Two pediatricians say it’s time to stop letting parents opt out of vaccinations

Aug 5, 2016
Originally published on August 4, 2016 5:39 pm

Many physicians and public health scientists view vaccination as the greatest development in modern medicine.

And yet, doctors like Phoebe Day Danziger and Rebekah Diamond, pediatric residents at the University of Michigan, find themselves trying to work with parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated.

They wonder why anti-vaccine parents are allowed to expose their kids, and the rest of society, to diseases which, by now, should have been wiped out.

Could it be time to make vaccination mandatory for all kids?

These are among the questions Danziger and Diamond pose in “The Vaccination Double Standard,” a piece they co-authored for Slate.

Danziger said most anti-vaccine parents are “coming from a good, well-meaning place.” What those parents don’t understand, she says, is that their fears have already been debunked.

“A lot of the claims and concerns that have been raised have been really thoroughly investigated. They’ve really been asked and answered,” Danziger said. “As a field, we’ve looked at a lot of these concerns and studied millions and millions of children over many decades and really found that these fears are simply unfounded.”

But Diamond acknowledges that doesn’t mean vaccines are risk-free.

“Nothing is risk-free,” she said. “Everything has risks and benefits, but the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks of vaccination.”

She said among doctors, vaccinations are universally believed to be “one of the most amazing inventions in modern medicine.”

Danziger agrees.

“Aside from the introduction of a safe, clean water supply, we can’t really think of anything else that’s had this profound of an impact on child health and population health,” she said.

The double standard

Diamond and Danziger believe the way society approaches vaccines right now involves a double standard.

“To really understand this argument, you have to take a step back and ask yourself the question: ‘Do children have rights in our society?’” Diamond said. “Are there protections that we have enacted for our children? And the answer is yes: we have set certain rules for how parents should care for their children.”

She said we as a society require children to have access to clean drinking water and proper medication. We require all children to wear seatbelts and go to school.

Danziger said the same should go for vaccinations.

“The medical and health communities have become too complacent in accepting vaccine refusal for children as a matter of personal belief,” she said. “I think we’re not upholding the obligation to advocate for the best interest of children.”

To hear the full conversation, including these doctors' thoughts on how racism and classism is involved, listen above.


Dr. PhoebeDanziger is a resident physician in pediatrics at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Rebekah Diamond is also a resident physician in pediatrics at the University of Michigan.

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