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The Great Vaccine Debate: Why Some Parents Just Say No

Vaccine proponents are increasingly raising the alarm that medical progress is being impeded by "quack doctors" who recommend against vaccination, and by "irresponsible parents" who decide not to immunize their children. Meanwhile, organizations such as the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) are calling for more research into the safety of vaccines. What are the issues surrounding this debate?

The Arguments of Vaccine Proponents

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccine-preventable disease levels are at or near record lows in the United States. Diseases such as polio and diphtheria have been nearly eradicated from this country, and the incidence of mumps, pertussis, measles, and tetanus is steadily decreasing. The CDC believes that this good news can be attributed primarily to the high level of appropriate immunization in American children. However, it states that many under-immunized children remain, leaving the potential for outbreaks of disease. "Even if there are only a few cases of disease today," they warn, "if we take away the protection given by vaccination, more and more people will be infected and will spread disease to others. Soon we will undo the progress we have made over the years."

The CDC and other public health officials in the U.S. acknowledge that serious reactions to vaccinations can and do occur, but they believe that the numbers are small enough to justify mass vaccination for the benefit of the nation's health. They state that the small amounts of chemical and other additives in vaccines cause no harm in the absence of allergies, and that these additives are necessary to ensure the potency, sterility, and safety of vaccines. They argue that there is a need to improve and sustain immunization coverage, so that the public health can be maintained and expanded in the century to come.

The Questions Being Raised About Vaccines

Those who oppose mandatory vaccination argue that the drop in vaccine-preventable disease levels may be due to improved overall hygiene and nutrition in this country since the 1940s. They point out that the likelihood of dying from a childhood vaccine-preventable disease is rare, and that lifelong immunity is conferred only by contracting the diseases. Vaccination does not guarantee even immediate immunity, and boosters are necessary for all vaccinations. If all childhood vaccinations were halted, they do not believe any major epidemic would ensue, only small, localized outbreaks.

Many parents are questioning the number of shots doctors currently recommend for their children. In the 1970s, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised that children get 23 doses of 7 vaccines by the age of six. The first vaccinations were given at two months old. Today, the CDC and the AAP say that children should get more than twice that number of vaccine doses by age six: 48 doses of 14 vaccines. The first vaccination is given to newborns when they are 12 hours old. When babies are two months old, they may be given as many as eight vaccines on a single day. When they are 15 to 18 months old, they may be given as many as 12 vaccines on a single day. Is it possible that that many doses of pathogens (viruses and bacteria) and chemical additives tax the immune system, rather than enhance it?

Vaccine additives include a number of potentially toxic substances, including formaldehyde and 2-phenoxyethanol (both known carcinogens), aluminum (associated with asthma, seizure disorders, and cognitive dysfunction), and monosodium glutamate (associated with neurological effects). Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, was removed from most childhood vaccines in 2001. For many years, parents of autistic children have believed that it was thimerosal in vaccines (particularly the MMR vaccine) that precipitated autism in their children. While the CDC maintains that there is no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, Public Health Service agencies, the AAP, and vaccine manufacturers agreed in 1999 that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure. However, it is still used in flu shots, tetanus boosters, the hepatitis B vaccine, and the meningitis vaccine, to name a few.

By far the biggest question being raised is whether vaccinations are having long-term, chronic effects on children's health. During the past quarter century, the number of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, asthma, and diabetes has more than tripled in the U.S., and the number of children with chronic brain and immune system dysfunction has more than doubled. Those who oppose vaccination are asking: Do those increased numbers correlate with the increased number of childhood vaccines?


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