Family medicine doctor Gretchen LaSalle, M.D. projects the soul of every primary care provider in the modern age of pediatric and adult medicine in her open letter to parents, published recently on her excellent blog:
First, let me say that I care about you and your children deeply. It is my life’s work to help you be happy and healthy and to be able to live your life to its fullest potential. As a family physician, prevention of disease is my passion. I would much rather educate and encourage you to develop lifestyle habits that will support you for a lifetime of health and wellness than treat chronic disease and illness with expensive medications and procedures that carry with them potential risks and side effects. This healthy lifestyle promotion includes encouraging regular cardiovascular exercise, discussing the benefits to body and mind of eating nutritious foods and avoiding chemicals and preservatives in our diets, focusing on the importance of mental health, and, yes, the use of vaccines to decrease suffering and death from preventable diseases.
Refusing to take a flu shot or staying updated with tetanus shots every ten years are decisions Dr. LaSalle can agree to disagree on with her adult patients, regarding their health. Adult parents making vaccine decisions for children, however, is another story altogether:
What I have a harder time doing, however, is accepting a parent’s decision not to vaccinate their child. As parents, it is our right and responsibility to make the best decisions we can for our children (and I have no doubt that parents who choose not to vaccinate are truly well-intentioned and are trying to make wise decisions on their children’s behalf). But what about our children’s rights to grow up without risk and fear of disease?
The good news about our children’s future health is that the vast majority of parents in the United States accept the objective, scientific and medical facts that modern vaccines are highly effective in safely preventing diseases and premature deaths. In fact, when considering the remarkable medical advances over the last century that have positively impacted public health, increased longevity, and mercifully reduced human pain and suffering, vaccines rank right at the top. And while no medical practitioner alive today would ascribe perfection to any medical procedure, the fact is that modern immunizations are extraordinarily safe in preventing diseases that could arise again in our collective consciousness and public health statistics if we lower our guard and take for granted these modern medical miracles. Dr. LaSalle envisions the conversations that might occur if parents decide that vaccinating their children isn’t right for them:
What will our children think of our decisions when they come down with measles and develop severe brain inflammation that, if they survive, leaves them with seizures or deafness? How will we feel when our child who contracted measles and survived then comes down 7-10 years later with a severe neurodegenerative condition called Subacute Sclerosing PanEncephalitis (SSPE)? What will our daughters think of our decisions when they become pregnant with their first child and lose that child to rubella infection during pregnancy? Or deliver a child with blindness or deafness or intellectual disabilities due to Congenital Rubella Syndrome? What will our sons think when they get mumps orchitis (inflammation of the testicles) that renders them sterile and unable to have children? What will our kids think of our decision to avoid a vaccine that could have prevented their cervical or penile or throat cancer? How will they feel if they give the flu to their elderly grandmother who dies from complications of the infection?
We don’t hear much about these serious and devastating conditions because, with the exceptions of HPV-associated cervical and throat cancer, and influenza, most Americans are safely immunized and successfully protected against them. Early in my career, disseminated Haemophilus influenzae type B and pneumococcal infections commonly ravaged the bodies and brains and lives of infants and young children. With vaccines against those two pathogens now firmly established in the “gold standard” recommended pediatric immunization schedule, we hardly see their deadly manifestations anymore. Ditto all the other vaccine-preventable childhood diseases like polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps and rubella, and more — all rarely seen except in those isolated communities in the U.S. where vaccine refusal is above the threshold of “herd” protection. Younger physicians may never in their careers see a child or adult with any of these contagious horrors, so long as parents continue to make immunization decisions with proven benefits, based on facts and expert advice and not on fears and gossip online and on social media, which is where much of uninformed, anti-vaccination propaganda originates and now proliferates.
Will the fake experts and social media trolls win the day? Will Americans embrace logical fallacies and conspiracy theories over the evidence-based science that informs our reality? Not on Dr. LaSalle’s watch:
In making this choice for our children, we have to think about their future. How will they look back and judge the vaccine decisions that we made for them in their most vulnerable years? When doing research, please examine both sides of the argument[…] Keep an open mind. Talk to your trusted healthcare provider. If you trust them with all other aspects of your healthcare, please know that you can trust them on the subject of vaccines as well.
Read the rest of Dr. Gretchen LaSalle’s “An Open Letter to Parents Considering Not Vaccinating Their Children” here.
(Please note: Comments submitted from readers regarding vaccines are welcome here on The PediaBlog. However, comments from internet and social media trolls will not be published here, nor will contrary claims that are unaccompanied by verifiable, peer-reviewed science. False experts, cherry pickers, and conspiracy theorists who deny the value of vaccines in the modern world should expend their energies elsewhere.)
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