Parents are right to have doubts on vaccinations

Protestors opposed to mandatory vaccination rally outside the Capitol before a Senate hearing last month. The Senate has passed a version of the bill, which is now in the Assembly.
Protestors opposed to mandatory vaccination rally outside the Capitol before a Senate hearing last month. The Senate has passed a version of the bill, which is now in the Assembly. The Associated Press

I used to scoff at families who didn’t vaccinate their children. I fully vaccinated my first son and unquestioningly vaccinated my second son against hepatitis B within 24 hours of birth.

But when my second son was diagnosed with autism, I postponed further vaccinations to review research on vaccine safety. My findings created doubts and put me in league with purportedly reckless parents who don’t fully vaccinate.

Now Senate Bill 277 would deny my son access to public or private school unless he receives each of the 10 vaccinations listed in the bill.

I sympathize with parents who worry kids like mine will bring disease into school, yet this year only 2.5 percent of California kindergarteners filed for the personal belief exemption that SB 277 would eradicate.

I want to protect my son with vaccines, yet respected medical professionals are questioning vaccine safety in susceptible populations. Is my delightful 3-year-old boy among these?

SB 277 unnecessarily pits parents like me against parents who fully vaccinate when we all have a lot at risk.

While 24 school-aged Californians contracted measles during the recent outbreak, 1 in 68 children are autistic. The federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System estimates 3,900 people annually report serious vaccine reactions, including “disability, hospitalization, life-threatening illness or death.”

The late Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health, claimed that public health officials have avoided researching whether certain groups of children are susceptible to vaccine side effects because their findings might deter the public from vaccinating. Our government should be encouraging such studies and possibly developing screening tests to reinforce vaccine safety for all.

Since 1989, the Department of Health and Human Services has awarded more than $3 billion in compensation for vaccine injuries to 4,083 families. They included the family of Hannah Poling; the department said vaccines “aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder” that manifested as “features of autistic spectrum disorder.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, responded to the Poling award by stating: “The government has made absolutely no statement about indicating that vaccines are the cause of autism.”

Is it possible that the CDC minimizes evidence of harm because it wants to encourage vaccination? Consider senior CDC epidemiologist William Thompson, who admitted last August that a 2004 article in Pediatrics omitted statistically significant data suggesting that African American boys who received the MMR vaccine before age 3 were at “increased risk for autism.”

The respected British Medical Journal this month highlighted significant conflicts of interest created by the CDC’s acceptance of funds from the nonprofit CDC Foundation, which is funded by pharmaceutical companies including Merck, a major vaccine manufacturer.

Despite mainstream media reports that science doesn’t support a vaccine-autism link, I’ve found 19 studies in peer-reviewed journals that do.

These are all good reasons for parents to question the sacred, growing vaccine schedule.

The recommended vaccination of all newborns with the hepatitis B vaccine is an obvious starting point. A study by Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York found that newborn boys vaccinated for hepatitis B had three times the odds for autism compared to boys who weren’t vaccinated or were vaccinated after the first month.

Hepatitis B is typically spread by sexual contact or needle sharing. With two uninfected parents, my son had minimal risk of contracting the disease. As early as six weeks of age, however, I noticed gaps in my son’s development while his peers were already smiling and making eye contact.

At preschool, my son is learning to relate to other children assisted by an aide. The state has no plan for providing mandated special education services if he is home-schooled. Legislators should not pass this poorly considered, reactionary bill.

Elizabeth Bell is a former elementary school teacher and former journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle.