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Jenna and Chris Smith are the proud parents of Ana, a 5–day–old baby girl born without complications at Community Hospital. Since delivery, the parents have bonded well with Ana and express their desire to raise her as naturally as possible. For the Smiths, this means breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, making their own baby food using pureed organic foods, and not allowing Ana to be vaccinated.
The Smiths are college educated and explain they have researched vaccines and decided the potential harms caused by them far outweigh any benefits. They point to the rise in autism rates as proof of the unforeseen risk of vaccines. Their new pediatrician, Dr. Angela Kerr, listens intently to the Smiths’ description of their research, including online mommy–blogs that detail how vaccines may have caused autism in many children. The Smiths conclude by resolutely stating they’ve decided not to vaccinate Ana, despite the recommendations of the medical community.
Dr. Kerr begins by stating that while vaccines have certainly sparked controversy in recent years, she strongly recommends that Ana become fully vaccinated. Dr. Kerr explains that vaccines have saved the lives of millions of children worldwide and have been largely responsible for decreases in child mortality over the past century. For example, the decreased incidence of infection with the potentially fatal Haemophilus influenzae type b, has resulted from routine immunization against that bacterium. Similarly, epidemics such as the recent outbreak of measles are usually associated with individuals who have not been vaccinated against that pathogen.
Dr. Kerr goes on to endorse the general safety of vaccines by informing Ana’s parents that safety profiles of vaccines are updated regularly through data sources such as the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). The VAERS, a nationwide vaccine safety surveillance program sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is accessible to the public at https://vaers.hhs.gov/index. This system allows transparency for vaccine safety by encouraging the public and healthcare providers to report adverse reactions to vaccines and enables the federal government to monitor their safety. No vaccine has been proven casual for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or any developmental disorder. On the contrary, many studies have shown that vaccines containing thimerasol, an ingredient once thought to cause autism, do not increase the risk of ASD.
Finally, Dr. Kerr reminds the Smiths that some children in the general population have weakened immune systems because of genetic diseases or cancer treatment, for example. It may not be medically feasible to vaccinate such children. Other children are too young to receive certain immunizations. Instead, these children are protected because almost all other children (and adults) have been vaccinated and this decreases their exposure to vaccine–preventable illnesses (VPIs). This epidemiological concept is known as “herd immunity.” As more parents refuse immunization for their healthy children, however, the rate of VPIs will increase. This puts vulnerable children at significant risk of morbidity and mortality. Routine childhood immunization contributes significantly to the health of the general public, both by providing a direct benefit to those who are vaccinated and by protecting others via herd immunity. Dr. Kerr concludes by stating that after considering the risks versus the benefits of immunization, most states require vaccinations before children can attend school. Parents may decide not to vaccinate under specific circumstances, however, which vary by state.
Jenna and Chris Smith confirm their understanding of what Dr. Kerr has explained, but restate that they do not want Ana vaccinated at this time. Dr. Kerr is perplexed as to what to do.
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For this assessment, develop a solution to a specific ethical dilemma faced by a health care professional. In your assessment:
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