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Children's Vaccines Health Center

Child Vaccines: Some Parents Ill at Ease

Does the private right of parents to not vaccinate their kids trump the greater public good?
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Conscientious Objectors

One of the reasons for the rise in the number of parents requesting philosophical or religious exemptions from vaccination is that the standards for medical exemptions are so rigorous and that the exemption-granting authorities make it hard to claim them, Fisher says.

"It's extremely difficult to get a medical exemption -- it's given out in all 50 states, but it is given out extremely rarely," she says. "So what does a parent do in this country when they believe they have a child that has either been harmed or children who they believe are genetically risk? The only two exemptions they have are the religious or conscientious belief or philosophical belief exemptions."

In a 2005 survey of vaccine-refusing parents published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, more than two-thirds of respondents said their chief reason for rejecting vaccines was concern that they might be harmful, and nearly half said that vaccines "might overload the immune system." The vaccine most often refused was against chickenpox (varicella), which was refused by slightly more than half of all vaccine objectors.

Some vaccine objectors say that they're protecting their children from neurologic damage and that mainstream media are in cahoots with the medical establishment to downplay evidence linking vaccines and autism.

The Hannah Poling Case

Those who are convinced that there is a vaccine-autism connection point to the recently publicized case of Hannah Poling, who developed autism-like symptoms after receiving childhood vaccinations. The federal government recently agreed to award the Poling family compensation from a vaccine injury fund established to encourage vaccine research and development and protecting vaccine manufacturers from liability by offering an alternative to lawsuits.

But lost or buried in many of the news stories about the case was the fact that Hannah Poling also suffers from a mitochondrial dysfunction disorder, an extremely rare defect in the mitochondria or "power supplies" found in the nuclei of human cells. The disorder puts her at increased risk for side effects not just from immunization, but also from common infectious diseases, says Halsey of Johns Hopkins.

"That's not a case of overwhelming the immune system, it's oxidative stress associated with many infections, and children with these disorders can just get a mild cold at a certain time in their lives, and they will develop this neurologic deterioration, so just any stress will cause it in these children," Halsey explains.

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