Parents becoming less likely to immunize children

by Angela Gartner, Staff Writer

As early as the 18th century, scientists have studied human pathological diseases and subsequently created various methods of prevention and treatment; such means of prevention came in the form of vaccinations. In 1796, Edward Jenner developed a vaccine for small pox, and throughout the rest of the 18th century several other vaccines emerged to prevent diseases such as cholera, rabies, and tetanus. Almost two centuries later in 1962, scientists developed the first oral vaccine for polio. Today, parents continue to vaccinate their children for diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, and many others.

Yet research about certain vaccinations has led parents to stop vaccinating their children, and consequently, many children are attending schools without immunizations. Many parents have not considered, however, the dangers of sending their children to school without being properly immunized. Un-immunized children are not only at risk for contracting communicable diseases but also pose a risk for the rest of the student population. Despite some parents’ beliefs that natural immunity is a safer alternative route to take, Todd Wolynn, Pittsburgh Pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, stated in an article stressing the misconceptions about vaccines, “Vaccines don’t protect just recipients; they protect the community—which includes those afflicted with deficient immune systems and infants too young to receive vaccines.” Vaccinations are most effective when everyone is vaccinated. Doing such reduces the resurgence of certain diseases, and doing otherwise reverses the progress already made, which in this case is the elimination of certain diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides a helpful analogy: “It’s much like bailing out a boat with a slow leak. When we started bailing, the boat was filled with water. But we have been bailing fast and hard, and now it is almost dry. We could say, ‘Good. The boat is dry now, so we can throw away the bucket and relax.’ But the leak hasn’t stopped. Before long we’d notice a little water seeping in, and soon it might be back up to the same level as when we started.” Similarly with antibiotics, many patients either heed or disregard doctors’ orders to completely finish prescribed medication even after major symptoms clear up. Also, parents are becoming more lax about vaccinating their children.

The major controversy over vaccinations stems from flawed research conducted in London. In February 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published an article in The Lancet medical journal linking the triple vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) with autism. According to the Sunday Times, a London news source, inoculation rates fell from 92% to 80%.  Dr. Bethke, associate professor of Biology at Saint Vincent, maintained that the scare, having spread to the United States, “resulted in a significant drop-off of the number of parents vaccinating their children.” Although Wakefield’s research suggested a strong causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism, later studies showed major flaws in the reports and eventually researchers declared that scientific data does not support any such link. Often the public is very naïve, and many news viewers follow scientific studies to a T, squirming from new findings of cancer-causing products and common ingredients. “People have drawn conclusions from faulty research,” said Bethke. While many parents cling to their convictions, whether religious or personal, current research has suggested no links between autism and vaccines.

According to a recent Long Island, New York news report, the New York Health Department conducted a vaccination audit in North Babylon High School; approximately 150 schools are audited each year. At the North Babylon High School, 56 unvaccinated students were dismissed and will only be readmitted after providing vaccination records. While this particular high school removed unvaccinated students, other school districts make exceptions to students with certain medical or religious reasons or will teach unvaccinated students in separate classrooms.

Bethke maintained, “Vaccines have been widely used for school-aged kids in many areas for more than 50-60 years. [Vaccines] have been credited for eliminating diseases such as small pox.” He also provided a brief background of vaccines and recent concerns over vaccinations. There have been increased incidents in several diseases and other conditions such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Moreover, the CDC also released information in 1999 stating that vaccines contained a preservative known as Thimerosal which also contained mercury, and such vaccine manufacturers should reduce or eliminate Thimerosal for precautionary measures. Yet in 2001, the CDC reported that with the exception of some influenza vaccines, childhood vaccinations do not contain the mercury-compound. Scientists continue advancing vaccines, as many vaccines such as those for influenza are now available in nasal mists. Bethke also stated that edible vaccines are also currently in clinical trials. A major problem that now exists is the “laissez faire” attitude of parents when it comes to getting their child vaccinated. “The pressure to vaccinate is not as strong,” said Bethke, unlike the days of the polio scare.

Dr. Veronica Ent, department chair of education at Saint Vincent, stated, “Many schools are taking steps to remove children that are not vaccinated.” Often parents are not willing to take risks, despite invalid research, and this often creates larger problems down the road. Some local schools, such as Mountain View Elementary in the Greater Latrobe school district, require immunizations for students in grades K-12, yet offer exceptions to parents with strong moral objections. The 2008-2009 handbook states that The Pennsylvania Department of Health requires vaccines for diseases ranging from polio, measles, and chicken pox, to tetanus and mumps.

In addition, Director of Wellness at Saint Vincent, Mary Alice Amour commented, “Saint Vincent College immunization policy requires students to have [two] Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccines, the Meningitis vaccine…as well as a Polio booster and the chicken pox vaccine.” Students are also given the right to waive any immunization for religious or medical reasons.

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