule,” which, as vaccine developer Paul Offit puts it,

is “misrepresentation of vaccine science” that “misinforms parents trying to make the right decision for their children” in the Journal of Pediatrics. And yet, as a pediatrician myself, I have seen an increasing number of caring, reasonable parents hold it up like a bible in my practice (and that of my colleagues).

This post, however,  isn’t about the vaccine controversy — I’ll leave you to read Dr. Parikh’s excellent piece for yourself.

What I found interesting was a passage discussing the public health fears stemming from an increasing number of unvaccinated children.  Here’s what Dr. Parikh writes:

When I asked Sears about balancing patients’ needs against those of society at large, he told me he believes vaccine-averse parents usually aren’t persuaded by doctors’ appeals to community health. “Most parents are selfish — not in a negative way, but in a realistic way,” he said. I’m inclined to agree with him: That argument has rarely worked for me in the exam room with a vaccine-ambivalent parent.

That’s a valid point. When it comes to their own children, it’s unlikely that trumpeting public health fears is going to significantly sway parents’ opinion, especially if they come in believing that vaccines are associated with autism.

A parallel situation is with antibiotic overuse. Again, public health arguments mostly fall upon deaf ears in the exam room, as there are many patients who believe that upper respiratory symptoms require an antibiotic.

What’s the answer?  More time to spend with patients, for one.  And second, Dr. Parikh alludes to the fact that most doctors don’t receive adequate training when it comes to vaccines: “If there is one thing Sears gets right, it is the fact that doctors need more education about vaccine science from the get-go.”

Indeed.  Physicians need to be better armed with information to counter the false beliefs many patients have in the exam room.

 is an internal medicine physician and on the Board of Contributors at USA Today.  He is founder and editor of, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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