Major Texas Clinic Stops Accepting Unvaccinated Pediatric Patients

Texas Daily LIfe
Photo: Associated Press/Sarah A. Miller

A prominent Central Texas regional clinic will no longer accept as patients children whose parents opt them out of childhood vaccinations.

Officials at the Austin Regional Clinic (ARC), one of the biggest professional medical groups in Central Texas with 350 physicians, announced at a June 30 press conference that they will not retain pediatric patients lacking routine childhood vaccinations because of parents and/or guardians who oppose inoculation for personal, philosophical, or religious reasons.

There is an exception. ARC will accept new youngsters and keep existing children who cannot be vaccinated because of valid medical reasons including compromised immune systems or adverse reactions to vaccines.

In an open letter on Tuesday, ARC Chief Medical Officer Russell Krienke called the change a strengthening of their immunization policy “to require that all of our new and existing pediatric patients be vaccinated.”

He referenced the recent measles outbreak in California (Disneyland) as “a reminder to us about how important it is to maintain safe facilities, from our waiting rooms to our exam rooms.”

ARC plans to discuss the new policy with the parents of its existing unvaccinated minor patients. For those who agree to participate, ARC will implement a catch-up immunization program. All others will no longer be treated by ARC.

The new vaccination standards reflect current recommendations from two leading health authorities: the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to KXAN-7.

At the presser, Krienke said, “More than 400,000 infants, children, adolescents, adults, and seniors trust ARC for their health needs. It is our responsibility to ensure our facilities are safe for all of them.”

Interestingly, also on Tuesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the contentious Senate Bill 277, which mandates that nearly all of the state’s children be fully vaccinated to be allowed to attend public or private school, regardless of their parents’ personal or religious convictions.

That legislation followed the Disneyland measles outbreak, which went from one case to over 170 and spread across 21 states plus the District of Columbia between January 1 and May 29, according to the CDC.

Breitbart Texas spoke to ARC Marketing Communications Director Heidi Shalev and asked: Why now? She said the main reason for the policy change was timing. It is “well-check season,” the summer months when school is out and parents bring in their children for appointments. “It is a good time to have a conversation with them,” Shalev commented.

She also told Breitbart Texas that the decision to vaccinate or not to vaccinate is “a tough choice” and ARC did not make this decision lightly. “We had very deep discussions about the implications that this would make on the community.”

Shalev added, “We respect every parent’s choice for their kids because we know parents choose what they think is best for their kids and their families. We can’t make any judgment on that. However, what we can say is what we are choosing is to keep our facility safe for our patients. We know, it’s scientifically proven that the best way to keep our waiting room safe for our most vulnerable patients is by making sure that everybody in that waiting room is vaccinated.”

The ARC spokeswoman noted that others in the medical community, although they do not have this new rule in place, support ARC’s vaccination policy changes. She named the Austin Diagnostic Clinic, Seton Hospital System, St. David’s HealthCare, Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Association, Texas Pediatric Society, and the Travis County Medical Society.

ARC insists its primary goal is to have a safe facility for their most vulnerable patients of whom Shalev defined as newborns, those with weakened immune systems, and the elderly. She, too, highlighted measles as a factor, telling Breitbart Texas, “When we saw how many people got the measles from just one person in Disneyland that is when our discussions became more serious about not should we do this but when do we do this.”

But is it drastic? The ARC immunization schedule page states in bold: “The physicians and staff at Austin Regional Clinic support immunizations. If you plan not to immunize your child, we prefer that you choose another practice. We do not want to place the rest of our patients at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable illnesses.”

Doctors rejecting pediatric patients over vaccinations is not new. This winter, Los Angeles’ KCBS-2 reported that a Southern California pediatrician took a very strong stance during the measles scare. Dr. Charles Goodman posted a sign in his office and on his Facebook page for patients: “Although I respect each person’s free choice, I have a bigger responsibility to all of the patients I care for. Because of this, the office no longer accepts NEW PATIENTS who have decided not to immunize their children.”

He also extended that policy to existing patients, listing as his reason the most vulnerable, babies, who cannot be inoculated until they are 12 months old and would be sitting ducks if left in an infected waiting area.

Breitbart Texas reported that more Lone Star state parents opted out of inoculating their children from many childhood diseases, including the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). The number of youngsters without routine childhood vaccinations rose from 2,314 in 2003-04 to 38,197 in 2013-14. Although it sounds like a lot, it represents less than 1 percent of student enrollment statewide.

Texas state law requires that children at all public and private schools have 10 different immunizations including tetanus, pertussis (“whopping cough”), hepatitis B, diptheria, and MMR.

Although anti-vaxxers are often blamed for the resurgence of certain childhood illnesses, the Disneyland outbreak was likely caused by a foreign source, which Breitbart News reported.

In Texas, parents continue to opt-out out of their child’s inoculations by filing “conscientious exemptions” with their public and private schools, Breitbart Texas also reported.

In the Austin area serviced by ARC, 2,913 or 1.75% of student are not vaccinated. To the north in Williamson County, 2,350 or 2.11% of the student population remains unvaccinated. South in Hays County, 468 or 1.57% and in Bastrop County, 147 or 0.96% of students have vaccination exemptions, according to KXAN-7.

Texans for Vaccine Choice, a non-profit organization that seeks to protect personal rights and informed consent for all individuals, disagrees with ARC’s new vaccination policy. They believe it violates the doctor/patient process and may even coerce doctors into “following a policy with which they don’t necessarily agree.”

On their Facebook page, they posted that ARC’s new policy can leave families without medical care. They assert this makes it even more difficult for families under Medicaid/CHIP.

The ARC website claims parents who opt out of vaccinations are “confused about the value and safety of vaccines due to misinformation in the media and on biased websites.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.