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|Posted: Tue Apr 12, 2005 11:23 pm Post subject: Parents Don't Know Who To Trust On Vaccinations
|Parents don't know who to trust on vaccinations
By Anne Michaud - TRIBUNE-REVIEW
So many parents are worried today about the side-effects of vaccinations,
and many more are likely to be anxious soon.
A book released at the start of this month, "Evidence of Harm" by David
Kirby, raises questions about the controversial link between autism and
mercury in childhood vaccines.
Besides the mercury-autism link, parents question the benefits of the
hepatitis B vaccine, which is administered three times before the age of 18
months. The risk of an adverse reaction from the vaccine -- hospitalization
or death -- is roughly the same as the lifetime risk of contracting the
disease. Does it seem right, on balance, to put your child's life at risk
when he or she could be hit by a car long before sharing an infected needle?
Some 26 vaccinations are recommended for children before age 2, and while
doctors keep telling us they are safe, more parents (and doctors) are
fighting for the right to decline vaccinations and still enter children in
school, day care centers and summer camps.
The debate reflects our fears of polio and smallpox receding into history,
even while our confidence in medical professionals and science plummets.
What parent believes it's an acceptable risk that his or her 2-year-old
could be brain damaged by a DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) shot --
as was the son of the founder of the National Vaccine Information Center,
Barbara Loe Fisher? Has anyone worried about their kid contracting
diphtheria for a good three generations or more?
As our fear of these diseases recedes, as vaccines bring the illnesses under
control, what we fear more are the pharmaceuticals themselves.
Alison Fujito of McCandless, a member of the parenthood panel, which
contributes to this column, has a mild form of autism known as Asperger's
syndrome. She lives with the torment that a vaccine could have contributed
to his condition. The past 40 years have witnessed a rise in
mass-vaccination policy in the United States, along with a skyrocketing of
autism cases to where 1 in 500 children are afflicted.
Alison points out that mercury that was formerly present in nearly all
childhood vaccines -- and can now still be found in flu and chicken pox
shots -- has been proven to harm the nervous systems of young children, even
babies in the womb.
"Look up acrodynia, a condition written about in the early 1900s that sounds
exactly like autism and was shown to be caused by teething powder containing
mercury," Alison writes. "The disease disappeared when the teething powder
was taken off the market."
Medical authorities make mistakes. The rotavirus vaccine, to prevent severe
diarrhea, was introduced in August 1998 and withdrawn less than a year
later, when it appeared to cause bowel obstructions. Thimerosal, a
preservative in many vaccines, has been removed because it is suspected of
causing mercury poisoning in infants. Although a link between thimerosal and
autism has been disproved in many studies, other studies say the link is
real, and Congress has held hearings on the issue.
While medical researchers may find a risk of 1 in 100 acceptable -- or 1 in
1 million -- how can that 1 millionth parent rationalize the risk? Don't the
elimination of the rotavirus vaccine and thimerosal demonstrate that
immunization policy is imperfect?
In this environment, I think parents should have a right to refuse vaccines.
Another parenthood panel member, Sue MacDonald of Cincinnati, a journalist
who writes about health issues, says that some vaccines seem more worth
having than others. For example, she says, chickenpox means a week of
sickness without the vaccine. With it, a child can be sick for five to six
"Bottom line," Sue writes, "is it's more income for the drug company and not
much health benefit for society."
Another panel member, Donna Wright of Gibsonia, says that alternative health
professionals are willing to write letters exempting children from school
requirements for vaccines. Presumably, this works for day care and summer
camp as well.
It's a lot to ask of parents that we second-guess the medical community. But
we have learned to be suspicious. Scientific assessments of acceptable risk
don't play well when your child's life is in your hands. It's a lot easier
to sign a waiver before surgery saying you know you might die, as an adult,
than to sign over that same responsibility for your child.
A newswire story about the Kirby book recommended that anyone with questions
visit the Web site immunizationinfo.org. So, I did. It is reassuring,
but in such a na?ve way that I just had to laugh. The site, sponsored by the
National Network for Immunization Information, says it is backed by the
Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infectious Diseases
Society and a host of other mainstream medical organizations. The naivete of
the site is that many of us don't take mainstream medical advice at face
value any more.
Too bad. The organization's Web site is quite comforting. All that's
required is that we trust the authors.
Anne Michaud writes on family and parenting issues every Tuesday.
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