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Children's Vaccines Health Center

New Group Targets Misinformation and Fear About Immunizations

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One parent who learned the dangers of delaying her child's vaccination is Suzanne Walther of Murfreesboro, Tenn. In a halting voice, Walther told the story of her youngest daughter, Mary Catherine. While she was pregnant with Mary Catherine, Walther became aware of the antivaccine movement through a friend who told her that vaccines are harmful. "I have three children -- a boy [who's] 8 and another boy who is 4," she tells WebMD. In 1998, she says, "we spent all day Christmas Eve at a hospital emergency room because our son had an asthma attack." Her friend told her that one of the "dangers" of vaccinations is that they cause asthma.

At that point, she started researching the Internet, where she discovered "a lot of very scary information," she says. She went to her pediatrician, her Ob/Gyn, and her family physician with her concerns, but no one "really answered my questions," she says. When she delivered her baby, she saw a notice on the wall in the hospital nursery. "It said to withhold all hepatitis B vaccines until a new thimerosal-free shipment arrived. That one sign on the wall confirmed for me some of the scare stories I found on the Internet," Walther says.

Thimerosal is a preservative that the body metabolizes into mercury. Although no studies have suggested that thimerosal poses a risk, U.S. vaccine makers, after prodding from the AAP, have moved to eliminate thimerosal, Katz says.

With that scant information, Walther, over the objections of her pediatrician, decided to delay her new daughter's immunizations. "When Mary Catherine was 11 months old, she had a crabby day," Walther says. "For some reason, I decided to take her to the doctor. ... By late that day, she was being admitted to the intensive care unit at Vanderbilt Hospital. Her diagnosis was meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae type B -- Hib -- a condition that I could have protected her against with a shot when she was 2 months old. For three days, she didn't move, she didn't cry. She was in such pain."

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