In Our View: Parents’ Best Ally

In the controversial subject of immunizations,the best advice comes from family physicians

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Two reports this week about immunization rates serve as strong reminders that, when it comes to protecting children from preventable diseases, the best parent is the accurately informed parent. And the best source of accurate advice is not the Internet or social-media rumor mills. It’s the family physician.

This subject carries special meaning in Washington (one of five states with an immunization-exemption rate higher than 6 percent) and in Clark County (where the rate is higher than 8 percent). Why is this important? Well, in addition to the parental duty to protect the child, there is the matter of public health, and the need to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases from decades past that have been almost eliminated.

China, for example, was polio-free two decades ago but has experienced an outbreak of polio that was traced to Pakistan. That’s according to an Associated Press analysis that appeared in Tuesday’s Columbian. The report also noted some rural counties in northeast Washington have vaccination exemption rates as high as 20 percent to 50 percent. “Vaccine refusers tend to cluster,” said Emory University epidemiologist Saad Omer.

The second report that carries value for parents was provided by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and described by Seattle Times reporter Carol M. Ostrom. Almost 80 percent of 290 pediatricians surveyed statewide have been asked by parents to vary the official vaccination schedule for their children. The schedule recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control mentions more than two dozen inoculations a child could receive by age 2, even up to five shots in one visit to the doctor’s office.

That heavy schedule draws understandable concern from parents, but it’s not beyond adjustments to meet individual needs. In fact, the Seattle report says 61 percent of those doctors don’t mind changing the schedule. All the more reason for every parent to work closely with the pediatrician. One key point: The Seattle Times story points out that doctors “balked when it came to delaying three vaccines for diseases that often prove deadly to children.” Those are vaccines against pertussis (whooping cough), meningitis and pneumococcal disease.

What’s particularly perplexing in the national story about immunizations are trends that seem to defy what’s expected in an enlightened society that values scientific discovery. To the contrary, Washington state’s immunization-exemption rates have more than doubled over the past 10 years. We wonder why they have not been halved instead. Nationwide, more than half of states have shown increases in immunization-exemption rates.

In Washington state, health officials are hoping for lower rates after the Legislature strengthened the applicable law. Parents still can obtain immunization exemptions for any of three reasons: medical, philosophical or religious. But according to the law that went into effect July 22, parents are required to speak with their child’s doctor about benefits and risks of immunizations, and must submit a form, signed by the doctor, indicating they received the information.

One encouraging note from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute: Physicians are willing to accommodate many of the parents’ concerns. “Mostly, we see providers who want to work with parents, who start with where they’re at and go from there,” said Michele Roberts of the state Health Department. “I think providers in this state are really good about negotiating with parents — I don’t think we have many providers here who fire parents.”

Parents, remember: In protecting you child’s health, the family physician is your most reliable ally.