By Erin Buell
Vaccinating our children against some of the major illnesses and diseases is meant to keep them safe. But for many parents, a decision on whether to vaccinate their children stirs up confusion and controversy.
Even though vaccinations prevent millions of deaths, disabilities and disease every year, and every child in Idaho is eligible for free immunizations through insurance, Medicaid or federal funding, many parents remain hesitant. Throughout history, there has been fear that the inoculations meant to prevent disease are actually potential hazards to the small bodies of children.
Parents struggle with information in the media about potential links between vaccinations and death, allergies, autism and other ailments. In 2008, a young girl named Hannah Poling was awarded compensation from the government because of plausible correlation between vaccines and her diagnosis of autism. Jenny Jorgensen, a master prepared registered nurse at St. Luke's Family Medicine in Hailey, took this particular story seriously after the birth of her first child.
"As a nurse I was exposed to most of the medical literature supporting vaccinations, but as a parent I was reading a lot of information in books and on the Internet that scared me," Jorgenson said.
While the medical community supports vaccination programs, Jenny wanted to gain a deeper understanding.
The questions that Jenny had are common among many parents. Here are some frequent questions about vaccinations:
1. Does the Hannah Poling case prove vaccines are linked to autism?
Unfortunately, this young girl had an underlying mitochondrial disorder that increased her risks from vaccinations. This disorder is very rare (fewer than one in 2,500-4,000 births). As heart-wrenching as this story is, the probability of this situation occurring in the general population is quite small and does not outweigh the benefits of vaccinations for most children.
2. Is Thimerosal a dangerous ingredient?
Thimerosal is a preservative agent used in many vaccines prior to 2001. Public fear that this ingredient was linked to autism led the manufacturers to remove it, but no sufficient medical evidence has confirmed this link.
3. Is aluminum salt a dangerous ingredient?
Used in many vaccines to make them more potent, this agent has also been thought by many to be associated with autism. Aluminum is the No. 1 metal in the earth's crust. It is in our water, soil, food, deodorant and baby formula. The amount in the vaccine is scant compared to our daily exposures.
4. Is there a correlation between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism?
A 1998 MMR study completed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in England postulated this correlation. He also postulated that separating these three vaccines and giving them at different intervals would benefit. His data were found grossly fraudulent in 2010 and he lost his medical license in 2011.
6. Is vaccine research biased due to funding by the pharmaceutical companies?
Of 24 current vaccine studies, only two have been partially funded.
7. What is "herd immunity"?
This is the idea that if a significant number of the population are immunized, then those few who aren't will be unlikely to acquire the disease because there will be fewer people to introduce it to them. While there is some truth in this, it is very difficult to monitor, and presents many risk factors. High-risk populations, such as unimmunized children, children with compromised immune systems and pregnant women, would have a higher risk of contracting a potentially dangerous disease. Travel to many foreign countries also increases the potential for exposure to contagious diseases.
Further confusion comes from the idea that vaccinations are not necessary for diseases such as chicken pox and measles because they are not really that bad in our modern world and do not do much harm to a child. Chicken pox, or varicella, a disease most Baby Boomers remember dealing with as a child, may seem a relatively mild childhood disease. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, before the 1995 introduction of routine varicella vaccinations, approximately 4 million people each year in the United States contracted the disease and about 100 cases resulted in death. Since the inception of the vaccine program, there has been a 90 percent decline in cases, and only 10 to 14 reported deaths per year. This is a significant reduction in illness and mortality.
Parents have every right and reason to ask questions of their health-care practitioners and to voice their concerns, doubts and fears. After three years of research, and now two children of her own, Jenny Jorgensen has found a perspective on vaccinations that helps her as a mother and as a nurse confirm that the benefit of vaccinations far outweigh the minimal risk. She works diligently to educate families on the benefits of vaccines.
"The reason for my change in perspective is that I have accessed additional information and more has been published that debunks my previous fears and supports the efficacy of vaccinations," Jorgensen said.
She and Cortney Vandenburgh of St. Luke's Family Medicine will present a health talk on this subject on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at St. Luke's Hailey Clinic and will conduct immunization clinics for all children 18 and younger on Aug. 20 and 27. For details, call 727-8733.