Group suggests pediatricians refuse to treat some unvaccinated children

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COLUMBIA - A national medical organization issued recommendations Monday for pediatricians to potentially refuse to treat patients in order to increase the number of children who are vaccinated.

"Unimmunized children are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases and in a practice setting also create risk of disease outbreaks in young infants and those children who medically cannot be immunized,” the American Academy of Pediatrics said.

“If, after counseling efforts are exhausted, parents decline immunizations, the AAP says pediatricians may request that they sign a vaccine refusal form and/or seek care from a different health care provider," the group said in an online statement.

Dr. David Fleming, co-director at the MU Center for Health Ethics, said the policy recommendation is suitable if it's being done to protect children.

"One of the issues and concerns that I think the pediatricians have is that, when children aren't vaccinated and they come to the office, the could potentially infect other children," Fleming said.

In the state of Missouri, a child can be exempted from vaccination for medical, religious or "moral" reasons. According to a 2015 webinar hosted by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Bureau, parents can opt out of vaccines for any reason while their child is in day care. About one percent of children fit this category in 2014. From kindergarten to 12th grade, the religious exemption is valid. A medical exemption will work regardless of the age of the child. 

Versailles parent Joyce Riley said the decree from the AAP is outrageous. She said she had a neurological disorder as a result of multiple vaccinations.

"That's absolutely, unbelievably wrong," she said. "Where's that jurisdiction? Where's that come from? It's another corner to pressure parents into vaccinating their children."

Dr. Kathryn M. Edwards, one of the co-authors of one of the AAP statements, said the idea of the refusal of service is to draw attention to the non-medical exemptions. She said vaccines work the best when most of the population is treated.

Under the suggested policy, pediatricians would treat children in emergency situations regardless of their vaccination status.

Fleming said doctors need to be wary of how they treat their patients.

"If we're doing it to discriminate against a particular class of patients, it's unethical," Fleming said.

Ken Hussey, the executive director of the Missouri chapter of the AAP, stressed these are "policy statements and recommendations."

"These are designed to give guidance, direction and attention to issues," he said. "I can’t say if this will affect how individual pediatricians will practice. It’s up to each one."

Hussey said the Missouri chapter contains around 1,100 people that include pediatricians, medical students, retired medical professionals and residents. Not all pediatricians are members of the orginization. The website stated 66,000 pediatricians are members across the nation.

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