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Mandatory Vaccinations Undergo a Year Under the Microscope

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He cites as an example the fact that, about 10 years ago, children weren't being vaccinated early enough for measles. "We had a large population of unvaccinated preschool children that were a fertile ground when there was a massive epidemic of measles," Orenstein tells WebMD. Over a 3-year period, 123 people died.

Thomas N. Saari, MD, a pediatrician who is also a member of the committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, cites the same example often to patients. He tells WebMD he tries to give his concerned patients as much information and background about the vaccinations as he can, following the rules of informed consent. But he says he also gives his patients a perspective from a time when vaccines weren't so prevalent.

"I try to give them a sense of what the world was like before we had immunizations to prevent the disease," he says. "We do get pretty complacent in this day and age because we don't see the diseases that the vaccines prevent because they do such a good job."

Saari tells his patients about the more recent measles outbreak. "It used to be said that 1 in a 1,000 children could be expected to die from measles, but here [in Wisconsin], it was 6 out of 2,000 [in the outbreak a decade ago], from a disease that was completely preventable."

And Saari also brings up the public health issue, the "community obligation" of parents. He tells WebMD, "we immunize our children as much to prevent our child from catching a disease, as much as preventing our child from giving another child disease."

Fisher, who is a member of the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, says her organization, the NVIC, is not anti-vaccine. "We have always been about reforming the system, not destroying the system," she says, pointing out that her group's "mantra" is "show us the science, and give us a choice."

According to Fisher, controversy around vaccines is a very complex issue, with many shades of gray. "We have to take a sensible, reasoned, balanced approach to vaccination and not this militaristic, one-size-fits-all, 'the policy is more important than the individual' [approach]," she says.

Fisher would like to see more scientific testing of vaccinations before they hit the market, to determine the "biological mechanism" of the drug, and perhaps how it could cause injury or death to some individuals, no matter how few. "Everybody is not going to respond the same way," she says.

She would also like to make sure that parents are educated so they can monitor their child after vaccination to look for any health problems. And, along with other advocates, she would like mandatory vaccination laws to become more "flexible."

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