Measles outbreak sparks debate over unvaccinated patients

LOS ANGELES -- The measles outbreak that started last month at Disneyland is not slowing down. It's now up to at least 114 cases in 14 states.

A growing number of doctors are now refusing to treat patients who are not vaccinated. It's a policy that puts them at odds with some leaders in the medical community.

Dr. Margaret Van Blerk is a pediatrician in Orange County, California, home to 27 confirmed cases of measles and one of the largest groups of unvaccinated children in the state.

"It's just frustrating that they just don't listen because they come to us to take care of their children, and yet they don't trust us," Van Blerk said.

Now, her practice is on the verge of dropping patients whose parents refuse to immunize.

"We probably will just not be able to see them here anymore," Van Blerk said. "I don't want people bringing their children in here and being fearful they're going to get exposed to kids that are not vaccinated."

"I feel their pain, but that won't stop the epidemic if you exclude children," said Dr. Kenneth Bromberg with the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We want to work with families, and there are other ways to protect children other than excluding those families."

He said pediatricians could create separate office hours for children whose parents won't vaccinate to isolate them from other patients.

It's not that simple, according to pediatrician Charles Goodman.

If a patient infected with measles came into his office, Goodman said, "It would be a disaster. I'd have to call the Health Department. It would close our office down. Every patient that was in there would have to be basically quarantined for a period of time."

He said babies who are too young to receive the vaccine are especially at risk.

"The disease is so contagious that they could give those babies measles, and those babies could die," Goodman said.

"As a physician, we take the Hippocratic Oath, and it's first to do no harm," Van Blerk said. "And by bringing patients in who are not vaccinated, I think we're harming our other patients who depend on us to keep them healthy."

As the outbreak worsens, some doctors feel the strongest medicine may be a dose of reality.