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Prof says parents misled on shots

Over the past 10 years, the number of Arizona parents who opted to not inoculate their child has doubled.

Arizona is one of several states that allows parents to make such a determination.

The Arizona Department of Health Services and the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health will be working together with two UA epidemiologists to identify Arizona schools where vaccination exemptions are high. The team will study whether there are pockets in Arizona that are in danger of out an outbreak of a commonly vaccinated illness. They will also attempt to understand the communities’ concern with vaccinations. A projected date for the completion of this project is early 2012.

While they’re working to discover why, Rick Herrier, clinical professor in the College of Pharmacy, said he believes he knows the root of the cause.

“I think the biggest thing is the fear of autism,” Herrier said.

Herrier credits this fear, in part, to a 1998 article by Dr. Andrew Wakeman. The article stated that a link exists between inoculation and the risk of developing autism. Vaccination rates have declined steadily since the publication of the article.

“It’s totally unwarranted,” Herrier said. “The guy falsified his data.”

A subsequent investigation by BMJ (British Medical Journal) found Wakeman’s study to be fraudulent, and Wakeman was later stripped of his medical license.

Herrier said that subsequent studies have failed to produce a result similar to Wakeman’s.

Because the article was published in a prestigious medical magazine, it gave validity to the idea for many lay people, Herrier said.

“The data was never really compelling,” he said, “but that didn’t stop people from picking it up. Google autism and vaccine and you’ll get all kinds of crap.”

Although Wakeman’s study was discredited last year, an article released this March in another British medical magazine called The Journal of Immunotoxicology reinforced the idea the idea of vaccines causing autism, albeit indirectly.

Author Helen Ratajczak wrote an article claiming that certain vaccinations might cause encephalitis, swelling of the brain, which could cause autism.

“It’s theoretical, it’s unproven,” Harrier said, adding that the difference between theory and fact in medicine is monumental.

Still, Harrier said he agrees vaccines have risks. Oddball reactions could occur, but are mostly allergic reactions, such as aches and pains or symptoms of the flu, he said.

“There’s no drug that’s 100 percent safe. Sugar isn’t safe, water isn’t safe,” Harrier said. “It’s the margin of safety that’s important.”

When asked if his kids were vaccinated Harrier said, “Damn right they are,” and went on to say he also went out and got vaccinated for whooping cough when he heard he was going to be a grandfather.

Herrier said he believes the idea of vaccinations causing autism is “dead” and that the argument has degenerated now into an emotional issue.

New parent Rachel Rhodes, however, is not so sure. Shortly after she found out she was pregnant, she read up on vaccinations.

“The statistics I was reading caused me to reconsider (vaccinations),” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said she found sources linking vaccines to several diseases and disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma and autism.

After her research, Rhodes ultimately decided not to inoculate her child, and said she believes proper nutrition is a more suitable defense against disease.

Rhodes said she believes the decision to get immunized is based heavily on opinion, and that it’s not always an easy decision to make.

“If you’re a parent whose kid just died after taking a bunch of vaccines … or is damaged mentally, I think they would say no,” Rhodes said.

Herrier said he sees no reason not to get immunized.

“We’ve wiped out polio worldwide,” Herrier said. “When I was a kid all these people were in iron lungs, and people wouldn’t go swimming in the summer or hang around people for fear of getting polio. Nobody gets polio anymore.”


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