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To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

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Autism related image Photo: Getty Images

As parents, we often find ourselves faced with difficult decisions regarding our children’s wellbeing. Of course we want to choose what is best for our children, especially when it comes to their health. But often decisions are clouded by controversial evidence, leading us to wonder which choice is actually best for our children. Such is the case with vaccines.

In recent years, many parents have begun to opt out of vaccinating their children. Some believe that vaccines can cause health-related problems such as autism and diabetes. Strong arguments have been made to support both sides of the vaccine debate, making the decision more difficult for some parents. New evidence from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) may help parents choose more readily.

In August 2011, the IOM released a consensus report entitled “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality,” in which they concluded that “few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines.” Though a number of rare side effects were linked with certain vaccines, the IOM’s report indicated that most of these problems occur in persons with immunodeficiency. The review examined over 1000 scientific papers and found no correlation between diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) or MMR vaccines and the occurrence of Type I diabetes or autism.

The debate about whether or not vaccinations cause autism has created enormous controversy. In fact, a 1998 Lancet article claiming that mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccines were linked to autism was invalidated in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January 2011, as editors called the report “an elaborate fraud.” The BMJ presented an extensive study that uncovered data manipulation used to support claims in the original paper.

A 2011 article published by Helen V. Ratajczak in the Journal of Immunotoxicology states that autism may occur as a result of “encephalitis [brain damage] following vaccination.” The author reviewed scientific evidence from 1943 to the present to help determine the cause of autism. The review concluded that “autism is the result of genetic defects and/or inflammation of the brain.”

In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Brian Strom from the University of Pennsylvania, who also has served on panels at the IOM, said the scientific community generally opines that while vaccines may be linked to brain damage they are not scientifically linked to autism. (In other words, if A leads to B, which causes C, that doesn’t necessarily equate to A causing C.) Strom did not believe the Ratajczak review was groundbreaking, as it reviewed theories and not just scientific data.

Overall, it appears the benefits of vaccines — protection from infectious diseases that once may have been deadly — far outweigh the risk of negative side effects. Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves is, “Do I want my child to risk contracting [measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis]?” The answer is clearly “No,” and may be resounding enough to take the chance of a very rare side effect from vaccines.


Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality.” Web. 29 Aug. 2011. http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Adverse-Effects-of-Vaccines-Evidence-and-Causality.aspx

Park, Alice. "Study Linking Vaccines to Autism Is "Fraudulent" - - TIME Healthland." TIME Healthland - A healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.

"Vaccines and autism: a new scientific review - CBS News Investigates - CBS News." Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News - CBS News. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.

Ratajczak, Helen V. “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes—A review.” Journal of Immunotoxicology, 2011; 8(1): 68–79. http://www.cogforlife.org/ratajczakstudy.pdf.

Reviewed August 30, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment6 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I think even 1 vaccine can be a bad choice - we have parents who join our list-serve on a regular basis whose children were perfectly fine until they got "one more" vaccine...Read the ingredients (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/B/excipient-table-2.pdf) - if you shouldn't feed your infant eggs, beef, pork, MSG, carcinogenic antibiotics, etc., maybe injecting these is not the best option; especially important, do you really want your child to mount an immune response to his own DNA (http://www.macquirelatory.com/Deadly%20Vaccines.htm)? Vaccination has not saved us (http://childhealthsafety.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/vaccines-did-not-save-us-e28093-2-centuries-of-official-statistics.pdf). In fact, vaccination has cost too many their lives or their futures (http://www.medalerts.org/vaersdb/findfield.php - this represents only between 1% and 10% of actual adverse events from which children did not recover). Finally, if you are unlucky enough to be one of the families who suffer permanent injury or death of your child, you have virtually no right to sue in open court, and very little liklihood of receiving any kind of settlement in the Government-run "vaccine court" (http://ppjg.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/big-pharmas-immunity-in-vaccine-court/). Speaking as a mom to 2 children (not blood-related) who suffered permanent injury as a result of vaccination - one permanent brain damage; know the risks and decide if they truly justify the benefits. I was ill-informed and my children will pay the price for the rest of their lives; and my husband and I bear the financial burden of their care (to-date over $1M and neither is a teen, yet). Liz P

August 31, 2011 - 6:30pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hillary, this study that is supposed to make parents feel more comfortable vaccinating only looks at previous studies on single vaccines. There is no existing study that looks at the vaccines given in combination w/ one another or the effects of the vaccine schedule in its entirety. So, while my son had a severe reaction following the MMR, I will never know if it was because his immune system was compromised by receiving a completely unnessary Hep B vaccine hours after birth, or receiving the MMR together with the unnessary chicken pox vax (which with the MMR means he recieved 4 live viruses at once) and the Hep A vax. And there are no studies out there that prove these things together are without negative consequence.

August 31, 2011 - 7:09am
(reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that vaccines need to be given SAFELY. We opted to vaccinate our children on a "slow" schedule, and to accept a limited number of vaccines in any one visit. Fortunately, our doctors have always been onboard with the "slow vaccination" schedule and have even suggested it themselves. Clearly this is a blurb I should have included in the original article!

August 31, 2011 - 1:43pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hillary, They claimed Dr. Wakefield changed the records about his patients autism status. He's a gastroenterologist. The kids were brought to him with an autism diagnosis already. He had nothing to do with the autism records. They claimed he was inventing his own mono-valent measles vaccine. He's a gastroenterologist. He couldn't invent a vaccine if he wanted. Plus, how can you patent something that already existed since 1964? Every allegation about Wakefield was made by one man. A reporter named Brian Deer who worked for James Murdock who just happened to be on the board of GSK the maker of the MMR vaccine.

August 31, 2011 - 6:52am
EmpowHER Guest

Hillary the adverse reactions seem very rare until they happen to your 2 year old. After 7 vaccines in 1 day may son screamed for 12 hrs, went stiff in my arms and later had a febrile seizure. Now at 10 yrs old he can barely speak and care for himself despite the best behavioral and medical interventions available.

The choice isn't to vaccinate or not vaccinate. All parents like me want are safer vaccines and a safer schedule. The chances of my 18month old who never left the state of CT contracting rubella was beyond minute. The chance of him having a severe fevers afterwards was actually higher. The IOM only looked at doctor reported adverse reactions. Until recently pediatricians never reported adverse reactions until there was a death or hospitalization. I was, in fact, discouraged from taking my son to the ER. I wish I had!

Let's use some common sense. No American children are disposable. We need a safer schedule and an actual role for consumers (not just those vested in the medical and vaccine community) in these safety discussions at the IOM.

August 31, 2011 - 6:20am
(reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for sharing your tragic story. I am so sorry for what you've had to experience.

I appreciate your pointing out something I perhaps should have included in the article. Like you, I feel that vaccines are important but should be SAFE -- we have used a "slow" vaccination schedule with both of our children. I am always shocked when any doctor gives several (SEVEN?!) vaccines in a single visit; this, to me, seems irresponsible, and of course traumatic for a child even if he/she doesn't experience any [medical] adverse effects.

August 31, 2011 - 1:39pm
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