VACCINATIONS: Officials See Risk in Rising Public Fears
Physicians and public health officials are growing increasingly worried that public concern over the safety and efficacy of vaccinations will "jeopardize" recent increases in immunization rates, USA Today reports in a look at the debate over whether "to vaccinate or not to vaccinate." While U.S. surveys show that only 1%-2% of parents refuse to vaccinate their children before the start of school, Walter Orenstein, director of the CDC's National Immunization Program, said the data may not be reflective of "recent trends or pockets of vulnerability." He said, "Our concern is there may be communities where (unvaccinated) children may be clustering, where they have a risk of vaccine-preventable disease." Explaining that when more people are vaccinated, there are fewer potential disease carriers who can infect unvaccinated community members -- a situation he calls "herd immunity" -- Orenstein said, "When parents refuse to have children vaccinated, their kids get protected if the people around them get their kids vaccinated. ... If enough parents stop vaccinating ... then we're going to have a problem." Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, noted that the shift in attitude toward inoculations stems from a shift in the definition of safety. He said, "[Safety] used to mean 'protection from harm.' Now what we mean by safe is something has to be absolutely free of negative consequences." Calling such a notion "unrealistic," Offit added, "Nothing is absolutely safe."
But Peggy O'Mara, publisher of Mothering Magazine, which promotes "natural family living," said that many question the safety of vaccines because of differences in "philosophical point[s] of view." Parents "don't want to be 'coerced into making a decision' that they, and not a public health official, will have to live with," O'Mara said. Heidi Goldstein, a New Jersey resident who has opted not to inoculate her daughters, said she recognizes the risks but added, "[Children] come into this world with a physical integrity that shouldn't be tampered with. I'm not against medicine. I'm just trying to strengthen and bolster the immune system naturally." But Offit cautions that by delaying vaccination, parents "substitute a theoretical risk from the vaccine for a real risk." He said, "We're willing to accept a negative consequence given to us by God, but not one given to us by man." A panel at the International Conference on Emerging and Infectious Diseases in Atlanta will discuss vaccine safety this Wednesday (Manning, 7/17).