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Parents second-guess vaccinations
Posted May 2, 2008

Susan Acker
Web Editor

Warding off deadly disease

When Felix Gonzales’ four-year-old son, Fabian, plays with other children, he is at risk for contracting deadly diseases that would not be a concern if he would have received all the vaccinations most children in California get routinely.

The Gonzales family has made the conscious decision to not vaccinate their three sons: 4-year-old Fabian, 2-year-old Clement and 15-month-old Leo. 

They believe that their children do not need vaccinations, just an extremely healthy immune system to ward off deadly disease.

“My wife and I are very conscious of health,” Felix Gonzales said. 

Organic foods and foods without additives are the main stay in the Gonzales home.

“We honestly believe that our children will be just as healthy as children who are vaccinated.”

The Gonzales’ decided not to have their children vaccinated, they said, because of the use of “aborted fetus material” in the development of the rubella vaccine, as well as the possible link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, or MMR, and autism.

As Catholics, they believe that the use of fetus material is wrong.  And the possibility of a vaccine causing autism is not worth the risk to the family.

As a parent in the Inland Empire Catholic Home Schoolers group, Gonzales has met many other parents who choose not to vaccinate their children.

“We honestly do not believe that with proper diet and exercise, vaccinations are necessary,” Felix Gonzales said.

Spreading germs from child to child is normal.  Every parent knows that their child is subjected to things like the common cold and flu every year because they are involved school and sports and other activities.  Most do not expect that their child will come home with a deadly disease like polio or measles: and for good reason. 

Vaccinations, which have eradicated many diseases and slowed the spreading of others, have protected many children from sickness and death.

A difficult beginning

Chris Wynn has an intelligent and active six-year-old son who is faced with a lifelong disease.

Like any parent, Wynn wants what is best for his child.  He followed all of the new parent rules and made sure that his son received all of the proper medical care recommended by the healthcare system. 

That meant the MMR vaccination after his son’s first birthday.
But something was wrong and the Wynn family later found out that their son was autistic.

“My son has autism,” Wynn, said.  “Nobody has answers.”

Wynn said his son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 after he received the MMR shot.  This shot is used to prevent the deadly diseases that were once common among children.  Wynn and his wife have asked doctors what they should do about continuing vaccinations, but they have received no advice.

“I have even had to switch him to a different doctor,” Wynn said. 

“Everybody is trying to push services onto somebody else.”

Wynn and his wife are cautious about vaccinating their son though they plan to continue vaccinations now because there is no conclusive evidence that vaccines do or do not cause autism or aggravate the disease.

The Wynn family’s frustrations are growing because no one has an answer about vaccinations.

Fears examined
An increasing number of children today are not vaccinated because of the growing concern that autism is connected to the MMR vaccine.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web site describes autism as a condition that affects social skills, communication, interests and activities of a person with the disorder.

The site also said that an estimated three to six children out of 1000 will have autism and males have a four times greater chance of having autism.

The two-part MMR vaccine is given to children when they are between 12 and 15-months-old and again between the ages of 4 and 6 years.
Measles, mumps and rubella are highly contagious diseases that cause rashes, fever, cough and other symptoms similar to that of chickenpox. 

All three were responsible for many childhood deaths before the vaccines were introduced from 1964-1970.

A study titled “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children,” published in 1998 examined the possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

“Behavioral disorders included autism (nine), disintegrative psychosis (one), and possible postviral or vaccinal encephalitis (two),” the study stated. “We identified associated gastrointestinal disease and developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers,” the study found.

After this study was published, much emphasis was placed on the idea that the MMR vaccination may be an explanation for the rising number of autism cases.

Autism is a disease that many are still trying to understand.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, 10 of the 13 authors have “retracted” their findings and said that there is no “causal” link between the vaccine and autism.

Still, sites like the CDC’s and studies showing no connection between the vaccine and autism have not helped quiet many concerns and fears.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers a study dating back to 1999 that shows no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Still, many parents are skeptical.

“I do not like vaccines,” said Karen Corcuera, mother of 2-year-old Ryan Moreno. “She has not had one for seven or eight months.”

“Ryan got sick after her last vaccine,” she said.

Corcuera said she worries her daughter may get autism from vaccinations and that she has trouble dealing with Ryan getting sick after being vaccinated.

She said she has a few years before her daughter enters school and that she might think about the possibility of an exemption.

For more than two centuries people have benefitted from the vaccinations. 

In the United States, many diseases have been eradicated and have become preventable because of programs like the one started in 1955 that vaccinated children for polio.  After such success with polio, other vaccines were developed and lives were saved.

With the increased accessibility of travel to foreign countries and visitors from other countries, concerns are growing with regard to diseases like smallpox. 

As stated on the CDC Web site, a single smallpox case would be considered an emergency and it is believed that terrorists may have obtained the virus and may use it in the future. 

“You have no idea what you are bringing back to your community,” said Dr. Robert Adler, vice chairman of pediatrics at Children’s hospital of Los Angeles.

Now it may not be so much a concern of what is coming from the outside, but what is already in our own communities.

