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A Toledo pediatrician’s office has decided it will no longer accept or treat children whose parents object to them receiving childhood immunizations, a move that comes amid rising concern from the medical community that unvaccinated children are fueling the resurgence of childhood diseases, such as measles, nationally and in Ohio.
Franklin Park Pediatrics sent a letter last week to patients that said they have a year to comply with the new policy. “If you cannot or will not fully vaccinate your child/children by June 1, 2015, please understand that you will choose to leave our practice (seek medical care elsewhere.)”
“Due to recent outbreaks of measles, mumps, and whooping cough, and a recent influx of unvaccinated children, we have decided to keep our office a safe environment,” said Dr. John McBride, who is one of six physicians in the Franklin Park Pediatrics group, which treats more than 14,000 patients.
Dr. McBride said this is a growing trend in pediatric medicine and that several other local doctors already have adopted this policy.
He is most concerned about infants, who are not old enough to be vaccinated, being exposed to childhood diseases in the waiting room when children with no protection come in for treatment.
He said the air in a room is contagious for two hours after someone with measles has left, and that people can be contagious before they show any sign of illness.
Measles cause a fever, runny nose, cough, and a rash all over the body. In rare cases, it can be deadly, and is particularly dangerous for children. Infection can cause pregnant women to have a miscarriage or premature birth.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cases of measles are accelerating across the country and have reached a 20-year high.
The Ohio Department of Health’s Web site listed 249 confirmed cases of measles in the state as of late Friday. State health officials say the origin of the outbreak — many of those infected are in Knox County near the center of the state — came from members of the Amish community who traveled to the Philippines, which has had a measles epidemic. In late May, an Ohio Department of Health report said the measles outbreak more than doubled in a 10-day period.
Measles complications are so serious that eight Ohioans have been hospitalized, contributing to a total of 43 people hospitalized nationwide. The Ohio health department has not been notified of any deaths in the state.
So far, the outbreak in Ohio seems confined to one area of the state, and there are no confirmed cases in Lucas County, said Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County Health Commissioner.
Dr. Grossman said he has not heard about other pediatric physicians banning unvaccinated patients, but said he “applauds the stand” being taken by Franklin Park Pediatrics.
They are saying “we are not going to deal with people who are doing what we think works against their best care. It’s such an important issue. I think it’s good they feel this way,” he said.
He said although the measles outbreak in Ohio is directly related to a group of unvaccinated people, the resurgence of another childhood disease, the mumps, has a different origin. A small outbreak of mumps has occurred in a group of students and employees linked to Ohio State University in Columbus. State health officials said most of those infected had received vaccinations.
The fact that vaccines are not completely effective is one of many reasons some parents choose to forgo immunizations for their children, said Sarah Pope, a writer and vocal advocate for parents who choose not to vaccinate. She believes children who are not vaccinated are healthier overall, and that the medical community and big pharmaceutical companies are colluding to convince parents that the shots are safe.
Ms. Pope, who writes The Healthy Home Economist blog from her Florida home, said her family has been unfairly targeted by the medical community because she chose not to vaccinate her three children. She has been dropped by several doctors in Florida because of her refusal to vaccinate her children.
“This bullying by pediatricians is really a problem,” said Ms. Pope. She believes the practice of denying care to children because they are not vaccinated is unethical and predicts that, at some point, a family will take the fight into the court system.
“All they need is a nice big lawsuit slapped on one of the physician groups. You cannot exclude medical care to people when they are objecting because of a religious belief,” she said.
In Ohio, state law requires all children to complete immunizations before entering kindergarten, but the law provides exceptions for medical reasons or if the child’s parent objects for reasons of conscience, including religion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Ohio is the only state in the country that does not have the same requirement in place for children before they can attend day care. A new bill that is being considered by lawmakers in Columbus would bring Ohio in line with other states.
House Bill 536, co-sponsored Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), would require all children to receive recommended childhood vaccines before enrolling in licensed child care facilities. The bill, like the current law, would leave room for parents to opt out for reasons of conscience.
More doctors in Ohio seem to be willing to take the risk of offending patients or even being threatened with legal action by requiring immunizations. Melanie Farkas, spokesman for the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said there has been an uptick of pediatricians across the state making the choice to drop patients who refuse immunizations.
She said the trend has been moving in this direction for the past 10 years, but that it accelerated in 2014 because of the measles outbreak in Ohio.
“It really is a public health issue. A lot are taking this stand, and they are finding that very few patients are leaving their practices,” Ms. Farkas said.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.