The tide is turning: a pro-vaccine Facebook thread

People often say that they can die happy if …

Well, I have no intention of dying, but one of my goals in life was achieved recently. Historically, Facebook moms groups have been the bane of existence for many physicians, particularly pediatricians. We are often rated and compared like hotel mattresses. Well, last night one of my friends texted me, “Your practice is getting a lot of love on Facebook.”  Now, this I had to see.

A local mother had written a post on a Facebook page that she learned there are many unvaccinated children in her New York City-based pediatrician’s office. She was very nervous going there with her child. Followed by that were many pro-vaccine posts recommending our practice. Mothers were praising the fact that we have a zero tolerance policy on vaccines. This is my red line. If you do not trust me about the safety of vaccines, then why should you trust me about any of my medical opinions? I’ve trained for eleven years and practiced medicine for eighteen years. I love a healthy debate about many subjects, but vaccines save lives period. There is no debate.

As the night went on, more and more pro-vaccine posts were in the feed! Mothers who expressed fear of their infants catching measles in a waiting room, mothers of children with immunodeficiencies, and mothers with immune problems themselves were voicing their fears. This brought tears to my eyes.

One must remember that pro-vaccine doctors are facing increasing amounts of online abuse. Recently, anti-vaxxers in the community have been targeting pro-vaccine physicians who express their views online, in scientific forums, or even in Congress. When naturopath, Elias Kass, testified about the benefits of vaccines before Congress this February, he suffered a severe backlash online. Fake one-star reviews were posted on Facebook and people were slandering him with lies, trying destroy his livelihood. In October of 2018, when Dr. Zubin Damania (a.k.a ZDoggMD) interviewed Dr. Paul Offit, a leading vaccine researcher from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, anti-vaxxers tried to break into the studio. They stood outside of the glass and pounded incessantly, disrupting the broadcast and intimidating the doctors.

I spent years working in a hospital-based clinic where parents were allowed to refuse or alter the vaccine schedule.  This tortured me inside. As a physician, we take an oath to do no harm. Here I was, forced by the medical administration, to allow parents to expose their children and our other patients, to vaccine-preventable illness and death. I would have to spend many hours trying to educate parents about vaccine safety, only to have them refuse. Then I would have to document that I did my best to educate them. Guess what: If that unvaccinated child contracted a vaccine-preventable illness, that parent could still sue me. They could state that I did not educate them well enough, despite providing literature and data. Just this week, another study disproved any link between vaccines and autism. This study, from Denmark and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, observed over 600,000 children for over ten years. There was actually a higher rate of autism and autism spectrum disorders in the non-vaccinated patients.

So nine years ago when I opened my office, I vowed that I would not allow this to happen. My practice grew slowly because of this decision. Parents came in for prenatal visits. When I told them about the vaccine policy, I probably lost 50 percent of these potential clients. I did not care. Contrary to myths, pediatricians do not make money off of vaccines. Honestly, we may even lose money on them because we have to buy them ahead of time and hope the patients come to get them.

Recently, we had a family that transferred from another practice where the vaccine schedule was staggered. When I explained the science behind our policy, the parents thanked me. The mother said, “I am a business owner, and I like that you make a promise to your clients and stick to it.” Education does work.

Of course, I have encountered the defectors, the science deniers. I’ve even had one mother tell me, “Hold on, I just put a poll on my Facebook moms group to see if we should vaccinate today.” I did not wait for the answer. If you trust this group over your physician, we are not the right doctors for you. What I said is this, “If vaccines were unsafe why would I do this? I would lose more sleep than you because every night I would have to worry that something terrible may happen to your child. That would be a terrible business model for me. I do this because I love children and I want them to live to adulthood because of vaccines.”

I will end with some Facebook quotes that are music to my ears, “All the kids are vaccinated, and they have a great team,” “Agree. That (non-vaccinating) would be a dealbreaker for my family,” and many more quotes supporting other like-minded doctors who vaccinate their patients. It is going to take time and many more epidemics to undo all the anti-vax nonsense out there, but we physicians can do it if we stand firm together in support of science and health.

Dyan Hes is a pediatrician.

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