As part of a new policy effective Tuesday, Centegra Physician Care will treat only children who are vaccinated according to the schedule developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the health system announced.
Patients 17 years old and younger will be required to receive the recommended vaccinations to continue care, a Centegra news release said.
Centegra expects children not up to date on vaccinations to begin the catch-up process at their next office visit. Those who do not comply with the vaccination schedule will be released from the company’s practice, the release said.
However, pediatrician Pasquale Bernardi, who also is the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Centegra Physician Care, stressed the policy does not apply to the emergency department.
“The ER is not impacted by this,” Bernardi said. “We will see any child that comes into the ER. This is for our outpatient practices.”
Bernardi said most, if not all, practitioners have started to have conversations with patients about the policy. Patients are being informed of the policy, and practitioners explain a plan can be developed to get children caught up. The new practice, Bernardi said, is mostly geared toward those who actively are choosing not to vaccinate their children. Those people, he said, will need to find a different avenue of care.
Dr. Laura Bianconi, medical director of Centegra Physician Care pediatrics, said in the release the decision is based on “overwhelming evidence” vaccines are effective in saving lives and preventing the spread of serious illness.
“Over the years, we have done our best to accommodate families who chose not to follow the scientifically established vaccination schedules,” Bianconi said in the release. “Recent outbreaks of diseases preventable by vaccines have caused us to re-evaluate our position regarding exposing infants and other vulnerable children in our practices to children whose families have chosen to either not vaccinate or undervaccinate them.”
Specifically, the measles outbreak in Palatine sparked conversations between patients and doctors, Bernardi said.
That initial push from parents concerned about bringing their child to an environment in which unvaccinated children were present then prompted practitioners to talk to superiors about drafting a policy, he said.
It’s a decision that will affect a “small but not insignificant number” of patients as a majority of patients are vaccinated, Bernardi said. It’s also a decision the health system did not take lightly.
“It’s been at least six months of working on this, debating it,” he said. “It was a big decision, and it was a difficult decision.”
With it comes a gray area, Bernardi said.
The policy is not to say a child with some sort of severe illness, such as a bad fever or asthma, will be turned away without a second glance. Patient welfare being the first priority, Bernardi said staff would not turn away an acutely ill child without making sure the child is not in need of emergency care.
The new policy puts Centegra among a growing number of health care providers refusing to take on unvaccinated children.
A November survey published in the journal Pediatrics found one of every five U.S. pediatricians regularly drops families who refuse to have their children vaccinated, with doctors in the south and northeast most likely to do so.
The study noted the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discourage the strategy of dropping unvaccinated patients.
The flu vaccine is not part of the policy, although Centegra’s providers recommend every child receive that vaccination starting at the age of six months, the release said.
For information about the policy, parents should schedule an appointment with their child’s provider by calling 815-338-6600, the release said.