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Why do some patients object to vaccinations?

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It’s easy to be confused about vaccinations. On one side, you have a chorus of medical professionals saying, “Vaccines are safe! Everyone should be vaccinated!” And on the other side, an equally loud chorus shouts back, “Not so fast! Not everyone needs to be vaccinated!”

In part 2 of The Great Vaccination Debate, Dr. Brady Pregerson and Nurse Rebekah Child analyze some common objections to vaccination.

Dr. Brady: My brother probably won’t get vaccinated or have his one-year-old vaccinated, either. I don’t think his child has had any vaccines at all. I feel terrible about it. But I got tired of arguing with someone I love over the health of my only nephew (so far). My brother is smart, but he’s a lawyer, not a doctor. He also doesn’t trust the system. He’s a believer in conspiracies—not the type we wrote about last month, but the type where the harmonious cooperation involved is meant to take advantage of others. All the science in the world either goes in one ear and out the other, or just polarizes him further toward his outpost.

Sure, people are making money off vaccines, but they make it off antibiotics and x-rays and cars and food, for that matter. I try to convince my brother, but it seems there’s no use arguing. It’s just a waste of time. I give up—I say uncle. I don’t want to alienate him. I want to be approachable when he does have medical questions. But am I really doing the right thing or just taking the easy way out?

Nurse Rebekah: Ah yes, the age-old “herd immunity” mind-set. If you live in a tiny town in Missouri, herd immunity—relying on everyone else to get their vaccines so you or your children don’t stand a chance of getting the disease—might work for you. However, if you live in a big city, especially one with lots of immigrants, beware! Herd immunity is not for you! Living in Los Angeles, I couldn’t and wouldn’t rely on herd immunity because the herd is full of nasty, preventable, communicable diseases. I remember one of my first pediatric deaths was a 13-year-old who died from Influenza A. I don’t know if he had his flu shot that year or not, but I cringe to this day thinking his death may have been preventable.

As a health professional, how do you help your patients separate the fact from fiction? How do you help them realistically assess the chances of disease vs. the likelihood of a serious side effect? In part 3 of The Great Vaccination Debate, Dr. Brady and Nurse Rebekah discuss the benefits of vaccination.

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Brady Pregerson, MD

Brady Pregerson, MD, a returned Peace Corps volunteer and winner of the 1995 Wise Preventive Medicine Scholarship, completed his medical school at the University of California, San Diego, and his residency at Los Angeles County General Hospital. He has authored three medical pocket books for nurses and doctors, as well as the educational web sites erpocketbooks.com and gotsafety.org. Dr. Pregerson currently works as an emergency physician in Southern California. He writes, "Although the ED environment may be quite different from working on the hospital floor or in an office setting, I am hopeful that you can take these tips and apply them to your own specific work situation." You can buy his books on lessons from the ER, including Don't Try This At Home: Lessons from the Emergency Department and Think Twice: More Lessons from the ER, at amazon.com.
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One Response to Why do some patients object to vaccinations?

  1. Velma

    There are two schools of thought in every debate- and convincing arguments on either side. I have to say that most people in the medical profession that I have encountered willingly received and welcomed the flu vaccine this year. However, many more people have resistance to the H1N1 vaccine- I think it’s viewed as a second flu vaccine, or unnecessary. But like Nurse Rebekah said- you won’t question twice the benefit of the vaccine when you see a child decompensate from the seasonal flu. When it spreads rampantly through populations, it seems as though the benefits of vaccination may indeed outweigh the risks. But the burning question is how do you convince those that are so reluctant?

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