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Proposed PA vaccine rule change triggers autism concerns

By Phillip Poupore, Point Park News Service:

Mary Wildman’s life changed forever just a few days after her son’s first birthday.

She took her son to the pediatrician for an ear infection, but during the appointment she was told her son was also due for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Based in Zelienople, the Parents in Toto Autism Resource Center provides support and resources to families of children with autism.

Her son, Nick, had a reaction to the vaccine, she said, as he cried for three days with a high fever. But that could not have prepared her for what happened next.

“He stopped talking and wouldn’t look at me anymore,” Wildman said. “It was like I took my child to the doctor and brought a different kid home.”

Despite fears from some parents and even some of those in the medical community about potential side effects from vaccines, Pennsylvania officials have proposed a revision to require more immunization regulations for school children. Evidence to back up concerns about vaccines is lacking, they say.

Nicole Reigelman, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), said there is currently an eight-month provisional period for a student to become fully immunized. Under current regulations, a student can go almost an entire school year without being fully immunized.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the PDE want to reduce the eight-month provisional period to just five school days. A student must receive his or her final dose of a multi-dose vaccine in this period, or if the medical schedule doesn’t allow this, the child’s health provider must submit a medical certificate outlining the dates the child will receive the boosters of the multi-dose vaccine.

Reigelman said that the proposed changes do not alter the current medical, religious or philosophical exemptions to immunization. Though these exemptions remain in place, there are still those in the community who believe the vaccination schedule for children is too intense.

Wildman said her son was loaded with antibiotics from an ear infection treatment when he received the MMR vaccine. To this day she regrets allowing the doctor to give her son the shots. Wildman’s son was diagnosed with autism 15 months after receiving the MMR vaccine, and very little has changed since then. Nick is now 19 years old. He remains non-verbal and still wears diapers.

“Parents need to be informed of these types of reactions,” Wildman said. “Doctors also need to back off these vaccine schedules.”

Her husband, Davy, added that parents should always have the choice to deny vaccinations for their children.

“If so many children are vaccinated, why does it matter if my kid is vaccinated?” he said. “It’s not like my kid will make others sick if the vaccines work.”

Today the decision not to vaccinate can actually affect others in the community.

“We know now that our decisions not to vaccinate might have repercussions for others given that ‘herd immunity’ protects the entire community, and is of particular importance to those who for medical reasons cannot get vaccinated,” Nadja Durbach, a professor of history at the University of Utah, said. She has studied the topic extensively and published the book, “Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907.”

Reigelman explained that herd immunity is considered when a high enough level of immunization is reached in a community to offer some level of protection to those who are either not immune, or cannot be vaccinated. This coverage is believed to prevent widespread disease outbreaks. The current immunization rate for Pennsylvania kindergartners is at 91 percent, she said.

The core of the proposal is to raise the immunization rate in Pennsylvania, Reigelman said.

“This idea is actually a key focus in the proposal,” she said. “The goal is to increase Pennsylvania’s immunization rate for school children to 95 percent, which is the benchmark for herd immunity.”

Mary Limbacher is the founder of Parents in Toto Autism Resource Center. Limbacher’s son Andy was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of 10. She does not believe his diagnosis has any link to immunization, however, she believes parents should space out shots for their children or have traditionally combined shots like the MMR done separately.

Mary Limbacher, the founder of Parents in Toto Autism Resource Center, said she believes parents should space out shots for their children or have traditionally combined shots like the MMR done separately. Photo by Philip Poupore, Point Park News Service.
Mary Limbacher, the founder of Parents in Toto Autism Resource Center, said she believes parents should space out shots for their children or have traditionally combined shots like the MMR done separately. Photo by Philip Poupore, Point Park News Service.

Limbacher agrees with the social responsibility to vaccinate that immunization is an important part of society.

“Too many unvaccinated children will cause the return of previously eradicated diseases,” Limbacher said. “Fear of vaccinations puts our whole society at risk.”

Durbach said that though the anti-vaccination movement was most prominent when MMR was linked to autism, it has emerged again during the past 10 years due to the increases in both vaccinations and inexplicable childhood diseases.

“Our ability to identify and diagnose disease has not been equaled by the ability to find a root cause or to treat these diseases,” Durbach said. “Given how many vaccines are given to children it is almost impossible not to correlate a diagnosis of something terrible with the most recent vaccine.”

Though Wildman believes the MMR vaccine led to her son’s autism, she too supports immunization, but on a revised schedule.

“We realize vaccines save lives,” Wildman said. “But the schedules they have these kids on are way too stringent. They need to wait until their immune systems are fully developed.”

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