Book: Autism-vaccine debate blurs real issue

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — The debate over whether vaccines cause autism masks real problems with the modern inoculation schedule, a new book argues.

Extremists for and against vaccinations have clouded the issues for parents seeking to make the best possible decisions for their children’s health, writes Mark Largent, associate professor at Michigan State University in his new book Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America.

On one hand, health officials ardently assert that there is no scientific evidence that vaccinations cause autism, Largent says, adding that vaccines are widely recognized as one of the most effective tools in the public health arsenal.

On the other hand, some shots raise serious concerns among many parents, such as the vaccines against chickenpox and hepatitis B, which is typically given within the first days of life.

The debate is encouraging a growing number of parents to refuse the vaccinations for their children, Largent says. Further, pediatricians and health officials have created an all-or-nothing approach to vaccinations that gives the false impression that all inoculations are equally important.

“It’s a signal to parents that the vaccine schedule is an all-or-nothing affair—that you either accept that the mandated vaccines are all equally valuable and comply with the entire schedule or reject it in its entirety,” Largetns says. “As a result, parents who find some vaccines unnecessary are encouraged to question the entire vaccine schedule.”

Fueled by celebrity activists, public anxieties over vaccines have emerged during the past 20 years, Largent notes. In the meantime, legislators in many states have loosened requirements on childhood vaccinations for attendance at schools and daycares.

Today, more than half of Americans live in states that allow for philosophical exemptions to mandatory vaccinations—often requiring little more than a parent’s signature on an exemption form.

Public health officials worry that children who do not get all recommended and mandated vaccines pose a risk to those who get the full complement of shots. Although vaccines are not guaranteed to be effective, officials say the best way to guard against the spread of communicable diseases is to get all recommended and mandated vaccines.

Ultimately, Largent believes parents must accept responsibility to decide the best course of action for their children when it comes to vaccines.

“Parents should examine the vaccination schedule, think about their child’s situation, and consider their options,” Largent says. “That way, when they decide in favor of or against a vaccine, they are actually making a conscious choice rather than simply drifting into a decision that has been made by someone else.”

Source: Michigan State University