One side sees vaccinations as potentially harmful to children. The other side sees endangerment to the health of the community.

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A new poll reports that 40 percent of parents would likely switch primary care physicians if the doctor treated unvaccinated children. Getty Images

As founder of the online support group, The Mamahood, Heather Anderson prides herself on inclusiveness.

Rarely does she ban a controversial topic.

But she equates one such topic to an “unrelenting nuclear bomb.”


“There are such heated emotions on both sides that relate to protecting our children that moms are unable to listen to each other or have a conversation,” she told Healthline.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate is still the question, more than two centuries after Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine in 1796.

The current anti-vaccination movement — pushed to the public forefront by celebrities such as Robert DeNiro and Jenny McCarthy — is mostly fueled by fear of side effects triggering autism in children, among other maladies.

British doctor Andrew Wakefield suggested the link in 1998, an allegation later retracted by journal publishers and widely debunked by scientists. Wakefield’s medical license in the United Kingdom was revoked in 2010.

Yet the implication lingers and still deeply divides some parents.

A poll published this week by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan reported that 40 percent of parents in the United States would likely find a new primary care doctor for their child if that doctor also treated people who weren’t vaccinated.

Of the 2,032 parents, 3 in 10 of at least one child 18 or younger surveyed said their child’s primary care doctor shouldn’t treat children whose parents refuse all vaccines.

“When a family refuses all childhood vaccines, it puts providers in a challenging position,” Sarah Clark, the poll’s co-director, said in a statement. “This can be especially risky exposure for vulnerable populations, including infants too young to receive vaccines, elderly patients, patients with weakened immune systems, or pregnant women.”

Leah Russin founded Palo Alto-based advocacy group Vaccinate California after the “happiest place on Earth” became one of the scariest for a parent.

On January 5, 2015, state health officials discovered an unvaccinated 11 year old was hospitalized with measles after visiting the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim the previous month.

A little more than 5 weeks later, 125 cases of measles — a disease the U.S. government declared eliminated in 2000 — were connected to the theme park across eight states, Canada, and Mexico.

“I had a toddler at the time and was horrified to discover how many smart, well-meaning parents were rejecting vaccine protection for their children,” Russin, a lawyer and former teacher, told Healthline. “I was frustrated that measles and whooping cough were still threatening children.”

Russin avoided play groups that included unvaccinated children during California’s whooping cough outbreak in 2014 and 2015. Her hesitancy extends elsewhere.

“I certainly will not take my child to a pediatric practice that facilitates vaccine denial,” she said. “I recently decided not to use an obstetrics practice because the associated pediatric practice provided a link to an unsupported vaccine schedule and implied a link to autism on their website.”

Jennifer Miller’s 12-year-old daughter suffered respiratory failure and was placed on life support when she was 5, due to influenza complications. She nearly died after not getting a flu shot for the first time.

“The biggest mistake I ever made as a parent,” said Miller, a member of the board of directors at Virginia-based advocacy group Families Fighting Flu.

Miller recognizes both sides just want the best for children, and most of her encounters with the other side are “vaccine hesitant,” rather than anti-vaccination.

“I don’t believe this issue (or) argument is going away anytime soon,” Miller told Healthline. “It’s very disheartening to me to see that the anti-vaccine movement continues to threaten the public’s safety… Quite simply, I made a promise to myself, my family, and namely my child, that I would do everything in my power to make sure no other child or family has to go through what mine did.”

One vaccine-hesitant parent was Janine Thalblum, a parent from Dublin, California, whose son was immunized and, shortly thereafter, diagnosed with autism in 2003.

They held off on vaccinating his younger brother with anything other than the “bare minimum requirements” until he was older.

Through therapy and hard work, her oldest son no longer falls on the autism spectrum. Her second child doesn’t have autism.

“Science has now debunked the vaccine link, but at the time, the only thing we were told was ‘we have no idea the cause and there is no cure,’” Thalblum told Healthline. “And the chance of having two kids with autism was terrifying.”

Matia Brizman, is a PhD, mother of two, and practices Chinese medicine with her husband.

Her family moved to Oregon after California passed Senate Bill 277 in 2015, which mandates children taught in school classrooms or enrolled in a childcare facility be fully immunized against 10 diseases, unless a doctor says there’s a medical reason not to.

“I have been privy to an enormous number of children damaged by medications and other vaccines,” Brizman told Healthline. “I have several friends who are in living hell with children who beat their heads against the wall, (which is) an eventual symptom caused in some severely autistic children.”

She continued: “I can tell you from my experience as a mother and as a clinician, there is a multitude of ways to keep a human being healthy, prevent and treat illness. They say the science is settled, and yet, if one delves further, one can see clearly it is not.”

Brizman said it comes down to parents being able to choose to limit harm they believe is possible.

“I believe there are valid issues on both sides. However, I do not think we can decide under which conditions we support our basic freedoms as outlined in our Constitution… It is unconstitutional in a free society to mandate anything that has the potential, even if a small percentage, to cause severe harm or death,” she said.

The new poll clearly shows that, even more than a decade after Wakefield’s bogus claim about autism’s connection to vaccinations was proved false, there’s still a divide among parents.

For parents who don’t feel good about the bugs that might be flying around a doctor’s office, Clark has a simple answer.

“Any parent — and particularly parents of infants or immunocompromised children — should ask their child’s primary care provider about policies surrounding unvaccinated children,” she said.