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Dr. David Nunez, family-health medical director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, emphasizes that low vaccination rates put the community at risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. According to the California Department of Public Health, more than 9,000 cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, were reported in California in 2010. (See "Host Bodies" for more information about OC parents in a cluster of South County schools who are choosing to not vaccinate their kids.)
"Providers should not be advocating for delayed vaccines as a matter of practice," Nunez says. "The research shows us that vaccines are safe and that there's no evidence the number or the schedule of vaccines overwhelms the immune system. Many of the vaccine-preventable diseases have the potential to cause severe illness or death for infants."
Sears doesn't see a problem. At least not immediately. "Right now, enough people are vaccinating that the herd immunity of our nation is not being compromised yet," he says.
He continues to be an advocate for parents who want choices, and at the moment, that includes fighting against Assembly Bill 2109, which would require parents to obtain a doctor's signature before they can enroll ther child in public school if they wish to skip one or more vaccines. Authored by Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and supported by the California Medical Association, the bill was passed by the state House in a majority vote and is currently being discussed by the Senate Health Committee. "We're giving doctors too much power," Sears says. In the next five or 10 years, what else are parents going to need their doctor's permission for? This sets a dangerous precedent." As of press time, the bill is in the Senate.
Sears does emphasize that from a public-health standpoint, vaccinating is "clearly in everyone's best interest." He offers a quote from Star Trek to further the point: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few . . . or the one."
But most parents aren't Spock. Most parents simply want to be protectors.
"You can argue with these parents that the decision they're making to not vaccinate is bad for public health, but most parents are trying to make a medical decision that's best for their baby," Sears says. "I think we're all selfish when making any decision for our own children. I can't fault parents for thinking that way."
This article appeared in print as "The Needle Doctor: OC's Dr. Robert Sears, author of The Vaccine Book, finds the middle ground in America's war on vaccinations."