A heated debate continues: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – With the growing number of measles cases reported this year, the heated debate continues – to vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that there are more than 800 confirmed cases of measles, just this year, which is the most cases of the highly contagious disease in more than 25 years. The CDC is urging parents to vaccinate.

The reports are coming in from 23 states, and Utah borders at least 3 of those states, although there have been no reported cases in Utah, yet. Officials with the Utah Department of Health say it’s not just a matter of *if* it hits Utah, but *when.*

Beth Luthy, a nurse and mother herself, advocates for vaccinations. Her oldest son, Michael, contracted four vaccine-preventable illnesses before he turned two years old, and each illness nearly claimed his life.  

Michael received a life-saving liver transplant for his first birthday, and his immune system had to be paralyzed, leaving Michael with no other option but to get vaccinated. With a weakened immune system, he contracted whooping cough, rotavirus, chickenpox, and meningitis. Luthy says while Michael was most fragile, she had to trust her community was vaccinated.

“Unfortunately there wasn’t protection and he caught four vaccine-preventable diseases because the community around him was not vaccinated,” says Luthy.

Miraculously, Michael made it through, but it was a fight. Luthy says she shares their story to urge the public to vaccinate.

“There was a period when for 3 months he was on a breathing tube, he had seizures. As a mother, you want to be able to protect your child and there was nothing I could do except hold his hand,” Luthy explained. “It was an emotional rollercoaster every single day. Some days were promising, thinking everything will be okay. Then it would be a terrible day. He would be revived and on all sorts of life support measures. It was harrowing!”

With reports of measles cases only continuing to rise, Luthy says she worries for those in the community, like her Michael, who have weakened immune systems and don’t have the option to vaccinate either.

“I am scared for them. I think that what they feel is what I felt at the time. I felt like we couldn’t go anywhere. We were confined to home.  You think about what that means, no movies, no grocery store, it means you can’t go to the playground, all the things you think about with childhood that is so important with childhood development you’re so afraid you’ll run into some airborne illness in the air and the alternative is to risk death. So you do what you have to do to protect your children, but it’s not a way to live,” Luthy described.

Utah Department of Health Immunization Program Manager, Rich Lakin, says there’s a very close correlation to people who do not vaccinate and the rising numbers in reported measles cases.

“In 2000 the CDC stated that measles was eliminated from the U.S., now its 2019 and we are seeing it come back, and that’s because people are not getting vaccinated and that’s just one example, said Lakin.”

Utah is one of 17 states that allow exemptions based on philosophical opposition to vaccinations; as well as religious or medical reasons. Lakin says more than 90% of Utah’s vaccination exemptions are based on personal reasons, and the rest are religious or medical.

Utah is also just one of three states, that offer an online education option to get an exemption. This option, which includes a 20-minute online education module, is full of scientifically-based information that has been compiled by state health officials.

Prior to last summer, parents seeking an exemption for their child had to meet with a medical professional. Since last summer, more than 8,700 certificates have been printed. 

“We have gradually seen exemptions increase over the years,” says Lakin. “From last year to this year, we’ve seen kindergarten exemptions increase by ½ percent.”

Lakin admits that the online module may make the process more convenient for families to get exemptions. He says he favors counseling, by a health care provider, as one good way to strengthen requirements.

“That not only makes it harder to get exemptions but also puts parents in touch with “the most trusted source” of information,” says Lakin.

For parents who cannot vaccinate their children, because they have a weakened immune system or other medical reasons, the growing number of exemptions is alarming.

“I feel incredible sadness and probably some frustration as well. I think from my point of view it seems like if I could just explain to the community that there are children in the community, like my son, who really need your help, who legitimately need you to be vaccinated to help save their lives, certainly that would be the message that would resonate with everyone, and it doesn’t necessarily, says Luthy. “It’s hurtful because I think my child’s life is precious and it matters, it matters! I just wish we all had that same sense of community and trying to protect each other.”

Lakin points out that the MMR vaccine is safe and effective and that most people, (97%), have a good response rate.

“The studies have been done that only 1 in one-million will have severe reaction to the vaccine,” Lakin says. “Where if you get the measles, your chance of dying is 2 in 10,000 or 1 in 1,000 of having a severe reaction or 1 in 100 have minor reaction to it.”

“If you get the measles it really hits the respiratory system,” explained Lakin. “You can see if someone under age 1 or someone elderly or with a weakened immune system got it, it could be serious. That’s why we really try to prevent the measles.”

Lakin emphasizes that the overall message is this, “We need to remember that vaccines are one of the greatest public health achievements that we have seen along with clean water. We don’t want to take a step backwards because there is no reason why we should see these childhood diseases return again.”

But, despite the warnings issued by health officials across the country, many parents are hesitant and choose not to vaccinate.

“I would say personal exemptions are just as valid as any reason out there,” said Melissa Butler, a Registered Nurse, and mother of four.

Butler has chosen to not vaccinate her children explaining, “We have had family members have adverse reactions to vaccinations. My husbands’ cousin had a little boy, Colton Berrett, who had a severe reaction to the HPV vaccine. They actually took it to the vaccine injury court and won. It was proven to be caused by the HPV vaccine and he was paralyzed, it was very sad. When he was 18, he took his life, because it was so hard to be paralyzed.”

Currently, the CDC recommends, that children at eleven or twelve-years-old, receive a vaccination against the Human papillomavirus or H-P-V. According to data, collected by the CDC and FDA, 67-million doses of the Gardasil, or HPV4 vaccine, were distributed between 2006 and 2014.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System has received more than 25,000 adverse reports, and more than 7-percent were classified as ‘serious.’ The reporting system shows there were a total of 96 deaths after the HPV-4 vaccine was given.

According to the CDC website “Over 100 million doses of HPV vaccines were distributed in the United States from June 2006 through December 2017. To date, most of CDC’s HPV vaccine safety monitoring and research has focused on Gardasil because it has accounted for the majority of HPV vaccine doses distributed in the United States. These safety efforts continue, now focusing on Gardasil 9.

Among all reports to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) following HPV vaccines, the most frequently reported symptoms overall were dizziness; fainting; headache; nausea; fever; and pain, redness, and swelling in the arm where the shot was given.

Have HPV vaccines been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder where a person’s own immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Most people recover fully from GBS, but some experience long-term nerve damage.

The Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) is also currently monitoring for GBS following Gardasil 9 vaccination. To date, there have no findings to suggest a safety problem related to GBS.

Butler says she wants parents to have the choice to do what they feel is best for their children.

“There are inherent risks (to vaccines) and anytime you’re taking a risk there has to be a choice,” she says. “I feel for anybody who has had a child be ill. I also feel greatly for any child that has been injured by a vaccine, and I don’t think either side has the right to say they have to put their child at risk. I think when it comes down to it every parent needs to have the protected right to do what they think is right for their children.”

Lakin, at the Utah Department of Health says, “We do respect the right of those that don’t want to vaccinate, but we also have the responsibility to the families that can’t immunize, and we have the responsibility to protect those families and children under the age of 1 that can’t get immunized by the MMR.”

This poses a difficult question… is it the irresponsibility of the anti-vaxxers that lead to getting those under the age of 1 the disease, or is it the government’s responsibility to go against the anti-vaxxers and protect those under age 1?

“It’s a juggling act that does not have an answer to it,” Lakin concluded.

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