Caregiver and Professional Roles in Early Childhood Vaccination
A recent article in the Journal of Pediatrics discusses the professional responsibility around vaccinations and outlines both the parent’s role and the physician’s role in the decision to vaccinate.
Despite large amounts of evidence in support of early childhood vaccinations, there continue to be questions and doubts surrounding this topic. Physicians are required by ethical obligation to protect and promote the health of their patient (your child). While a quick google search can pull up multiple blog posts and articles warning about the dangers of vaccines, there have been absolutely no valid studies that would indicate the risk of vaccinations outweigh the benefits. While some parents may feel comfortable vaccinating their child, others may not. These parents should consult an ethical, well-informed pediatric physician to have an open discussion on the importance of vaccinations. Here is what you should know in terms of your physician’s role in helping you to form a well-educated opinion:
What is the parents’ role?
- The parents’ role in vaccination is to be honest and open with your pediatrician. Voice your concerns and questions in an open-minded manner. Remember your child’s physician has an ethical obligation to counsel and advise you on what is absolutely best for your child’s health.
- Know the difference between subjective and objective information.
- Subjective information includes: a blog post written by a mother whose child received a vaccine and is now experiencing continuous colds. Subjective information refers to any story or personal experience that either someone you know or yourself have had.
- Objective information includes: information from scientifically valid research. This often presents as hard statistical data.
Typically, physicians will present objective information and evidence to parents. This information comes from scientific data that your physician should help explain to you. Be sure to ask questions if you do not understand.
What is the physicians’ role?
- First and foremost, it should be noted that these discussions should occur with a physician who supports vaccination of children who are medically able to receive them. Any physician who supports withholding vaccination due to personal opinion, is practicing in an unethical manner that can harm both their patients and the health of the general public.
- A physician’s primary role is to protect their patient (in this case, your child).
(Because of this, an ethical physician will advise you to vaccinate your child, even if this does not align with your personal opinion).
- A physician can discuss the importance and effectiveness of vaccinations with you and to help calm any concerns or questions you may have prior to vaccinations.
- Your physician may use the term “herd immunity”. This is used to refer to the notion that most of America is vaccinated. Some parents may feel this is a justification for not vaccinating their child. However, there are still children who are unable to receive a vaccine due to a weak immune system. A child who is not vaccinated may transmit an infection to a child whose immune system is weak. This can result in severe illness and even death.
- Physicians may educate parents on the types of viruses and infections that vaccines protect against, as well as the long-term effects of catching one of them (e.g., life-long intellectual disabilities, deafness, blindness). Vaccines have been successful in significantly decreasing the amount of people getting these serious infections, but it is still possible for a child to contract one if they do not receive the vaccine.
What is the takeaway?
Be sure to bring any questions or concerns about vaccinations to your physician and come to the conversation with an open mind. Remember that your physician is there to help you feel empowered in your role and to help form the best scientifically-based opinion for your child’s health.
Chervenak, F. A., McCullough, L. B., & Brent, R. L. (2016). Professional responsibility and early childhood vaccination. The Journal of Pediatrics, 169, 305-309. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.10.076