A risk to vaccinate? Some parents are asking that as concerns are raised
over links with autism
By Mary Jo Balasco · mbalasco@...
Published 06/01/08 - 12:00 AM |
Pam Wilder, 34, gave birth to her second child last week. After doing some
research, she has decided to forgo standard childhood vaccinations for her
daughter until she's 2 years old.
Although her pediatrician recommends them, the Fort Mill woman said she
believes the number and frequency of shots advocated by the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention is too many and too soon.
"It is their recommendation that I vaccinate, but they are willing to work
with me," said Wilder, who said she believes vaccines contain chemicals that
may overload a baby's immune system and could lead to disorders such as
It used to be uncommon for a parent to refuse vaccinations, intended to
protect children and adults from coming down with nearly eradicated diseases
such as measles, mumps, whooping cough and others. But in the last two
months, Rock Hill area pediatricians said they've seen an abrupt increase in
the number of parents who are either declining to have vaccinations given to
their children or asking for a change in the schedule to eliminate or delay
One of the most common reasons: Their fear about the possibility of a highly
publicized but scientifically unproven link between childhood vaccines and
autism, a complex early childhood brain development disorder.
Parents questioning doctors
Rock Hill pediatrican Dr. Hal Copple with Palmetto Pediatrics said that in
the last two months, about a third of the parents in his practice who have
children of vaccination age have declined shots or asked for changes in the
Copple, who said he typically sees more questions from more educated,
affluent parents, said they often ask him why is it necessary to give
vaccines for diseases that are no longer around. "The diseases we vaccinate
children against can be serious and can cause brain damage and death,"
Pediatrician Dr. Deanna Threatt with Rock Hill Pediatric Associates said in
the last two months, about one in 30 of parents in her practice whose
children are of immunization age refuse vaccines or ask for a change.
Threatt said the number is higher in the practice's Fort Mill office, where
most patients are private pay or have insurance.
Threatt said many parents have become concerned about autism after watching
celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy speak against immunizations on "The Oprah
Winfrey Show" and hearing about lawsuits involving vaccine-injured children.
Some have read "The Vaccine Book" by Dr. Bob Sears, she said.
Dr. Carlos Paxtor, a pediatrician at Sunshine Pediatrics in Rock Hill, said
the practice sees two to three parents each week who decline shots for their
child or want a change.
Paxtor said his office began seeing the trend about a year ago. "Parents see
television programs that refer them to Internet sites that advocate the
refusal of shots," said Paxtor.
Mooresville, N.C., family physician Dr. Anthony Castiglia said most of the
parents with vaccination-age children who visit his practice opt not to
immunize their children.
Castiglia, who is with Advanced Integrative Medicine and specializes in
alternative medicine, said today's parents are more educated. "People are
not just believing doctors anymore, they are researching information and
challenging doctors," he said.
Outbreak of serious diseases
Rock Hill pediatricians say they are concerned that if parents don't
vaccinate their children, they could see a return of once-eradicated
diseases, possibly in epidemic proportions. Paxtor said at least 80 percent
of people must be immunized to prevent a resurgence.
But Castiglia, who challenges the vaccine stance, said children don't need
vaccines to protect them against these diseases. "The most important thing
is to have a good immune system and do it naturally, not to do it with
vaccines," he said.
A recent nine-state outbreak of measles and a national increase in the
number of whooping cough cases has been blamed on a drop in vaccine
coverage, said Adam Myrick, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health
and Environmental Control.
Myrick said there have been no reports of disease outbreaks in York County.
In South Carolina, vaccinations are required for a child to be admitted to
schools or day care centers. The only vaccine exemption recognized in the
state is for religious beliefs, and it must be approved by DHEC, Myrick
Fewer than 1 percent of students in South Carolina schools have been granted
a religious exemption and there has been no recent rise in exemption
requests, said Myrick.
Many states offer philosophical exemptions for people who object to
immunizations because of a personal, moral or other belief.
Beyond the pediatrics
Some parents look beyond pediatricians for answers because they are
concerned about repercussions like being kicked out of a doctor's practice,
said Rena Henson of Fort Mill. Henson is a board member of the non-profit
People Advocating Vaccine Education, a Charlotte vaccine awareness group.
"Most people who choose not to vaccinate lay low because it's not popular
with the authority figures," Henson said. She said the most popular question
the group fields is how to get a vaccine exemption so an unvaccinated child
can attend school.
"A lot of people say, 'If I didn't have to send them to school, I wouldn't
vaccinate," she said.
Several local parents who chose not to immunize their children declined to
be interviewed about the decision, saying they fear discrimination against
themselves or their children.
Megan Ratcliff, 23, of Rock Hill, said she understands why. Ratcliff said
that after she refused to continue to vaccinate her child, her pediatrician
reported her to the S.C. Department of Social Services. No action was taken
"People out there have an attitude of, 'What are these crazy people doing?'
I don't want to be that crazy person that doesn't vaccinate," said Ratcliff.
Ratcliff said she decided not to continue the vaccinations for her son, now
16 months, after he had a high fever and a personality change soon after his
"One day, he was laid back; the next day, he was extremely clingy," Ratcliff
said. "But, the pediatrician said it had nothing to do with the shots."
Following his six-month vaccinations, Ratcliff said her son again developed
a high fever. "He's not getting any more," she said.
Ratcliff said she is not worried about her son catching the diseases that
vaccines are intended to prevent. "I don't think the risk of disease coming
back is that high," she said.
Diseases that no longer kill
Copple said the reason parents aren't worried about diseases such as rubella
and measles -- which once plagued the nation -- is that they've never seen
anyone die from such diseases.
"In 1900, the death rate for children under the age of 5 was 50 percent,"
Copple said. "Diptheria used to wipe out a whole family of children in two
days. You can walk through the old cemeteries and see all of the little
Copple said vaccines, along with advances in sanitation and medicine, are
the reasons children don't die from diseases as in the past. But Castigilia
disagreed, saying better living conditions are the reason for improved
survival, not vaccines.
Rock Hill pediatricians recently met to devise a community-wide plan to
alleviate parents' vaccination concerns. "Pediatricians and family
physicians need to do a better job in decreasing parents' fears of
immunizing and helping them sort through the maze of information that's out
there," said Threatt.
Despite the arguments surrounding vaccines, many parents say they still
believe their children are better off being vaccinated.
Christian Reynolds, 32, of McConnells decided to immunize her children even
though she has a family history of autism. Reynold's 40-year-old cousin has
autism, and she said her family wonders if vaccines played a role.
Reynolds said that with her first child, she didn't worry about autism and
had her child vaccinated. After she had her second child, she wasn't sure,
so she asked her pediatrician.
"He said he would vaccinate because he'd seen what measles, mumps and
rubella can do to a child." she said.
Brandi Comer, 26, of York has three girls, including a 4-month-old baby, and
all have had shots. "It is a 50/50 thing," she said. "If I don't do them and
something happens, I will feel horrible."
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