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"Protecting the health and informed consent rights of children since 1982."


The Big Question: Do Vaccinations Actually Help or Hurt Children?
Aired February 25, 2002 - 07:45   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We return now to the big question this hour: Do
vaccinations actually help or hurt children? By the time most kids are two,
they have had as many as 20 immunizations against a variety of diseases. And
it has been a debate here in the U.S. among parents for the past few years
about whether the shots actually harm children's immune systems. And just
recently, the issue became front- page news in London, when Prime Minister
Tony Blair refused to answer questions about whether his infant son was

Joining us now to talk about a new study that addresses these health
concerns, from Boston, Marie McCormick, with the Institute of Medicine. And
from Washington, Barbara Loe Fisher, with the National Vaccine Information
Center. Welcome to you both.

All right. I'm going to start off this morning with the child immunization
study that was completed last week. Dr. McCormick, are you with us yet? Not
yet -- OK, so Dr. Fisher, I need for -- Ms. Fisher, for you to react to
this. Dr. McCormick actually chaired the committee that completed this
report, and it concluded that the schedule of 20 vaccines before the age of
two was, quote, "... does not increase a child's risk of contracting type
one Diabetes or various infections, such as pneumonia or meningitis." And
the study, though, is inconclusive as to whether the shots increase the risk
of asthma.

Now I got to tell you, as a parent, this is extremely confusing information.
What is it that parents are supposed to do here?

very important for people to have access to this Institute of Medicine
report. And they can do that by going to the Web site 909shot.com. We are
linked directly to the Institute of Medicine Web site.

This report did not say that we should go home and not worry about the
multiple vaccinations we're giving to our children. Quite to the contrary,
it is a wonderful report that outlines in detail the possible biological
mechanisms that could be at work when vaccines create auto immunity in some
children. It is a research blueprint for the federal health agencies and for
industry to do the kinds of scientific studies that need to be done to
answer the outstanding question of whether or not vaccines -- the multiple
vaccines we're giving our children -- have contributed to the doubling of
asthma in the last 20 years in our kids, the doubling of learning
disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder, the tripling of Diabetes, and
the increase of autism in every state by 600 percent.

We have a lot of kids who are sick, and we need to find out why. And we need
to know whether or not the many vaccines we're giving our children are
contributing to this rise in chronic disease and disability.

ZAHN: All right. Dr. McCormick, do you acknowledge that this study has some
shortcomings? Because it did not come up with any conclusive evidence about
some of the things that Ms. Fisher just mentioned, when it comes to asthma
and ADD and perhaps other learning disabilities.

MARIE MCCORMICK, INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE: Certainly, we were not able to
examine the full range of either auto immune or allergic diseases. I would
point out, however, that although we were only able to look at type one
Diabetes and some -- and allergy, asthma and infection, I would also point
out that when we looked at the biological mechanisms, we did not find that
these mechanisms provided strong evidence for an effect that would generate
the kinds of conditions we're talking about. In fact, the evidence we found
was either theoretical or relatively weak.

ZAHN: So, Dr. McCormick, what is it that parents are supposed to do in the
meantime before all of this is sorted out? Are they supposed to take the
full (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- have their children take the full (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
of these shots?

MCCORMICK: I would like to point out that the type of evidence we looked at
was, in some instances, hypothesis-raising, as was indicated by the prior
speaker. The risk of disease is very real. These are very serious diseases
that cause severe morbidity that cause death. I think that when a parent
thinks about the risk, they have to trade off the notion of a hypothetical
risk that may be -- that may be reproducing these kinds of conditions, but
may not, versus the very, very real risk of the diseases that are being

ZAHN: What about this balance you must strike, Ms. Fisher, as a parent,
whether -- I think Dr. McCormick just addressed it pretty well. You know,
whether you want to face the risk of this -- potentially a deadly disease,
or perhaps the not proven consequences of other illnesses caused by these

FISHER: Well one of the things that the Institute of Medicine report pointed
out was that there may be groups of genetically susceptible children who
cannot handle the process of vaccination like other children can. You know,
we've been taking vaccine reaction reports for the last 20 years at the
National Vaccine Information Center. And in the last decade particularly, we
have seen more and more parents report to us they take in perfectly normal,
healthy, high-functioning children to be vaccinated. And then within hours,
days or weeks, these children exhibit illness, high fevers, convulsions,
brain inflammation. They start to regress physically, mentally and
emotionally. More and more parents are reporting that. And when the doctors
tell them it's all a coincidence, that the vaccines had nothing to do with
what happened to their children, the parents are beginning not to believe
them. We need to do the good science that will give us the answers to
whether or not more and more children -- potentially genetically susceptible
children -- are not being able to handle the process of vaccination.

ZAHN: But, Ms. Fisher, until those studies are completed, what is it that
you recommend parents to do?

FISHER: Parents need to become educated about vaccines and infectious
diseases. They need to know how to monitor their children, following
vaccinations for signs that there's health deterioration. Doctors need to
report hospitalizations, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and deaths following vaccination.
We have potentially less than 10 percent -- maybe less than one percent --
of all doctors reporting these adverse events to the federal vaccine adverse
event reporting system. We need more education, we need better science, and
we need to examine our policies.

ZAHN: But, Dr. McCormick, you are wholly comfortable with the immunizations
that are being required of most school aged children?

MCCORMICK: Yes, I am. But I'm also very -- and our committee is very
concerned that we do everything in our power to establish the safety of the
current vaccine schedule and vaccines that are coming on down the pike. This
is too serious an issue to brush to the side. I agree with Ms. Fisher that
we should report these incidents, we should investigate these incidents.
And, in fact, the Institute of Medicine has a 10-year track history --
10-year track record of looking at vaccines and establishing what vaccine
adverse events really occur.

So I think this is an ongoing process, and that -- and a very, very serious
one. And the report, and a whole series of reports, keeps iterating this as
an important feature of the vaccine system.

ZAHN: So parents, read as much as you can. Stay informed. You've got to make
the choices for your own children, along with your doctor. Dr. Marie
McCormick, thank you so much for joining us. And Barbara Loe Fisher, thanks
for your time as well.

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