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Barrosse-Schwartz: Immunization Scandal

01/21/11 7:55AM By Mary Barrosse-Schwartz
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(HOST)  According to commentator Mary Barrosse-Schwartz, a recent medical research scandal in Britain has implications that are universal - even right here in Vermont.  

(BARROSSE)  This past week, parents who had avoided immunizing their young children received shocking news. The researcher who claimed the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine caused autism was exposed as a fraud, motivated by financial gain to falsify his study.

The British news reported that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who published his study in 1999, falsified the medical histories of all 12 patients in the study, to show a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. It is estimated by investigative journalists that Wakefield received $674,000 from attorneys suing vaccine manufacturers in exchange for his "study".

Originally published in a prominent British medical journal, the paper caused many parents to stop vaccinating their children. By 2004, vaccination rates in Britain had dropped to 80%, causing the cases of measles to increase each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports similar statistics.

The problem with immunizations is that vaccines don't have a 100% effectiveness rate. So, a child who is immunized can still be made sick by kids who are not.  This is because most diseases have what is known as "herd immunity". If 90% of children are immunized, very few of the children who are not vaccinated will contract the disease. Even though some are not immune, they will not contract the disease because they won't be exposed to it.  In Vermont, our rates for MMR immunizations have hovered around 90% for the last few years. Experts agree that if our rates fall any lower, measles could become a substantial threat.  

The combination of fairly high vaccine effectiveness rates and herd immunity serves to protect children who are not immunized. However, if the number of children immunized falls below 90%, herd immunity is not protective. A child who has been immunized but didn't gain immunity because of lack of effect, could become sick.  That child can make a child sick who isn't immunized and so on.

Vermont has gone from being in the upper 10 percentile nationally of children with immunizations to the lowest ten percentile for fully vaccinated children, and the lowest in New England.  Schools ask parents to report their children's vaccination dates, but immunization is not required to attend school, so there are children in most - if not all - Vermont schools who are not immunized.

As communities experience a decrease in immunizations, all children are more likely to get sick. And a child with a chronic disease like asthma or leukemia can be at risk for life-threatening complications.

Decisions parents make for their own children on whether or not to immunize effect the health of other children. For this reason alone, parents who avoid vaccinating their children should seriously reconsider, especially since we now know that key research claiming to link immunization with autism was false and profit-driven.

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