And then, there are those in between.
Massachusetts public school kindergartners are required to be immunized against hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, mumps, measles, rubella, and varicella. In the 2013-2014 school year, 1,192 Massachusetts kindergarten children filed vaccine exemptions. According to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, this is the first time in four years the number of exemptions hasn’t increased, but it’s more than double the exemptions 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the total number of kindergartners has decreased by 8,900. . . .
It’s time to introduce you to the “vaccine-friendly” physician
A bit of a misnomer, physicians who are “vaccine-friendly” treat families who decide not to vaccinate. A simple Google search is the first step to finding them.
The first page of search results for “vaccine friendly doctors in Boston” pulled up JanetLevatin.com, a website for an Ohio-based homeopathic medicine specialist. She lists nine Boston-area physicians who “either don’t vaccinate or do not push unwanted vaccines.”
Dr. Janet Levatin, who practiced in Brookline for 25 years before moving to Ohio, does not offer vaccines for her patients. She also did not vaccinate children for many years in Massachusetts. She told Boston.com that she put the list together as a resource for patients when she moved states. Patients’ word-of-mouth recommendations as well as her own knowledge of vaccine friendly physicians in the area informed her selections.
Within 24 hours of speaking with Boston.com, Levatin took down her website. She insisted that the list may be out of date, so we called each of the physicians listed to see if their position on vaccines had changed. We managed to speak with four of them.
The first we reached, Dr. Fred Mandell of Brookline, was uncomfortable and unaware he was listed on Levatin’s website. He insisted that he follows the state’s vaccine guidelines and did not wish to speak further on the topic.
In Quincy, Dr. Mark Vonnegut said that although he was unaware he was on the list, he was comfortable with being classified as “vaccine-friendly” because he doesn’t “believe in kicking kids out of a practice for not being immunized.” (Some doctors refuse to treat children who have not been vaccinated, even if that means losing an existing patient.)
Dr. Deborah Bershel, who runs an independent family practice in Davis Square, was also unaware that she was on Levatin’s list, but said she is comfortable being classified in this way. Bershel believes that immunizations are effective and good public health policy, but she said that she is simply offering the options that the law outlines and can’t turn parents away.
“Our society, mainly the state of Massachusetts, requires that parents agree to give the immunization, and there’s an implication that the parent should have a right to say yay or nay,” Bershel said. “For me to then imply that the parents are bad parents I think is–I just cannot do that …The medical facts are that the immunizations are helpful, and I try to tell people how diseases have been eliminated, like bacterial meningitis, but many of these people feel they can do better research than the scientific community.”
Finally, we spoke with Dr. Richard Moskowitz, who practices in Watertown. He was aware he was recommended on Levatin’s site (they’re friends). Moskowitz does not offer vaccines for his patients because, he says, they are creating a population with chronically weak immune systems. Moskowitz said he had measles as a child and survived, and he thinks his immune system is stronger for it. In his opinion, vaccines are only necessary for people who travel. He said he would only get a vaccine if he was traveling “somewhere like Africa.” . . . .
The mother of all “vaccine-friendly” physician lists
There are several lists of vaccine friendly doctors besides Levatin’s. The first (and still the biggest) was created by California-based pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears, who is renowned for developing an alternative vaccine schedule for young children that delays the immunizations over longer periods of time.
Today, physicians ask to be listed on Sears’s website of vaccine-friendly physicians. One of those is Dr. Mark Su, who has been practicing family medicine for three years on the North Shore. He refuses to turn families away because they won’t vaccinate their children. . . .