“Doctor’s visit — time for vaccines!”
Five little words that caused quite the firestorm.
They were posted on Friday, Jan. 8, accompanied by a photo of a father with an adorable baby girl. In less than a week, the post racked up 3.2 million likes, was shared by 34,000 people (including Dr. Sanjay Gupta), and generated some 91,000 comments.
Why? The dad holding the infant happened to be Mark Zuckerberg, chairman, chief executive and cofounder of Facebook. As a result, what may have been interpreted as a doting father showing off a cute pic quickly turned into the latest round in the never-ending vaccine controversy. No sooner did the Zuckerbergs arrive home than did thousands of anti-vaxxers (the term for the alarmingly high percentage of people who believe vaccines to be dangerous) littered his page with comments that ranged from misguided (calling immunizations a “disgusting science”) to ridiculous (“Vaccine kills more people than it helps”).
It’s enough to make pediatricians everywhere want to rant and rave (as they did in this brilliant Jimmy Kimmel sketch).
But if you think these opinions are held mostly by uneducated Internet trolls, think again. Sadly, many of these people are parents of young children. And what’s even scarier are that there many new moms and dads who are the on fence about whether vaccines are necessary — or even safe.
One of these is a friend of mine. And I can attest that she isn’t some crazy zealot with a sign on her head. She’s a conscientious, smart person who springs for organic food and has a whole cupboard full of vitamins and homeopathic medicine. She’s also someone who watches Dr. Oz — who before coming under fire for deceptive marketing of supplements, hosted some “experts” on his show warning of the dangers of vaccines.
And there are other moms out there who have started to question whether immunizations are safe after hearing celebrities spout off ridiculous, unfounded claims and portray themselves as great parents for refusing to subject their babies to big, bad needles.
What happens when one of these moms or dads visit a pediatrician office that’s part of your health system? A few years ago, another friend of mine who works with autistic children expressed concern with the MMRS vaccine. But instead of sitting with her to review the facts about vaccines, the pediatrician gave her a handout for the alternate vaccine schedule. Here’s the problem — my friend wasn’t worried about vaccine overload; she was terrified about the possible link to autism, something that has been completely discredited, but still comes up with any Google search of the word “vaccine.” Fortunately, she spoke to a nurse (the same one who happened to lead our new mom’s group), who gave her the facts — along with a referral for another physician.
Now, I want to be clear that I don’t blame her pediatrician — at least not completely. The amount of material that has to be covered during a 10-minute well visit is staggering. I do, however, fault the physician’s office for not having materials on hand to educated frightened parents about an issue as controversial as vaccines. Maybe it could be a fact sheet, or list of resources that include blogs like the excellent one written by Wendy Sue Swanson. Maybe this information can be found in a portal or website, or maybe it’s a packet. Regardless, there needs to be something parents can refer to when everyone from TV doctors to well-meaning (yet misinformed) friends to pop singers is telling them that vaccines are evil.
They need to hear that the real danger lies in failing to immunize infants (see: Disneyland measles outbreak, 2014), and they need to hear it from a medical professional.
And if they insist on getting parenting advice from a celebrity, please let it be Zuckerberg.