The Letter About Vaccines I Didn't Expect

I was confused to receive a letter from my daughter's pediatrician last month. My first thought: was there some bill I overlooked?

But when I opened the envelope I was surprised to see a letter from the practice that included its new vaccine policy statement. The note accompanying the policy statement offered a sneak preview: "By June 1, 2015, any family that has decided not to vaccinate will be asked to find another health care provider."

I was instantly intrigued. My husband and I have always vaccinated our now 9 year-old daughter as a matter of course. And, I have long been frustrated by some parents' reluctance to vaccinate their children, despite any supporting evidence. I just can't understand why moms and dads listen to Hollywood personalities or other so-called "experts" instead of their own doctors on this incredibly important issue.

But, then I read a story that said most doctors give in to parents' wishes to delay vaccinating children in order to "build trust with families and avoid losing them as patients." It seemed like our doctors—Edna Pytlak, Brianne O'Connor, and Erin Dalton—saw things differently. I continued reading.

The enclosed Vaccine Policy Statement opened with the doctors' belief in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and continued, "Because of vaccines, most people have never seen a child with polio, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella or meningitis. ... Over the years, many people have chosen not to vaccinate their children. ... We as practitioners find this unacceptable."

The doctors offered to answer any questions about vaccinations and address any concerns. The policy even states they may adjust the vaccination schedule in some cases, although they strongly advise against it.

But in the end, not vaccinating is not an option. "Finally, if you refuse to vaccinate your child despite all our efforts, we will ask you to find another health care provider who shares your views. We do not have a list of such providers nor do we recommend any."

I loved it. I realized I had been craving some straight talk, some boldness in this whole vaccine controversy. I had been waiting for someone to just say the equivalent of "Enough talk. Vaccinate your kids already!" Although they said it in a much nicer and more educational tone, the doctors at this practice drew a line in the sand. There would be no lip service (no matter how genuine) to the importance of vaccines, but then acquiescence to parents' wishes regardless of the dangers to their and other children.

I was inexplicably proud to receive this letter, proud to have chosen such proactive and smart doctors, proud that at least some of the physicians in our community were stepping forward to declare that not only do they believe in vaccines, they are translating their beliefs into action.

Jenna Helwig is the food editor at Parents and the author of Real Baby Food. She believes in the power of fruits and veggies to help kids grow up healthy and strong, but thinks that broccoli is no match for measles, mumps, and whooping cough. Follow her on Twitter.

Which vaccines do kids need and why are they necessary?

Image: Childhood immunization via Shutterstock

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