Sunday, March 22, 2009


I woke up Saturday morning covered in pink spots, today they've clustered on the (ahem) more generous parts of my body and turned an angry shade of red. I changed all the bedding in all the bedroom, but the rash (I like to say it with a French accent like Collette in Ratatouille - "You have a rrhash?") seemed more internally formed - like the itching was a kind of burning along my nerve endings, not an external irritant. The doc on the phone (not my regular doctor, nor the doctor - again, not my own - who prescribed me Amoxicillin for the strep throat I believe I picked up in my daughter's doctor's office - got all that?) said it was probably an allergic reaction to the antibiotic. Now the repulsion I had to choking down the pills for the last nine days made sense. Now I'm sleeping a lot and drinking detox tea and feeling poisoned. Oh Western medicine, you let me down again. How right the nurse had sounded when she suggested warm salt water gargles - "It will kill all the bacteria down in your throat and ease the pain."

With all this complaining, I do now feel the need to share with you "Anatomy of a Scare" from the March 2 Newsweek. Sharon Begley's well-researched history of the supposed autism-vaccine link concludes with this indictment:

"It is bad enough that the vaccine-autism scare has undermined one of the greatest successes of preventative medicine and terrified many new parents. Most tragic of all, it has diverted attention and millions of dollars away from finding the true causes and treatments of a cruel disease."

Most horrifying to me is the reality that frightened and poorly-informed parents are putting their children at risk by denying or delaying childhood vaccinations. Begley writes, "The number of measles cases in the United States reached 131 in 2008, the highest in decades. Last month five children in Minnesota became infected with Hib. Four developed serious complications; the fifth child died."


anne Ward said...

Cindy - I read that Newsweek story - and I have to say, was not fond of it. I'm a big believer in the value of vaccines - but I simply do not understand why SO MANY different kinds of bacteria/viruses need to be injected into SUCH TINY PEOPLE in such a short amount of time. And there is really no medical need to inject all babies with the hepatitis b vaccine moments after birth, from what I understand.

There is absolutely no control group for vaccines- so how can researchers say that vaccines haven't caused autism? If you look at the timeline for changes in the vaccine schedule - when I was young, we received hardly any vaccines - the rise in autism coincides with the increase in vaccines children receive. What proof do they have that vaccines are NOT the culprit?

I don't necessarily blame mercury (though, until 2000, the levels of mercury in childhood vaccines exceeded EPA recommended guidelines - which is a huge reason why parents are distrustful of vaccines.) And maybe it's not just the MMR vaccine - that Wakefield study has been repudiated from a number of different research teams - almost from the moment he published it.

But there are simply too many anecdotal stories - like that of US Rep Dan Burton - who firmly believes his grandson vanished completely from view after a pediatrician visit where he received eight different vaccines. If they were just the isolated tales of nut jobs - maybe. And the Newsweek story discounts them all. There are just too many people who feel they've lost their child to autism in this way - and it should not be dismissed.

CDC will have a problem if they don't figure out how to assuage parents' fears. They've done a horrible job thus far, unfortunately - in part because of the pervasive existence of anecdotal stories - and the underlying illogic of jamming all those needles into an infant in one visit.

And frankly, I don't see 131 cases of measles as a major public health threat - especially when compared to the 1 in 95 chance a child will have autism.

Okay - jumping off my soapbox now! Sorry about the rant...that Newsweek story just didn't sit right with me!

Cindy Fey said...

How can researchers say that vaccines haven't caused autism? They can't. Science does not prove negatives.

The rise in autism diagnoses may coincide with an increased vaccination schedule, but correlation does not imply causation.

I agree that anecdotes of children showing signs of autism around the time of their vaccinations are compelling and heartbreaking stories, but the boring preponderance of research shows children getting their shots with no negative side effects.

2KoP said...

When my very ill, very tiny preemies were born, I had a long serious talk with their pediatrician about vaccines. This was 17 years ago and fears were just beginning to surface about the (possible) negative effects of vaccinations, particularly the chicken pox vaccine, which was brand new.

My pediatrician listened to my fears, did not dismiss them and then gave his educated opinion. With babies whose immune systems were already profoundly compromised by prematurity, he believed that the threat of these diseases was very real and very dangerous. I learned that the primary danger of chicken pox is not those itchy little spots, but the fact that it is actually a respiratory illness that can result in severe pulmonary problems, particularly in compromised individuals (like my babies who spent months on ventilators). I was grateful for the fact that he listened to me, as well as for his advice, and we went for the vaccines.

My parents grew up at the tail end of the small pox epidemics in this country and smack dab in the middle of the polio outbreaks of the '40s and '50s. My mom frequently comments that people who weren't alive before vaccines have no point of reference as to just how devastating these diseases were within whole families and communities. Just last year, a friend of my daughter's missed six months of middle school with whooping cough (aka, Pertussis).

As mothers, do we need to ask questions? As many as we can conjure. Do we need to become informed stewards of our children's healthcare and vigilant advocates? Absolutely. But in the case of vaccines, I believe we should be careful that we don't throw out the baby with the bath water. Just MHO. I take full responsibility.

Julie P. said...

I was at the Museum of Surgical Science today and I would tell anybody who doesn't "believe" in vaccines to take a look at the exhibit on Polio. A picture of a hangar-sized room full of children in iron lungs should make you think!