More pediatricians "firing" unimmunized patients

A Connecticut study has shown that pediatricians fed up with parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are "firing" such families from their practices, raising questions of doctors' responsibilities to their patients.

While medical associations do not recommend bans of patients, the practice seems to be growing. The study showed that among 133 Connecticut pediatricians, 30 percent had asked a family to leave their practice for vaccine refusal, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Another survey among 909 Midwestern pediatricians found that 21 percent reported using the same reason for discharging patients. The recent studies compare with an American Academy of Pediatrics Study between 2001 and 2006 that found that only six percent of physicians routinely stopped working with families due to vaccine refusal and that 16 percent sometimes dismissed patients.

"There's more noise among pediatricians, more people willing to argue that it's OK to do this versus 10 years ago," Douglas Diekema, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Lower immunization rates have been blamed as a major factor in U.S. outbreaks of measles and whooping cough in recent years. Parents have expressed concerns about autism or an overwhelmed immune system from too many vaccines at once. Studies have since dispelled these fears and scientists say that autism symptoms start to show up at the same age children receive vaccinations.

As patients have become more willing to challenge doctors, physicians have become less willing to deal with patients who are uncooperative. Allan LaReau, a pediatrician in Kalamazoo, Mich., said that a factor for him was that unimmunized children could post a danger to infants or sick children in the waiting room who hadn't yet received full vaccinations.

"You feel badly about losing a nice family from the practice," LaReau said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "(Families who refused to vaccinate their kids were told that) this is going to be a difficult relationship without this core part of pediatrics."

Pediatricians are in disagreement about what their duty is to families who refuse vaccinations for their children.

"The bottom line is you should try to do whatever you can to maintain the family in the best care," Michael Brady, the chair of the pediatrics department at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, said, the Wall Street Journal reports. "If they leave your practice, they're probably going to gravitate toward another practice with unhealthy practices."