(Correction: The following sentence was my original paragraph. "As most of you have likely heard, there was a recent court ruling that vaccines do not cause autism. Here's an article on it from the NY Times." The next paragraph is the actual ruling which found, in three different cases, that families involved did not show that their children's autism was brought on/caused by vaccines. Therefore, it is under this narrow window that you could say that, in a court of law, there was not proof that vaccines cause autism. This means that you could go either way; namely, say "Vaccines don't cause autism." or "It has not been fully proven that vaccines don't cause autism." Here's what the CDC says, "The weight of the evidence indicates that vaccines are not associated with autism.")
"In the three cases, each decided by a judge called a special master, the court found that the families had not shown that their children’s autism was brought on by substances in the vaccines — either the measles virus in the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, or its combination with thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was used in most childhood vaccines until 2001."
"The judges considered 5,000 pages of testimony from experts and 939 medical articles.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have indicated they will appeal. Pediatricians and government agencies welcomed the rulings.“Hopefully, the determination by the special masters will help reassure parents that vaccines do not cause autism,” the Health and Human Services Department said in a statement."
"No one disputes that in rare cases, vaccines can cause shock, brain inflammation and death, especially in children with allergies or compromised immune systems. The law recognizes specified side effects for each vaccine; autism is not among them."
It is challenging, painful, and worrying to have an autistic child. And like any other kind of disorder or disease, you wish you could just know, "Why my child?" But autism, like many other disorders, may never have an easy or complete answer.
This becomes all the more complicated because a recent article in the PI shows that Washington state ranks near the bottom for childhood vaccinations and is dropping. Many counties in WA state are near or at 5% non-vaccinated child rates.
From the article:
"Over the past decade, the percentage of children starting school without at least one required vaccination doubled from 2.7 percent to 5.5 percent in King County alone, according to the state Department of Health. That translates into 1,100 of 20,500 students.
"It looks like our community immunity -- it's what people call 'herd immunity' -- is in fact eroding," said Dr. Ed Marcuse, associate medical director at Seattle Children's and a national immunization expert. "I am worried about an outbreak of measles in many counties in Washington state."
"Overall, 69 percent of Washington children age 19 to 35 months received all of their shots in 2007, down from 71 percent the year before, and below the national average of 77 percent, according to the Department of Health."
So why is this?
"Vaccination rates aren't going down just because parents like me are talking about our child's adverse reactions," Dalpez wrote in an e-mail. "They are going down because people are beginning to question the safety of the vaccine program."
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counter that they have spent millions on vaccine-safety research, but have not found causal links between vaccines and the rise in autism cases or other widespread health problems.
"By choosing not to vaccinate, they are choosing a theoretical risk for a known risk of preventable disease," said Kristine Sheedy, associate director for communication science at the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases."
All of life is a risk and the above statement bears that out. If I choose not to vaccinate my children, I assume a risk that I, hopefully, know the odds of getting. But here's where it gets hairy.
"Measles is already popping up in the developed world. Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Israel and other nations are coping with outbreaks of the highly contagious disease, says Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, chief of communicable disease and immunization at Public Health -- Seattle & King County.
"That is the first disease you would expect, and other diseases you would expect to surge back (are) mumps, pertussis" and chicken pox, Duchin added. Measles "is basically out of control in the British population."
Local public health officials are not predicting an epidemic in Washington in the near future, but are concerned about outbreaks in vulnerable groups, such as homeschooled children. In 2008, there were 19 reported cases of measles in the state, the highest level in 12 years."
For me the worst of all? Polio. My three oldest siblings all contracted it (this was right before the vaccine was created) with one sister temporarily paralyzed and left in a weakened state the rest of her life.
"Some 53 million children under the age of five, including every girl and boy in Nigeria, have been targeted by a mass polio immunization campaign across West Africa, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced today.
The door-to-door polio eradication drive is planned to sweep through eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Togo, and Nigeria, aiming to reach every child even in the remotest of areas.
The campaign, employing 162,000 trained immunizers, will attempt to stop last year's outbreak which hit northern Nigeria and spread to six countries in West Africa after the wild polio virus had already re-infected Niger in 2007, as well as Chad and Cameroon in Central Africa.
"The highest priority was to reach every child in Nigeria, which was one of the four endemic countries, and in the high-risk areas across the region," said Miranda Eeles, a spokesperson for UNICEF."
Measles? Polio? How can this be happening in this day and age?
And the latest? This from an article in the NY Times this past Tuesday.
"Autism is terrifying the community of Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, and some pediatricians and educators have joined parents in raising the alarm. But public health experts say it is hard to tell whether the apparent surge of cases is an actual outbreak, with a cause that can be addressed, or just a statistical fluke.In an effort to find out, the Minnesota Department of Health is conducting an epidemiological survey in consultation with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This kind of conundrum, experts say, arises whenever there is a cluster of noncontagious illnesses."
"A small recent study of refugees in schools in Stockholm found that Somalis were in classes for autistic children at three times the normal rate.
Calls to representatives of Somali groups in Seattle and San Diego found that they were aware of the fear in Minneapolis but unsure about their own rates. Doctors familiar with the Somali communities in Boston and Lewiston, Me., had heard of no surges there.
“It’s a concern here, but we haven’t done anything to look specifically,” said Ahmed Salim of Somali Family Services in San Diego.Shamso Yusuf of the Refugee Women’s Alliance in Seattle said tearfully that her own daughter had been given a diagnosis of autism, “and I see a lot of parents who have 5-year-olds who cannot speak.” But no Seattle study has been done, she said."
And so a link is created between scared immigrant parents and anti-vaccine groups.
"Antivaccine groups have noticed. In November, J. B. Handley, a founder of Generation Rescue, which advocates treating autistic children with wheat- and dairy-free diets, vitamins and chelation to remove mercury, wrote an open letter to “Courageous Somali Parents.”
He warned them not to trust the state health department and suggested they slow down their children’s shots and get exemptions to school vaccination requirements. He also offered to pay for some to attend an antivaccine conference.
The appeal has had an effect. Many parents, including Ayub’s, now say that their children’s autism began after seizures that started after they got shots.“People in the Somali community have gravitated to that theory, and many are resisting immunization,” Dr. McLellan said."
This is all very troubling especially for our state and our district. I am not looking for an argument here. I am NOT against immigrants or parents who have decided against vaccinations. However, if we have an outbreak of a preventable disease in our district, what then? As we have more and more students who are not vaccinated coming into our schools and the growing possibility that diseases thought long gone are coming back, we all need to pay heed and hope our officials have an answer for "What if?".