Anti-Vaxxers Tax Pediatricians

In recent years, there’s been a steady flow of bullshit from a small but vocal group of people who oppose vaccination. This movement rests on a foundation of quackery, misinformation, and outright fraud, and it’s done real damage to real kids. There’s no question that vaccine refusal has become a public health catastrophe of the first order.

What wasn’t clear was what effect this antiscientific noise has on overworked, underpaid family physicians and pediatricians. These folks, who are the cornerstone of children’s health, operate mostly in small practices with even smaller profit margins. After paying their office staff, malpractice insurance, rent, and other expenses, many of them are barely staying afloat. Vaccination is a big part of their business, but it’s one of the lowest-paying services they offer. Some pediatricians actually lose money on every vaccine dose they deliver.

Now it seems that anti-vaccination rhetoric is making this bad situation even worse. According to a new study, patients who refuse vaccination for their children, or demand altered immunization schedules based on pseudoscience, cause the doctor to waste 10-20 minutes explaining why they’re wrong. That’s about half a patient visit worth of lost time, each time this happens.

Apparently it’s not a rare occurrence, either:

Overall, 8% of physicians reported that ≥10% of parents refused a vaccine and 20% reported that ≥10% of parents requested to spread out vaccines in a typical month.

So in a typical month, at least one-fifth of the family practitioners and pediatricians in the country are forced to waste time and money rebutting blatantly false claims that someone has piped into the heads of their patients. It’s bad enough that anti-vaccination nonsense endangers kids, but on top of that it drives up healthcare costs and decreases access for everyone.

The study has some hopeful data as well, though. More than half of the pediatricians surveyed require parents to sign a form if they refuse vaccination, which could encourage at least some of them to change their minds. I don’t know what the exact wording is on those forms, but I certainly hope they contain the phrase “parental malpractice” somewhere.

In addition, the authors found some of the strategies that work best in combating the misinformation. Personal statements about what the doctor would do (or did do) for his or her own children seem to be most effective in persuading vaccination-shy parents to do the right thing. In that spirit, I’ll reiterate what I’ve said elsewhere: my child is and will always be fully vaccinated. If yours isn’t, take seven minutes to watch this all the way through:

The video is disease-specific, but the concept is identical for any vaccine-preventable infection. These pathogens kill and maim, and you or your kid could be next.

Kempe, A., Daley, M., McCauley, M., Crane, L., Suh, C., Kennedy, A., Basket, M., Stokley, S., Dong, F., Babbel, C., Seewald, L., & Dickinson, L. (2011). Prevalence of Parental Concerns About Childhood Vaccines American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40 (5), 548-555 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2010.12.025