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What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines

Are doctors experts on vaccines?

Some clearly are not.

I’m talking about the doctors who push classic anti-vaccine misinformation and who also believe that homeopathic treatments work. This includes the classic holistic pediatricians and so-called “vaccine friendly” pediatricians.

In addition to not learning about vaccines, they seem to have skipped the lectures about germ theory, immunology, and much of the science behind modern medicine.

What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines

Although everyone’s education is different, doctors have plenty of opportunities to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases in medical school and during their residency.

I know I did.

But then I trained at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, where John D. Nelson, MD established the first formal Pediatric Infectious Disease fellowship program. I was fortunate enough to be trained at an institution with Dr. Nelson and George McCracken, MD, who together created the National Pediatric Infectious Disease Seminars and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. Not surprisingly, they created an environment where we learned a lot about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Maybe Dr. Bob didn't learn much about vaccines in medical school, but I know I did...
Maybe Dr. Bob didn’t learn much about vaccines in medical school, but I know I did…

And at Parkland Hospital, with the busiest nursery in the United States, and at Children’s, with a very busy ER and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, I took care of more than a few kids with now vaccine-preventable diseases, especially meningococcemia and pneumococcal meningitis.

I also took Rory Coker’s Pseudoscience class in college, which has helped me avoid believing a lot of the misinformation of the anti-vaccine movement.

While other doctors may not have had the same experiences, they at least took the same classes. Although few take a specific course in vaccinology, unless it is an elective, formal classes in the first two years that would cover vaccines or vaccine-preventable diseases include:

  • Cell Biology
  • Immunology
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology

Later on, as medical students begin to see patients and they rotate through clerkships in pediatrics, internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, and surgery, they continue to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases more informally.

You can't learn about vaccines until you understand the basics of immunology.
Part of a good education about vaccines is an understanding of the basics of immunology, including how B-Cells and T-Cells work.

Other things about vaccines you learn as you study independently for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), which includes questions about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases.

What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Vaccines

What’s been missing in much of this education about vaccines?

Medical students don’t usually learn about anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and all of the methods the anti-vaccine movement uses to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

So, just because they aren’t familiar with Leicester, what you think an MTHFR mutation means, or the latest misinformation from Kennedy or Wakefield, that doesn’t mean they aren’t well educated about vaccines.

It does put them at a disadvantage when talking to vaccine-hesitant parents though, which is why they likely do need to learn all of these things.

Vaccine Experts

But even if your pediatrician didn’t learn as much about vaccines as you think they should have in medical school or during their residency, you know who did?

“…a new field of microbiology and immunology has evolved, called “vaccinology,” that comprises not only vaccine development but also the use of vaccines and their effects on public health.”

Stanley A Plotkin on Vaccines, Vaccination, and Vaccinology

This may come as a surprise to those who get excited every time the Geiers “publish” another study critical of vaccines, but there are actually experts in vaccinology, infectious disease, and public health.

It is these vaccine experts that research new vaccines and vaccine safety and who make recommendations about the immunization schedule.

About What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines

Doctors are well trained about vaccines, vaccine safety, and vaccine-preventable diseases, although they might not be up-to-date on the latest anti-vaccine conspiracy theory that has you scared about vaccinating your kids.

More on What Your Doctor Knows About Vaccines

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