Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Doctor fields more questions on vaccinations:,doings-shots-082709-s1.article

August 27, 2009
Some area parents may have scrambled to schedule appointments for their child's required shots before school started, but a few others may have decided to forego vaccinations.

Illinois law requires children to show proof of a series of immunizations for eight diseases before enrolling in a public school kindergarten. Pre-kindergarten students need two additional vaccinations.

But some parents are questioning the schedule of inoculations prescribed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and the Illinois Public Health Department, and are delaying certain shots or refusing them for their children.

"There's definitely more concern about vaccinations today," said Dr. Anthony Auriemma, who practices family medicine with patients centered in Hinsdale and La Grange. "Parents come in with much more information about vaccines when they walk through the door. People are much more educated than before."

Link to autism?
Concern over a possible link between vaccinations and the rise in autism prompted federal officials in 1999 to ban mercury as an ingredient in vaccines, though officials maintain there is no association between thimerosal, a vaccine preservative containing mercury, and autism or neurological disorders.

Required vaccines have been mercury-free since 2001, the CDC reports.
Persistent protests since then over a puzzling rise in autism spectrum disorder to one diagnosis in every 150 children has continued to keep the immunization controversy in the forefront.

"There are no scientific studies that support a link between vaccines and autism," said Melaney Arnold, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Various celebrities, such as Jenny McCarthy and Drew Carey, have continued to highlight the controversy on talk shows, Auriemma notes.

Definitions change
"To date there has been no scientific evidence proving or disproving autism is caused by the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella," Auriemma said. "There has been an association between an increase in vaccine rates and an increase in autism, but there's also been an increase in contacts with the health-care system.

"The definition of autism spectrum disorder also has changed so that the number of diagnosed patients has increased."

The number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children at all is a small minority, Auriemma said. Most parents do agree with the idea of vaccination, but they would rather have the number of shots spread out and delayed for children from birth to 2 years of age, because of concerns.

But for school-aged children, parents don't seem to be as concerned, he said.
"More are on board with the benefits of vaccinations and choose to get the basic tetanus booster and a chicken pox booster."

When asked to advise parents on the fence, Auriemma responded, "I tell them I looked at the research and I'm comfortable giving my own children vaccinations. I give them information for research and that helps them make a decision later."

Two exceptions
But for parents who decide against vaccinating their children, only two exceptions are permitted if they want to enroll their children in public schools. Parents may opt out with a waiver signed by a doctor for medical reasons, such as a child's compromised immune system, or if they object on religious grounds.

Grace Girdwain of Burbank has written a book and has counseled parents throughout Illinois on drafting a legally acceptable letter citing religious objections.

"The soundest reason to avoid vaccines is that it violates your conscience, which comes under religious grounds," Girdwain said. "Church membership isn't a requirement, and it's valid regardless of a person's faith, but you can't use the word 'belief.' "

Girdwain, who didn't vaccinate her own four children and has been advising parents for 30 years on valid exemptions, estimates more parents have been seeking her advise on obtaining exemptions in the last five years.

"Some doctors don't vaccinate their own children, and some pediatricians don't recommend vaccinations for children younger than 6 years, because their liver isn't fully developed," Girdwain said.

Compliance rate
Compliance with Illinois vaccination regulations for pre-kindergarten through high school students is high with at least 97.6 percent for each of the last five years, and 97.97 percent in 2008-09.

Terry Hillen, a nurse coordinator for Elmhurst Unit District 205, estimates only 10 to 15 students out of 8,000 file a religious objection against vaccinations.

"We don't get that many. There's more and more education out there with doctors promoting the vaccinations and people agreeing," Hillen said. "We still do get questions about autism, but there's nothing linked at this time to a vaccine causing autism."

"With little ones, parents should question," she said. "I'm happy to inform them."

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