DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – To vaccinate or not? It’s a contentious difference of opinion around North Texas and the nation that some experts say puts public health at risk.
“Vaccines are a public health concern– they’re not a personal decision,” says Dallas pediatrician Hillary Lewis.
Dr. Lewis is among those worried about the anti-vaccine trend, in part, because it’s spreading. “What you decide and what you do can affect your neighbor. It can affect your grandparents, it can affect everyone around you.”
Experts say since Texas began allowing non-medical exemptions to required vaccines in 2003, tens of thousands of students now head to class without being immunized.
And eventually, they say, even students who have been vaccinated will be less protected. It’s a concept called ‘herd immunity’— if enough people are vaccinated against a disease, those too young, too ill, or for whom the vaccine was not effective, gain protection.
Dr. Lewis’ colleagues at Pediatricians of Dallas feel so strongly about the concept that those who refuse immunizations aren’t treated at the practice.
“We see a lot of new babies,” explains Dr. Lewis. “What we don’t feel is fair, is for our babies to walk through a waiting room with someone who is not protected and could have a potentially contagious disease.”
And although doctors at the practice will turn patients away, what they really want, according to Dr. Lewis, is an opportunity to talk to parents about their concerns.
“I usually say… what makes you worried about vaccines? And typically it’s something they’ve read on Facebook,” says Dr. Lewis. She admits that discredited junk science linking vaccines to autism has left some parents worried.
“When you make it easy for someone to not vaccinate, we lose the opportunity to talk to families and figure out why they’re worried.”
When afforded those opportunities, Dr. Lewis says it is often her status as ‘Mom’ that soothes concerns, faster than science.
“Just talking through it, and knowing that we all come in and we vaccinate our own children … that makes them feel a lot better,” says Dr. Lewis.
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