Immunization Conversation: Vaccine Debate Renewed Amid Measles Outbreaks

Immunization Conversation: Vaccine Debate Renewed Amid Measles Outbreaks

Whether to vaccinate your child or not has become a topic of discussion among parents and medical professionals around the U.S. due to the measles outbreak in Washington State. According to the Washington State Department of Health, as of March, there were 71 cases reported.

With other states, including New York, that have children being treated for measles, there has been an increased awareness regarding immunization practices.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed 206 cases of measles in 11 states (Ohio is not included).

According to the CDC, all children should be vaccinated to protect them from 14 diseases by age 2.

The CDC states that vaccines can prevent diseases that once killed or harmed many infants, children and adults. “Children may be at risk for getting seriously ill and suffering pain, disability, and even death from diseases like measles and whooping cough,” states the CDC on its website.

Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrician Amanda Gogol-Tagliaferro follows the recommendations from the CDC in her practice. The recommendations are backed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “We don’t see diseases like we used to because we have immunizations against them,” Gogol-Tagliaferro says. “That doesn’t mean they won’t occur living in a global society. Kids from other countries where those diseases are still prevalent could cause a disease risk.”

According to CDC.gov, diseases that are preventable by vaccines, such as whooping cough and chickenpox, remain common in the United States. “On the other hand, other diseases are no longer common in this country because of vaccines,” the website states. “However, if we stopped vaccinating, even the few cases we have in the United States could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases.”

Gogol-Tagliaferro, a mother of three children, all under the age of 4, says she prefers an open discussion and encourages her patients to bring in any information they have questions about so that she can address the issues.

Gogol-Tagliaferro recently brought her two-month-old into her office so he could receive his first round of vaccinations.

The 2019 recommendations for childhood and adolescent immunization schedules were approved by AAP. The policy statement, which was published in the March 2019 issue of Pediatrics, was updated to “ensure consistency between the formation of the childhood and adolescent and adult immunization schedules,” according to the article.

The 2019 recommendations include 14 vaccinations for infants and children (birth through age 6). The vaccinations are as follows: varicella (chickenpox), DTaP (combines protection against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), Hib, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), polio, pneumococcal and rotavirus.

Akron Children’s Hospital Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Dr. Blaise Congeni says, “Since vaccines for Haemophilus were introduced (for example), the number of cases (of Haemophilus diseases) including meningitis once totaled 20,000 per year and now that number is down to 0. A substantial percentage of those patients so infected were either left with substantial harm or death.”

According to CDC.gov, the United States began using the Hib vaccine for children in 1987 and for infants in 1990. Since then, “the annual incidence of invasive Hib disease in children aged younger than 5 years old decreased by 99 percent.”

“Vaccines are safe,” Gogol-Tagliaferro says. “Studies by the AAP and CDC have proven this. There is a lot that goes into making a vaccine safe before it’s put out there. We don’t see these diseases any more because the vaccines work.”

Parent Choice

Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom (OAMF) believes you have a choice to vaccinate or not vaccinate your child.

Northeast Ohio native Stephanie Stock, a founding member of OAMF and the organization’s current president, has an issue with the CDC studies, which she believes are incomplete.

Stock claims she fields phone calls and emails from parents across Ohio who allege they’ve been denied patient care because their children are not immunized.

“OAMF is aware of countless cases of Ohio patients being turned away from their pediatricians for questioning vaccine safety or choosing not to vaccinate,” says Stock, who is a physical therapy assistant. “We frequently see cases of physicians dismissing patients for not complying with vaccination recommendations.”

One example is Alexandra Jones, who posted a letter she received from her physicians on Stock’s personal Facebook page and also provided the document to Northeast Ohio Parent magazine. It stated, “You have decided not to immunize for your child. We will therefore be unable to continue providing medical care for your family. We will see them for emergency care only for the next 30 days. This will allow you time to find another source of medical care.”

The letter was signed by eight physicians of a pediatric practice located in Batavia, Cincinnati and Loveland, Ohio.

On its website, the practice clearly states its vaccination policy: “Our practice requires that our patients receive all vaccines as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics due to the public health risk associated with unimmunized and ‘under-immunized’ individuals.”

Just as Jones questions the safety of vaccinations, so does Stock. She believes physicians are referencing incomplete science.

Stock also questions how physicians can consider vaccines to be safe if the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), created by the federal government in 1986, has paid out nearly $4 billion in taxpayer dollars to children and adults who have been adversely affected by vaccinations.

H.R. 5546 – National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (which can be found on congress.gov), “Provides that compensation awarded under the Program shall be paid out of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund. Limits awards for actual and projected pain and suffering and emotional distress to $250,000. Prohibits awards for punitive damages.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “Since 1988, over 20,428 petitions have been filed with the NVICP. Over that 30-year time period, 17,718 petitions have been adjudicated, with 6,430 of those determined to be compensable, while 11,288 were dismissed.”

In the March 1 program report, it states “Approximately 70 percent of all compensation awarded by the NVICP comes as result of a negotiated settlement between the parties in which HHS has not concluded, based upon review of the evidence, that the alleged vaccine(s) caused the alleged injury.”

Since the central goal of research is to identify cause and effect, Congeni says it’s nearly impossible to say the use of vaccines causes illness.

“Vaccines are given and started early enough in life that a particular condition or illness may subsequently occur for what it would be impossible to assign causality (or fault),” Congeni says.

National Discussion is Ongoing

During a Feb. 27, 2019, Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., on the measles outbreak, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said the spread of “misinformation is an important problem” that has exacerbated the non-vaccination movement.

“There is no cure for measles, but it is completely vaccine preventable,” Fauci told a congressional panel. “The most important piece of advice we can give to parents to protect their kids is to vaccinate your children. It’s for the safety of your own child and a responsibility to your community. We all have a responsibility to be part of that umbrella of herd immunity.”

Stock realizes she is in the minority on the immunization debate. That does not deter her from getting the message out that parents should have the opportunity for themselves to decide whether or not to vaccinate their children.

First-time mother Jennifer O’Donnell, an attorney who works in the Cuyahoga County Public Defender office, has not strayed from her 21-month-old son Mitchell’s vaccination schedule. She and her husband, a nurse practitioner, send their son to daycare, and feel keeping him current on his immunization shots is as important for his safety as it is for the children around him.

“There are diseases that have been eradicated that are coming back because people are deciding not to vaccinate their child,” O’Donnell says. “It’s really scary. We searched for our son’s pediatrician and we found someone we can trust. We believe that is the best person to get that sort of (immunization) advice from.”

The vaccination discussion was nationally highlighted during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 5, when Norwalk High School senior Ethan Lindenberger addressed Congress on his decision to get vaccinated against his mother’s wishes.

Lindenberger’s mother, Jill Wheeler, told Northeast Ohio Parent that the vaccine discussion has divided her household. The mother of seven children (five of whom are not vaccinated) said 18-year-old Ethan has moved out of her home.

“It’s a dark, scary place right now because our voices are not being heard,” Wheeler says. “I didn’t ask to be in this position. It’s been given to me. I will fight. I have to.”

Gogol-Tagliaferro says there are constantly new studies to ensure the vaccines are safe and effective.

She feels there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding vaccines.

“I look at the sources as well to know what my patients are looking at,” she says. “I think any pediatrician would welcome the opportunity to have this discussion.”

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