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Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(7):413-414

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Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.

to the editor: In their otherwise excellent editorial “Strategies for Addressing and Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy,” Drs. Loehr and Savoy write, “In the United States, the parent or patient has the right to make medical decisions….” Vaccination is a public health intervention, however, and not simply a medical one. Parents are required by law to immunize their children in order to send them to school, and as the editorial points out, the American Academy of Family Physicians opposes policies that allow nonmedical immunization exemptions. In the United States, we respect a person's right to travel freely; but, this does not mean we condone the running of red traffic lights, because doing so puts others at risk. This is precisely the point with immunization. A parent's refusal to vaccinate his or her child puts every other child at risk.

The public health rationale for vaccination and the community responsibility to have one's children vaccinated are critical messages that physicians for too long have failed to deliver to parents. In doing so, we have inadvertently contributed to a public failure to fully understand the rationale for recommending vaccines.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, deputy editor.

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