Facing the biggest measles outbreak since 2000, pediatricians are speaking out with a sharp message for their unvaccinated patients: Do not enter.
They say this zero-tolerance policy will protect vulnerable patients in their waiting rooms — such as infants and those with weak immune systems — from exposure to a virus their bodies are not equipped to fight.
On Jan. 11, Dr. Charles Goodman, a pediatrician from Los Angeles, took to Facebook with a message for parents who choose not to vaccinate.
The outbreak began at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in December, and has quickly spread to infect at least 102 people across 14 states. Of the original 59 people infected with the measles, at least 36 were completely unvaccinated.
"The measles outbreak in California is absolutely what spurred us to do this," Goodman told BuzzFeed News.
Measles can be deadly, and infants under the age of 1 have a 90% chance of contracting the virus if exposed.
"Basically that's a lot of people who could get measles from one non-immunized kid, and we said, you know what, that's just not fair," Goodman said. "Why should we put all these kids at risk just because a small number of anti-vaxxers are saying no?"
Other doctors are also speaking out on social media.
Dr. Mike Ginsberg, a pediatrician from Vacaville, California, recently posted on his private Facebook page that he was no longer accepting unvaccinated patients.
Ginsberg practices in a large network of 90 physicians at North Bay Healthcare, but was the only physician to make the bold move. Ginsberg declined to comment to BuzzFeed News.
On Reddit, a patient posted a note hung outside her pediatrician’s office, under the title “Our pediatrician doesn’t put up with Bullshit.”
Some doctors have had such policies in place for years.
Dr. Nelson Branco, a pediatrician in Marin County, California, has had a zero-tolerance policy for unvaccinated patients since heightened measles warnings during the 2012 London Olympics.
Dr. Timothy Wall, who started his practice in the Chicago area 28 years ago and serves roughly 12,000 patients, has always had a strict vaccination policy. Before opening up his practice, Wall worked in developing countries fighting many of the illnesses that had been all but eliminated in the U.S.
"I think what people don't understand is the doctor-patient relationship is a two-way street. Of course families can ultimately decide to go against us, but we are ultimately there to decide what's best for the child," Wall told BuzzFeed News.
One of Wall's patients is Stacy Hillenburg, whose son Benjamin had a heart transplant at 7 weeks old. Because of his medications — which weaken his immune system so that he doesn't reject his heart transplant — Benjamin will never be able to be vaccinated.
For Hillenburg, being in a doctor's office with unvaccinated kids was not an option. "My son relies on herd immunity," Hillenburg told BuzzFeed News. "He relies on other people being vaccinated around him to keep him safe."
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages doctors from discharging patients based on their personal choice.
The Academy strongly urges parents to vaccinate their children, but does not endorse doctors turning away the unvaccinated.
But doctors are doing it anyway — upwards of 40% of physicians say they would turn away families who refuse all vaccines, according to a 2005 study.
"It's a line in the sand that really demonstrates how important we think vaccines are," Branco said.
Azeen Ghorayshi is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Her PGP Fingerprint is 9739 9DAE 607E A66A 3683 AC20 E34B D2A0 8899 74C4
Contact Azeen Ghorayshi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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