Austin Regional Clinic (ARC) announced today its physicians no longer will accept new pediatric patients whose parents opt not to have them vaccinated. The clinic will continue to care for children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons — their weakened immune systems make them unable to receive vaccinations, or they have adverse reactions to vaccines.
ARC adopted the new policy to protect all of its patients from disease, in light of the measles outbreak in California’s Disneyland. In that case one infected individual spread measles to more than 115 people in at least 21 states. ARC aims to protect patients with weakened immune systems or who cannot be vaccinated from accidental exposure.
“ARC’s primary concern is the safety of its patients,” the clinic said in a news release. “The [Disneyland] outbreak reemphasized how easily measles and other dangerous, vaccine-preventable illnesses can spread and how important it is to maintain safe facilities for patients.”
The decision is part of a small but growing trend among clinics and pediatricians who take seriously their responsibility to protect all of their patients from vaccine-preventable diseases. ARC also ultimately will discharge current unvaccinated patients whose parents are unwilling to begin a vaccination catch-up schedule. Keller pediatrician Jason V. Terk, MD, president of the Texas Pediatric Society, similarly discharged unvaccinated patients from his own practice in Keller. He wrote that accepting unvaccinated children in a practice can risk the health of other patients, especially in a waiting room environment.
“Some infants are too young to have received any vaccines, and some children have compromised immune systems because they are being treated for cancer,” he said. “Some may have undiagnosed conditions that put them at increased risk to vaccine-preventable diseases. All of these patients come together in a physician’s office when they need care. A physician who allows patients to go unvaccinated in his practice becomes complicit in the increased risk that such a choice creates and allows that risk to be hosted within the wall of the practice.”
In its announcement today, ARC Chief Medical Officer Russ Krienke, MD, echoed that sentiment:
“More than 400,000 infants, children, adolescents, adults, and seniors trust ARC for their health needs. It is our responsibility to ensure our facilities are safe for all of them,” said Dr. Krienke. “And while we respect the right of families to make their own choices for their children, we also respect the trust our patients put in us to ensure the safety of all, and our policies must honor that trust.”