VACCINES: Hearing to Explore New Concerns
With American children receiving more vaccines than ever before - - at least 21 before first grade -- "a growing number of parents and politicians are asking whether the sheer number of immunizations now required by states for many children really is necessary -- or safe." USA Today reports that in response to recent controversy, Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) today will hold a hearing on vaccine policy. Expected to testify on the importance of vaccines will be Surgeon General David Satcher, while "some parents with wrenching stories will say they believe vaccines hurt their children." Burton said, "There have been an increasing number of reports of safety concerns with vaccines. When some parents are more afraid of the vaccine than they are of the vaccine-preventable disease, it is imperative that we fully examine this issue." Advocacy groups point to possible links between diabetes and the Hib vaccine, and the hepatitis b vaccine and multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases. Barbara Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, said, "We have absolutely suppressed infectious disease in childhood, there's no question. But public health is not only measured by the absence of infectious disease. It's also measured in chronic disease, such as diabetes, asthma, multiple sclerosis, learning disabilities. ... Why are these immune and neurologic disorders on the rise?" Fisher and others point to the suspension of the rotavirus vaccine last month, an FDA order to phase out the vaccine preservative thimerosal a week earlier and a June advisory for doctors to use injected polio vaccine rather than oral as evidence that vaccines are imperfect at best. She said, "As more and more vaccines are being put out on the market, and as more cases of vaccine injuries and deaths are being reported, you are seeing a critical mass" of concern.
"Nothing is risk-free, but for every vaccine that's recommended, the benefits far outweigh the risk of getting the natural disease," said pediatrician Margaret Fisher, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases. Furthermore, said the CDC's Barbara Reynolds, "We don't just recommend a vaccine and ignore it. We are constantly monitoring data to look for adverse reactions." This is done through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which received 11,000 complaints last year, as well as the Vaccine Safety Datalink Project, which tracks vaccination safety in four West Coast HMOs. Federal officials also point to the suspension of the rotavirus vaccine as evidence that the system is working. Pediatrician Mark Rosenberg said, "Most parents I'm seeing still trust their physicians and the system by which we administer vaccines. These individual situations are obviously tragic [but as] a scientist, we can't take individual cases and make public policy" (Manning, 8/3).