Pediatricians say GOP vaccination proposal in Pa. could put children, newborns at risk

The law would require doctors to let parents set their children’s immunization schedules.

Pediatrician Charles Goodman, left, talks to Frank Fierro, the father of 1 year-old Cameron Fierro. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Pediatrician Charles Goodman, left, talks to Frank Fierro, the father of 1 year-old Cameron Fierro. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

This story originally appeared on WITF.

Pennsylvania pediatricians say a bill in the state general assembly would interfere with their job of immunizing children if it were voted into law, and put newborns and sick children at risk for getting potentially deadly infections.

The “Immunization Freedom Act,” sponsored by Republican state Rep. David Zimmerman of Lancaster, passed the House health committee last week with a party-line vote.

In part, the bill seeks to bar pediatricians from denying care to a child whose parent doesn’t want to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention immunization schedule.

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Zimmerman says the legislation is “the first step in allowing the families and the physicians to work together” to set up individualized schedules. But physicians say that already happens within the constraints of medical best practices—and anything outside that would violate their professional standards.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy for Pediatrics and doctors interviewed for this story say almost every sentence in the bill is based on misinformation. And regardless of how likely it is the measure would become law, they are concerned legislators are giving voice to anti-science ideas that affect what happens in their exam rooms.

“So for the people who are ambivalent or concerned, this bill gives credence to that false notion that it’s okay to delay vaccines for their children,” said Dr. Gabriel Cisneros, a pediatrician in Pittsburgh who serves as co-chair of the Pa. American Academy for Pediatrics advocacy committee.

What the bill says

The proposal states doctors must allow parents to set their children’s immunization schedules, as long as the child gets one vaccine per year. The CDC recommends more than that for infants and children of certain ages.

It also would prohibit doctors from charging parents for time spent discussing the merits of getting their child immunized.

Insurers would be prevented from financially incentivizing pediatric clinics to follow CDC guidelines.

And, it would ban pediatricians from limiting the hours when they see the children of non-immunization-compliant parents in order to keep those children away from at-risk patients. Those include children with cancer, immunocompromised children and newborns who are not yet vaccinated.

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If the bill were made into law, a doctor who failed to follow the rules could be brought up before a medical board for “unprofessional conduct.”

The state’s hospital lobby, insurance lobby and pediatricians’ group all oppose the measure, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said Wolf “has concerns” with the bill, a sign he could veto it.

At Children’s Community Pediatrics, Cisneros said the proposal is rooted in misleading ideas that have no grounding in science—ideas that pose problems for him even if the bill doesn’t pass.

For starters, it’s rare that doctors turn away children, Cisneros said.

His office requires children to follow the CDC guidelines for getting crucial early immunizations, Cisneros said, and it’s true that pediatricians regularly deal with vaccine-hesitant parents.

However, he and his colleagues have rarely had to turn away a child, because they are able to talk with parents. That would be harder to do if doctors were forced to follow parents’ directives.

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