The vaccination-autism debate is a lightening rod that became further energized by the case of Hannah Poling, of Athens, Georgia. Hannah was developing normally until 2000 when at the age of 19 months she received five shots against nine infectious diseases.
Soon thereafter Hannah’s behavior began spiraling downward, until she was eventually diagnosed with autism in 2001. Then late last year the government reached a settlement with the Poling family on the theory that the vaccinations she received might have aggravated an underlying mitochondrial condition, thus contributing to Hannah’s autism.
Although the case has been touted as proof that vaccines contribute to autism, public health experts and vaccine advocates disagree.
“Scientific evidence has failed to confirm any link between vaccination and various disorders, including but not limited to autism,” explains Tara C. Smith of Aetiology, “Studies have shown again and again that any risk that comes from vaccines is negligible compared to the risk of contracting the infectious agent.”
But the case has nonetheless fueled parents’ concerns about having their kids vaccinated.
“I feel vaccines contribute to autism…The vaccine schedule is driven by profits the pharmaceutical companies make by convincing parents and physicians that they must vaccinate their kids,” explains one mother of a child with autism living in Clinton, New Jersey.
And the recent push to make the HPV and flu vaccine mandatory only feeds the worry and criticism. So, as public concern and outcry continues to build, shouldn’t parents have the right to decide exactly what their child does or does not get stuck with?
“Like all medications, immunizations are not without risks and the risk-benefit ratio has to be considered for each individual and each immunization individually, in a rational attempt to reduce overall risk,” explains Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat For Health and Disease-Proof Your Child.
“My philosophy has always been to teach and inform, so patients can make decisions they feel most comfortable with. This also includes allowing individuals to make choices that I might not always agree with,” said Dr. Fuhrman.
Now, to public health experts the prospect of an unvaccinated population is unfair.
“People think of measles and chicken pox as these benign childhood diseases…But obviously kids who’ve died from them aren’t around to lend their voices to the debate,” said Tara C. Smith. “These parents say they won’t ‘sacrifice’ their children to the ‘greater good,’ so instead they put all our children at risk.”
But for others the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and public officials creates concern.
“In 2001 the Homeland Security Act introduced a provision to protect drug manufacturers from liability should any of their vaccines ever be proven to cause harm…This is basically acknowledging that there is harm,” said Robyn O’Brien, founder of AllergyKids.com.
That’s why Mrs. O’Brien encourages parents to obtain the package insert from the vaccine manufacturer that comes in the box of vaccines delivered to the pediatrician’s office, before you inject your child with anything. These inserts list all the risks of a particular vaccine. (An online listing of vaccine inserts can be found at The Institute for Vaccine Safety).
Mrs. O’Brien feels most pediatricians are so busy seeing patients that they don’t have time to familiarize themselves with the information on the insert, so, it’s up to parents to seek out all relevant information.
Maureen Drummond, founder and spokeswomen for The NJ Coalition for Vaccination Choice (NJCVC) offered this piece of advice. “Don’t be motivated by fear…Pull out all the stops to gather that information before you vaccinate. Go beyond what public health, doctors, and manufacturers put out there. Look for that package insert!”
The NJCVC supports the passage of legislation that will provide a conscientious belief exemption to mandatory vaccinations. “A ‘Conscientious Exemption’ acknowledges that every individual needs to reserve the right to refuse any procedure, including vaccinations that carry the risk of injury or death,” explains Mrs. Drummond.
Currently most parents rely on religious exemptions to avoid having their children vaccinated. However, a religious exemption requires a doctor’s support and is commonly challenged by school nurses. Conscientious Exemptions would alleviate the need to claim belief in a higher power and would allow a rightful exemption based solely on parental decision.
With valuable information merely a keystroke away, parents and caregivers are better educated than in years past, so if they’re willing to do their homework and make an informed decision, shouldn’t they be rewarded with the right to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?