Dr. Adler said vaccinations have “eliminated more diseases that used to kill children than any other intervention.”

He recommends vaccinations to his patients and believes they are necessary to keep infectious diseases at bay.

“Some parents do not appreciate how successful they are,” Dr. Adler said.  He said parents have become “complacent” because the deadly diseases that were so common in the past are rare today.  The reason diseases like Measles, Mumps and Rubella are not as common are because of the vaccines available.

“We are really stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Sam Hourani, father of a 1-and-a-half-month-old son, Jayden.

Hourani said he is concerned about the possibility of his son developing autism.

“I guess I really do not have a choice, vaccination is obviously the right thing to do,” he said.  “When you flip the coin you are hoping it comes out in your favor.”

Hourani said his son is due for a vaccination in late April and he hopes there will be no adverse reactions.

The Rules

“Some parents are against the MMR,” said Lita Galzote, nurse for the South Pasadena School District.  “It is their right, but we follow the state law.” 

California state law requires children be vaccinated before entering or transferring to public or private elementary and secondary schools.

Galzote said in her district many of the exemptions for vaccinations are for religious reasons related to the Christian Scientist faith.

As part of the requirement the MMR vaccine is required before kindergarten. Hepatitis B and polio are required as well as.

Exemptions allowed in California are personal beliefs and a medical reason from the child’s physician.  Medical reasons may include a compromised immune system or allergies.  Many parents are now filing exemptions.  The state does not allow an exemption if records are lost or if it is “inconvenient” to get the vaccines.

Barbara Woodard-Cox, school nurse for the Los Angeles Unified School district said the district “strongly encourage” parents to have their children vaccinated.

She said one of the issues that arises when children are not vaccinated is the possibility of spreading very serious illnesses.

“They always pose a risk,” she said.

A possible threat

“I am just concerned about their health,” Jennifer Andaya, director of Sonrise Christian Preschool in San Dimas said.

Andaya said she worries about children who are not vaccinated getting sick and spreading it to the other children.

In order to prevent mass outbreaks of infectious diseases, 95 percent of the population in schools needs to be vaccinated.

“Without vaccine protection, we can easily contract and transmit infectious diseases. It may only take one person, whether it's a family member, a neighbor, or a visitor from another country, to start the spread of a disease. And even immunized individuals can be at risk because no vaccine is ever 100 percent effective for everyone,” Michelle Meadows said in an article titled “Against Deadly Disease” at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site.

Diseases that seem normal and common childhood occurrences such as chickenpox can cause serious neurological damage.  Measles and Mumps can even cause death.

Worth the risk?
Though many are concerned about the possibility that a vaccine may harm their child, they feel it is worth the risk to save them from a worse fate of contracting a preventable disease.

“I do not think there is enough evidence to substantiate the claims,” Phyllis Floersch said.

Floersch has a 12-year-old daughter and is part of a conservative home school group. 

In a link sent to parents of the group at mercola.com, there is a video featuring Mary Tocco, a speaker on the harmful affects of vaccines.  Tocco denounces vaccines. 

In the video Tocco described the MMR as a “cocktail” and said vaccines with several components have not been tested for safety.  She added that the MMR vaccine has been banned in Japan. 

Floersch is one of the parents who believes not vaccinating her daughter is worse than vaccinating her.             

“It has a lot to do with the conservative families who want to protect their children from everything,” she said.

Floersch said the one vaccine she is against her daughter receiving is the new HPV vaccine, which is now thought to help prevent cervical cancer.

Wynn too believes that vaccines play a role in keeping his son healthy, but parents like Wynn continue to wonder if the MMR vaccine causes Autism.

Expert opinion offers little comfort
Doctors and the medical community do not have concrete answers when it comes to the possible harmful affects of the MMR and other vaccines.

It is difficult not only for families like the Wynns, but other families who are now considering vaccinations like the Houranis. 
And though many studies have been released refuting claims of damaging affects, parents still wonder.

Dr. Adler suggests that instead of focusing on the connection between vaccines and Autism, research be conducted to find other causes of Autism that may prove more concrete.

To many parents with children who have Autism that sentiment is a little late. 

They are left to wonder if what they thought was right for their child caused irreversible damage that will affect their entire lives.

There are many Web sites that offer support and information against vaccinations and many that do just the opposite so it can be difficult for parents.
What now?

The Wynns and other families faced with the daily challenges brought on by Autism have much to think about and consider. 

They can be proactive and look ahead for the proper care for their children or dwell on the idea that a vaccine caused all of their problems and someone else needs to fix it.

Wynn and his wife have not given up. They ask many questions one that they have asked since the beginning defined their view on the disease.

“Where did it come from?” Wynn said. 

At times it has been difficult Wynn said, but he and his family continue to move ahead.

“It is frustrating for me,” he said.

He said the school his child attends is not prepared for Autistic children so the teacher does not know how to interact with his son.

Though the Wynns may not be receiving all of the help they need now, they are willing to work with their son’s illness and move ahead.

“It has been a journey,” Wynn said.

Susan Acker can be reached at sacker@ulv.edu