Is it really safe to vaccinate your kids?

Monday, May 14, 2007
They're all about preventing infectious childhood diseases, like measles and polio, but some people argue that vaccinations can cause the very disease they are trying to prevent.

So our reporter Brooke Hanson is tackling a very important issue — is it really safe to vaccinate your child?

Since the mid-20th century when polio, rubella and measles vaccines were introduced, vaccination for Aussie kids has become the norm. Today, more than 90 percent of Australian children are vaccinated against everything from Whooping Cough to Hepatitis B.

Like most parents, Mina Ames would never forgive herself if her little Jessica fell ill because she'd failed to have her vaccinated.

"I believe it is every parent's responsibility to immunise their children against diseases and I cannot understand anybody not doing that. Particularly if their child did contract a disease and they had the opportunity to do something about it," Mina says.

But Dr Viera Schneiber disagrees. She runs the Vaccination Information Service, which lobbies against the use of vaccines: "Vaccines are a mixture cocktail of various toxic substances. Starting with bacteria and viruses that should never be injected into anything living."

Professor Peter McIntyre, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research, thinks that's nonsense. He believes that vaccines made from bacteria and viruses are the ideal way to fight off bugs.

"It's basically just cleverly treating the bug that causes the disease to get that protection without getting the disease. For that reason … they're the ultimate natural treatment."

But Dr Schneiber believes vaccines are not only unnatural, they actually cause disease.

"They get cancer, leukaemia — basically all the ills of children are caused by vaccination," she says.

Meryl Dorey wouldn't put it quite that strongly, but as the president of the Australian Vaccination Awareness Network she warns parents against possible side effects.

"We have taken over 1200 reports of serious adverse reactions following vaccination. And they range from anything to high-pitched screaming for six to 12 hours after vaccination, through to things like autism, attention deficient disorder, serious food and other allergies like asthma and eczema, all the way through to permanent brain injury and death," says Meryl.

Melbourne mum Julie Clements knows all about those dangers — her seven-year-old son Samuel is autistic and her nine-year-old daughter Danah has Aspergers' Syndrome.

"Danah and Sam were both born happy, healthy babies," says Julie.

Or they were until they had their measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccinations.

She says the changes in Sam were almost immediate: "He became very withdrawn. He shut down, didn't want to eat, didn't want to sleep — just didn't want to interact with anybody."

Julie says her doctor told her Sam's condition was a direct result of vaccination.

"We found the measles virulent was in his intestines which was causing a leeching process into his body," Julie says.

But here's the counter argument — Professor McIntyre says there is no scientific evidence to prove measles virulent is found in the stomach lining of autistic children. And just because autism was diagnosed after vaccination doesn't make it the cause.

Stop vaccinating and you may live to regret it, he says.

The Pratt family certainly regret not having their son Oliver vaccinated for chicken pox.

"I really didn't think that chicken pox was something to get vaccinated against. I'd never heard of anything serious happening from it," says mum, Karen Pratt.

Oliver contracted an acute case of chicken pox when he was eight. Shortly after he suffered a stroke.

"I walk into the lounge room and Oliver's unconscious on the floor and that's when they did the scans on him and found the blockage in his brain," says John Pratt.

Oliver adds: "There was a blocked blood vessel in my brain and it clogged up and there was no oxygen or blood getting into my brain so it just stopped."

The stroke was linked to chicken pox: "We went through the family history and as soon as we mentioned chicken pox, that's when it all fell into place for the professor that was looking after us," says John.

Fortunately, Oliver has pretty much recovered. The pro-vaccine camp says more than 2 million lives a year are saved by vaccines.

"I mean, the last big measles epidemic in Australia with thousands and thousands of cases and deaths from measles was just ten years ago. And we don't see measles any more in Australia. But it's important to remember that most of these diseases can come back if we stop vaccinating — the bugs are still around," says Professor Peter McIntyre.

So should you have your child vaccinated or not? It seems the pro and anti-vaccination camps are never going to agree — you'll have to make your own choice.

Fast facts

  • Most parents' most common worries about vaccination is that their child can get the disease it's supposed to stop. Is that true? In most cases, no. Certainly not when a vaccine is made from a dead virus or part of a bacterium. When they're made from weakened live viruses, such as chickenpox, measles, mumps or rubella vaccines, children can develop mild symptoms of those diseases.

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