WHEELING - Only recently, people's concerns about vaccines have started to head in a new direction - a positive direction - because of lingering claims that vaccines are responsible for causing autism.
A 13-year-old study that claimed the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine caused autism in children has been debunked. The doctor who perfomed the initial study, Andrew Wakefield, made the claims in the Lancet journal. After an investigation, the British Medical Journal called his claims fraudulent. He lost his license in Britain and in the U.S.
In the past, parents also had concerns about vaccines with thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury. But because of those concerns, all pediatric vaccines are thimerosol free. Some flu vaccines still contain it, but parents can ask for thimerosal-free flu vaccinations for their children.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Vaccines help prevent disease in children and adults including pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus.
Because so many parents have opted to not have their children vaccinated, some vaccine-preventable diseases are starting to come back, such as whooping cough.
West Virginia requires children receive vaccinations before entering school. Vermont and California are looking to strengthen their laws to a similar standard as West Virginia's because of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, said Ohio County Health Officer Dr. William Mercer.
In Ohio County, a vaccine-related issue cropped up this school year when a parent, who had an exemption on file from their child's doctor since kindergarten, was told her son could not attend class until he received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as required by state law.
The exemption on file stated her son was allergic to the vaccine and that he could not safely receive it.
But the health department insisted because of new state Bureau of Health rules that only the county health officer - in this case, Mercer - could OK an exemption.
Eventually, after much debate and the boy being out of class for six weeks, the child received allergy testing that showed he is allergic to the vaccine. The health department gave the student the exemption but it is only temporary. He will have to do another scratch test in two years, Mercer said.
''We try to protect as many people as we can. If there really is a valid reason we will give the exemption,'' Mercer said.
The child's mother said her son is fully vaccinated with all other required vaccines - it is just the MMR vaccine that still has ingredients dangerous for him, she said.
''It has stuff in it that would kill him,'' she said of the components in the MMR.
However, it was not until they put their son into a new school that the letter became an issue, she noted.
''The West Virginia Bureau of Health's handbook and the CDC's Pink Book, which is the health department's bible, state a child with an allergy to a component of a vaccine or the vaccine itself is exempt,'' the mother said. ''The health department is not following its own rules.''
She added she is seeking support from various legislators so her family does not have to go through the same process again.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children need the following immunizations to stay healthy: