More than 20 percent of pediatricians "always" or "often" turn away families who decline to get their babies vaccinated, according to a survey released Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Even so, dismissing families from a practice doesn't happen all that frequently. Most pediatricians said just a small sliver of their patients refused to vaccinate babies.
Doctors in the Northeast and the South were more likely to reject prospective patients over vaccination refusals, according to the study, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will appear in the December issue of Pediatrics. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages doctors from turning away families over this issue.
Most states allow parents to decline immunizations for their children because of medical or religious — or, in some cases, philosophical — beliefs. Several states, however, are more restrictive. Earlier this year, California passed one of the toughest laws in the nation, allowing only limited medical exemptions from childhood vaccines.
The study found that doctors were more likely to refuse to treat unvaccinated infants in states that make it more difficult for parents to opt out of vaccines.
"It could mean that those stricter laws are driving social norms," said Dr. Sean O'Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Colorado and the study's lead author. "Perhaps in those states, it's more acceptable to vaccinate, and to not accept those [patients] that don't."
The survey recorded opinions from more than 500 pediatricians nationwide. Almost all said they had encountered parents who refused to get their infants vaccinated.
A different group of researchers reported last month that the United States may be at risk of a major measles outbreak because fewer children are receiving all their vaccinations.