Friday, September 26, 2008

the Hidden Vaccine Debate

If you're a parent of small children, you've heard the usual vaccine debate: one side claims vaccines have suspicious links to autism, while the other claims vaccines are safe. I've never met anyone in the middle.

But the middle is home of the real debate, one hidden from the current yelling about autism. The real question is, 'How much do parents know about the ingredients and effects of vaccines used for their children?'

The answer is: not much. We deserve a debate that asks whether we're adequately weighing risk vs reward, regardless of whether or not a given vaccine contains mercury.

Few childhood vaccines now contain mercury (a very few do, including flu shots), but they do contain other ingredients worth asking about.

The recommended course of childhood vaccines often include about 1875 micrograms of aluminum, for example - astounding in light of the the FDA recommendation that premature babies get no more than 10 to 25 micrograms a day.

Are non-premature babies at risk? We don't know, but we do know aluminum builds in the brain for neurologic damage.

Aluminum is just one ingredient with effects worthy of study. Formaldehyde in vaccines is common, as are odd animal derivatives (like the fetal cow's blood and monkey kidney cells in the rotavirus vaccine).

That doesn't mean vaccines are bad. My kids are vaccinated. Robert Sears recommends vaccines in his excellent Vaccine Book, the most informative and debate-neutral book I've found.

But we do deserve to know more about the ingredients of injectables for our children, and both parents and the medical community deserve a thoughtful debate.

Yelling, 'Vaccines are autism potions!' or shouting, 'Vaccines are perfectly safe!' reduces the discussion to mere bleating. Neither is quite true.

Vaccines offer terrific benefits to children, but they do carry some risks.

Shouldn't parents be well informed about both?

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