Polio used to be called “the crippler,” and for good reason. During its peak in Canada it haunted the nation. In one year alone, 1953, it struck 9,000 people, left 5,000 with some form of paralysis and killed 500. Older Canadians will recall that time as the era of the iron lung and leg braces, when people were afraid to drink from water fountains or swim in public pools.
It took modern medicine—the famed Salk and Sabin vaccines—to finally bring the scourge under control.
Vaccinating children against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and other infectious diseases saves countless lives. It is one of the great health advances of the last 100 years. Most parents recognize that, and get their kids vaccinated.
But some don’t, mostly out of mistrust for conventional medicine, unfounded fear of adverse side-effects or a misplaced faith in unproven “alternative” nostrums. Dr. Hirotaka Yamashiro, a leading Ontario pediatrician, estimates that one in every 25 or 30 parents balks at routine immunization. That is a worrisome thought. Such parents put their kids, and the wider community, at risk.
That concern is now driving physicians such as Dr. Fatima Kamalia, a Thornhill-based pediatrician, to “discharge” young patients whose parents adamantly refuse to have them vaccinated, after giving the family professional advice, updated medical information, staged treatment options and plenty of time to reconsider.
“Their whole philosophy on care is not consistent with how I practice my medicine,” she told Star reporter Anita Li. “So it’s probably better that they find a doctor who they’re comfortable with, who they can talk to, and who can handle their specific needs better than me.”
Dr. Kamalia is hardly alone in drawing a frustrated line. In the United States, one medical survey reported that 25 per cent of pediatricians have discharged patients for refusing vaccines. It’s a trend that has been building for years. Yet it’s not really an answer.
While the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has no specific policy on the immunization issue, it does have one on severing ties. “In general, a physician should not end the physician-patient relationship because the patient chooses not to follow the physician’s advice,” it says. That’s the patient’s right.
Bundling a child off to a physician who (presumably) won’t insist on vaccination won’t get the child immunized. It just shuffles the problem. By continuing to treat the child, the doctor can at least keep reminding balky parents that they are putting their child at risk. Over time, some may come round.