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New Group Targets Misinformation and Fear About Immunizations

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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."

Fortunately, Mary Catherine recovered completely and was released after celebrating her first birthday in the intensive care unit. But during that stay, Walther became transformed from a vaccine opponent to an advocate for childhood immunizations and for better communication between doctors and patients.

Walther says the new organization, NNII, of which she is a member, will supply the "answers that parents need to get."

For parents who may worry about the group's involvement with either the pharmaceutical industry or the government, Gellin explains, "We have refused funding from both the drug companies and the government. We are funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation."

 

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