The Truth About Child Vaccinations

Featured Article, Growth and Development, Health and Safety

To vaccinate or not? That is the question that has been raging in the media and parenting circles for the past decade or so, fueled by vocal celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavalleri, who unabashedly draw their lines in the sand.

For the general public, picking a side can be difficult, as advocates on both sides of the fence are louder than ever and often come clutching statistics from the latest study supporting their position. What we know, though, is that studies have a tendency to be biased and are often funded by the very groups they stand to benefit. So, in the interest of fairness, we’ve thrown out all studies and reports and sought only documented truth as it relates to the debate, separating vaccination myth from fact.

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MYTH: If I believe that vaccines don’t cause autism, I have no other health concerns to worry about.

In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations included 33 doses of 10 different viral and bacterial vaccines for children by the age of 5. Also, because of governmental mandates and universal insurance coverage, national vaccination rates soared to 90 percent, up from 60-80 percent in the late 60s. Around the same time, the United States saw a spike in autoimmune diseases among children (even outside of autism). From Type-1 diabetes to food allergies and ADHD, cases have skyrocketed since the early 2000s. Some blame it on the chemical components of vaccines, claiming the medical adage that “genetics load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” Others call it coincidence.

Regardless of where you stand, the CDC (in partnership with the FDA) keeps a record of vaccine injuries via its Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database to which anyone can submit an adverse vaccine event, including patients, parents and doctors. The fine print states that “’Underreporting’ is one of the main limitations of passive surveillance systems, including VAERS. The term underreporting refers to the fact that VAERS receives reports for only a small fraction of actual adverse events.” Underreported or not, even the data contained therein is quite telling, from severe vomiting and ongoing diarrhea for two weeks post-vaccination to death.

An additional note: VAERS data speaks mostly to acute reactions immediately or shortly following the vaccination, not any long-term effects, like the autoimmune diseases previously mentioned.

FACT: If my child is vaccine-injured, I may have little recourse.

As part of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (which, in effect, acknowledged that vaccine injuries and deaths are a very real occurrence), the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was created to provide financial support for affected families. The National Vaccine Information Center notes that, by 2012, the U.S. Court of Claims had awarded almost $2.5 billion to families, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Two out of three applicants are denied, and even the successful ones often wait years before seeing a penny.

In Vaccine Epidemic, by Louise Kuo Habakus, MA, and Mary Holland, JD, Russ Bruesewitz recounts the story of his daughter Hannah, who suffered debilitating, ongoing seizures after receiving the DPT vaccine at 6 months. In accepting the fact that his daughter would need long-term care to help her cope with the subsequent neurological damage, Bruesewitz filed a VICP claim. Unfortunately, just 24 days before he filed his position, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala had removed “residual seizure disorders” from the Vaccine Injury Table in the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, rendering his case virtually winless. And he only discovered this in 2000, after his petition languished in the system for almost five years.

Bruesewitz lost his daughter’s VICP case in December 2002 (7-and-a-half years after filing), but here’s where it gets really interesting: After watching his case, several law firms contacted Bruesewitz with offers to represent him on appeal against the vaccine manufacturer itself, and in 2010 (eight years later) the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.

The stakes were extremely high, and the results were crushing. “The Supreme Court ruled 6– 2 in favor of federal preemption, making it impossible in the future to claim in a civil court before a jury that a vaccine’s design was dangerously defective,” Bruesewitz writes. “In practice, all vaccine injury claims must now be decided exclusively in the VICP. Disappointed, but not surprised, we recognized that the vaccine manufacturers’ argument of a threatened vaccine supply and future infectious disease outbreaks won the day. The drug industry had mobilized their forces and had successfully linked our case to the looming storm of 5,000 potential lawsuits in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, in which parents claim that vaccines caused their children’s autism.”

IT DEPENDS: I must vaccinate my child in order to guarantee that he will not contract a harmful disease.

Vaccines have certainly played a role in eradicating some previously feared diseases, including smallpox and, for the most part, polio (though some experts feel that they were on the decline anyway, even before vaccines were introduced). The reality, though, is that vaccines are not 100 percent effective.

According to Aileen Marty, M.D., FACP, and professor of infectious diseases with Florida International University’s Department of Health, the increasing numbers of parents adopting alternative vaccination schedules or failing to stay current with CDC recommendations has impacted immunity levels. “Immune protection evoked by many vaccines given in the first few years of life progressively weakens, and multiple studies reveal that this leads to a higher-than-expected incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases in adolescents and young adults,” she says. “The speed at which the protection decreases depends on various factors, including the vaccination schedule and the type of vaccine.”

This is actually one point where both sides of the vaccine debate disagree, because while Block may disagree that adherence to the CDC schedule will solve the problem, she does corroborate incidence of immunity gaps. “When there is an outbreak of an infection for which we have a vaccine, there is often blame placed on the unvaccinated,” Block adds. “Last year 92 percent of those who had whooping cough had been vaccinated; this year it is 85 percent. And 95 percent of those who had mumps were vaccinated. The vaccines are not giving life-term immunity.”

 FACT: If I choose not to vaccinate my child, I may have to find another pediatrician.

This is America, after all, and parents are legally entitled to choose most things in life—where they live, where they work and, ultimately, whether to vaccinate their children. But with that said, doctors also have the right to choose whether to provide care for unvaccinated children, often under the claim that they don’t want to risk the health of other patients.

Overall, deciding whether to vaccinate your child is an important decision … one not to be taken lightly. Though we’ve tried to cover as much information as possible here, there’s always more to the story. We encourage you to continue to do your own research so that you can have the knowledge necessary to make the right choice for your family.


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