WATERLOO (KWWL) -- Fed up with parents opting out of vaccinating their children over various healthcare concerns, some doctors are now taking a stand, refusing to treat young patients who have not been vaccinated.
They say it's an effort to encourage good health and keep their waiting rooms disease free. But opponents say they shouldn't be denied medical care, because of their personal choice.
Lori Buher will never forget the night her healthy teenage son Carl fell terribly ill, and had to be rushed to the hospital.
The diagnosis? Bacterial meningitis.
"We couldn't even conceive that it happened so quickly. We were busy he was going to miss his next football game or next fall basketball game or his social studies test and here they were telling us he was going to die," Buher said.
Carl didn't die. But he lost both his legs and three of his fingers. To a disease he could have been vaccinated against.
Carl's heartbreaking story is exactly the kind of thing pediatrician Dr. Bradley Dyer wants to prevent. He's made childhood vaccinations mandatory at his practice.
"If an adult caregiver or parent decides not to vaccinate their children we feel that they're taking an unnecessary risk, so we wanted to take a strong stand and say this is so important to us that it's a deal breaker for us," Dr. Dyer said.
Dyer published his vaccine manifesto in the Journal Pediatrics, stating vaccinations are "Absolutely the right thing to do."
"I think more physicians need to be more aggressive about vaccinating kids. If you're not willing to vaccinate your kids, if you're not willing to trust us and trust our judgment and education then we have a philosophical difference here," he said.
Dyer says he has turned away families who have refused vaccinations and encourages other doctors to do the same.
A recommendation that angers Barbara Loe Fisher, the co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center.
"I think doctors are going to have to get used to parents asking questions about vaccines. And they need to have a civil rational conversation with parents and not be bullying and threatening them," Loe Fisher said.
She says it should be up to the parent, not the doctor to make decisions for his or her child.
"We feel it's very important for parents to get all the information they can about the risks and complications of infectious diseases, the risks and complications of vaccines. And then sit down with their doctor, ask questions, and if their doctor doesn't want to talk to them about this issue, they need to find another doctor who will," Loe Fisher said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says they do understand where doctors like Dyer are coming from, wanting to protect their patients from disease.
"In 2008 three babies who are too young to be vaccinated ended up getting measles from an unvaccinated child who had measles in the waiting room of their doctor's office. So when doctors refuse to bring in patients who have are not vaccinated and have them in the waiting room, that is a very valid concern," Dr. Ari Brown of The American Academy of Pediatrics said.
But they do hope that doctors will think twice before turning patients away.
"Doctor can choose to refuse care to a family that doesn't vaccinate, but The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that we continue relationships so that we can educate these families unless there is a significant difference in health care philosophies," Dr. Brown said.
As for Lori Buher, she's now a firm believer in vaccinations, and encourages parents to educate themselves on the risks and benefits.
"What I would say to them is there are so many things we can't protect our children from. Why not protect them from things that we can?" Buher said.
Instead of turning patients away, some doctors have suggested parents sign waivers or be charged higher insurance premiums instead.