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Alternative Vaccine Schedule Stirs Debate

Article in Journal Criticizes Popular Book on Timing of Kids' Vaccines
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 29, 2008 -- A popular book that presents an alternative vaccine schedule for infants and toddlers is flawed, misguided, and puts children at significant risk of preventable diseases, the journal Pediatrics reports in a harshly-worded article.

The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child, by the widely-followed Robert Sears, MD, of Capistrano Beach, Calif., contains recommendations for vaccines that are at odds with those of the American Academy of Pediatrics and is dangerous, Paul Offit, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, tells WebMD.

The book also undermines recommendations by the CDC and the American Academy of Family Physicians, Offit says.

His analysis of the book is published in the latest edition of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sears' book, which has become a best seller and is popular among parents leery of vaccines, has induced many to change vaccine schedules or avoid recommended vaccinations for their children, Offit tells WebMD.

"What he does is, he capitalizes on the current culture's fear of vaccines by saying, 'not only do I understand your fear but I will provide you with a mechanism whereby you can act on that fear,'" Offit says. "His method is to separate, delay, or withhold some vaccines. That means some children become more susceptible for a longer time to diseases, and there is no reason to delay."

Alternative Vaccine Schedule: What Sears Says

Sears' book provides parents with alternative "schedules" for having children vaccinated to protect them from diseases once common in kids. For example, he proposes splitting up the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, normally given all at once, into separate components spread over a few years, to keep from overloading children's immune systems. Although he writes that he has no research to show that giving the MMR and chickenpox vaccines at the same time is dangerous,  he feels parents should have their children protected against the diseases gradually.

Sears tells WebMD that Offit and others have misunderstood his book, and that he believes in vaccines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other medical organizations. He says he plans to write a rebuttal to Offit's article for submission to Pediatrics.

"I almost see myself as an ally of the AAP in that I'm finding ways to encourage parents who otherwise would not vaccinate [their children] to go ahead and vaccinate," Sears says. "I believe that my options will actually increase the vaccination rate. My book is admittedly not pro the AAP's vaccine schedule. My advice does differ in the way vaccines are given, but ultimately, I agree that vaccines should be given. For parents afraid of the way AAP says to do it, I give them an alternative."

He says "there is no science that is conclusive enough to show any links between vaccines and autism" but that his book provides "ways to vaccinate if you are worried about autism that may decrease the theoretical link if you believe there is such a link."

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