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Study Shows 1 in 4 Parents Think Vaccines Cause Autism

A new study revealed that 54% of parents are concerned about serious adverse effects from vaccines and 25% of parents think vaccines cause autism. While parents are concerned, 90% of parents feel getting their children vaccinated is a good way to prevent disease.

Pediatrics recently published the result of the study which was based on a 2009 online survey for parents with children aged 17 and younger. Questions revolved around asking parents their views on vaccinations and if they ever refused a vaccine for their child. Overall, 11.5% of parents refused at least one vaccine.

“While our country has its highest vaccinations rates ever, we have pockets of parents who choose not to vaccinate,” said Dr. Gary Freed, a professor and director of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study. Dr. Freed said the parents choosing not to vaccinate are often highly educated and live in urban areas.

The choice not to vaccinate can have consequences beyond one’s own child. Dr. Freed views not vaccinating as a public health risk; a child could become infected with measles or another disease and spread the disease throughout the community.

In 2007, the Little League World Series had a measles outbreak. A 12 year-old boy from Japan who had unknowingly contacted measles traveled to Pennsylvania to participate in the baseball event. For the 265,000 people attended the event, the Center for Disease Control investigated if  other people also contacted the disease.  Measles had spread to six other people, including someone the boy sat next to on the air plane. A disease introduced by one person who wasn’t vaccinated can easily be spread and contacted by other people that also weren’t vaccinated.  

More recently, in 2008 San Diego reported a measles outbreak that left 12 children ill. Nine children had not been vaccinated due to their parent’s objections and the other 3 children were not old enough to be vaccinated. Four of these cases came from a single charter school and 17 children stayed home to avoid the outbreak.

According to a 2006 article in the Journal of The American Medical Association, there is a tendency to have groups of  geographic ‘exemptors’ in certain counties, neighborhoods, or even schools.  In California, the state’s exemption rate is 1.5%, but some in counties, their exemption rates were as high as 10% to 19% of kindergartners.

If there are clusters of children that have been exempted from vaccinations, there is an increased risk of exposing everyone in that community.

The New York Times reported, “The parents who objected to their children being inoculated are among a small but growing number of skeptics in California and other states who take advantage of exemptions to laws requiring vaccinations for school aged children.”

Children who aren’t vaccinated are more susceptible to illness and disease and more likely to pose a threat to other children who have been vaccinated, or children who are too young to be vaccinated. The measles vaccine is only 95% effective.  

Measles can cause brain swelling, pneumonia, and even death in rare cases. It is a highly contagious respiratory infection that causes a total body rash and flu-like symptoms, including a fever, cough, and runny nose.  The measles rash has a red or reddish brown blotchy appearance that starts on the forehead and spreads downward over the face and body until it reaches the feet.  90% of people who have not been vaccinated that live in a house with someone who has measles will contact it.

In the 1960’s, before a widespread vaccination for measles were available, there were more than 500,000 cases every year in the US. 90% of the measles cases in 2008 in the US were in children that did not get vaccinated.

“I don’t think parents understand the risk,” said Dr. Freed. “I don’t think pediatricians are spending enough time discussing the diseases these vaccinations are preventing their children from. These are diseases that children can die from.”

When parents meet a doctor who does not agree with not vaccinating or delaying vaccinations, parents are likely to move on and find a new doctor who does support their choice.

 Every state allows medical exemptions, like when religious practices are involved. Several states permit exemptions based on personal beliefs, such as California and Texas. There is an increasing number of exemptions on the basis of personal belief; the fear that vaccinations may cause autism.

The fear that vaccinations lead to autism originated from a 1998 article published in the Lancet by British scientist Andrew Wakefield. The study correlated MMR, which is an immunization shot found in measles, mumps, and rubella, with autism. The study only surveyed 12 children and has now been discredited by doctors across the world.  The Lancet has since retracted Wakefield’s article for unscientific methods and falsified data.

Dr. Freed thinks the media paid more attention to the article than to the retraction.

“The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles’ heel. Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don’t realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine, ” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady’s Children Hospital in San Diego, CA.

It is the absence of measles, or close to an absence, that keeps parents from getting the shots for their children. Worldwide, child deaths from measles have dropped 68% from 2006 to 2008 because of the measles vaccination. One million children a year used to die from measles; the vaccination has decreased the number of deaths to 242,000 children.

Ask your doctor if you have any concerns over vaccinations or misinformation you may have heard.