Refusing to follow doctors' advice
After her son was diagnosed with diabetes, mother became convinced vaccine was to blame
The News Tribune Tacoma, WA
Dozens of doctors have told her she's wrong. Medical research argues against
Yet Kandi Lovgren of Sumner is sticking to her theory that a routine
childhood vaccine ruined her son's health.
And now, as South Sound parents tote their tots to clinics and doctor
offices for back-to-school vaccinations, she is urging people to learn more
In this, at least, she is not alone.
Vaccines required, sort of
The state requires vaccines to protect public health, since most childhood
vaccinations effectively limit cases of infectious diseases. Schools and
health departments remind families to update their children's vaccines, but
state law also allows parents to choose not to immunize their children - for
personal, medical or religious reasons. Exemptions require a parent's
signature on the immunization forms distributed at schools.
Lovgren, 31, said she will never use a vaccine again, and her reasons are
Lovgren said her son, Adam, was a healthy, happy baby until he was
vaccinated at 2 months. He started to cry all the time, and his growth
slowed, she said; after another shot at 4 months, his leg swelled to twice
its normal size.
Adam's health continued to decline, Lovgren said, and shortly after his
first birthday, Lovgren learned her baby had diabetes. Now 6, Adam also
suffers from a neurological disorder that limits his ability to communicate.
Lovgren believes the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis shot given to Adam at 2
months caused his lasting health problems.
Lovgren spoke to 36 pediatricians about her theory and had it outright
rejected by all but one doctor, she said. But even if she is wrong, she
said, her mind is made up about vaccines.
"I would not vaccinate any of my family, my kids, myself against anything.
Period," Lovgren said. "When you start researching it, you learn the
vaccines don't do what they're supposed to - protect you against those
They provide protection
Most doctors and health officials say vaccines do indeed protect people
against diseases and thus have a positive effect on public health.
"They've been proven to work. We have minimal disease now because we can
protect our population," said Cindy Miron, who oversees the Tacoma-Pierce
County Health Department immunization programs.
Indeed, most routine childhood vaccines are effective for 85 to 95 percent
of recipients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
in Atlanta, Ga.
Yet, like most drugs and medical procedures, vaccines can cause adverse
reactions. About 800-1,000 "adverse-event" reports are filed every month
with the federal government, according to the Federal Food and Drug
Administration. Although about 15 percent of them are considered serious, a
filed report is not proof that a vaccine caused the injury, the FDA said.
"There's nothing that's 100 percent effective or safe, and vaccines fall in
that camp," Miron said.
Still, health officials say, without vaccines, highly contagious and deadly
diseases such as polio and smallpox would not be as rare as they now are.
"If we didn't do what we're doing, we'd have millions of people with polio,"
said Dr. John Kobayashi, senior epidemiologist at the Washington State
Department of Health. The last naturally occurring case of polio in the
state was reported in the 1970s, he said. Since then, only vaccine-induced
cases have occurred, Kobayashi said, and they are very rare. The last case
was reported in 1993.
And despite vaccine opponents' view that shots are ineffective in creating
immunity to diseases, nearly all of the cases of vaccine-preventable
diseases in the state of Washington in recent years occurred in people who
had not been vaccinated, Kobayashi said. The only vaccine-preventable
disease that regularly occurs even in people who are immunized is pertussis,
or whooping cough. In Washington, there were 481 cases in 1997, 830 in 1996
and 491 in 1995, and many occurred in people who had received some or all of
the shots in the required series, he said.
"Even if you get all the shots you need to get immunized, you still may get
pertussis because the vaccine is only effective around 80 percent of the
time," Kobayashi said. "It's a problem. Work is being done to improve the
Opposition groups formed
Parents who oppose vaccines or wish to educate others about possible adverse
effects have organized several groups throughout the country, including one
based in Pierce County.
Puyallup resident Marie Van-Es founded Concerned Parents for Vaccine Safety
about five years ago. The group now receives hundreds of e-mails and phone
calls every day from people around the country inquiring about the safety of
vaccinations, Van-Es said. Concerned Parents does not officially consider
itself anti-vaccine, although many people involved with the group oppose
vaccines. Rather, its position and mission are defined by its motto:
"Educate before you vaccinate."
Van-Es does not have a medical background, and her group clearly states in
its written material that readers should not construe the information as
medical or legal advice.
But that is precisely the point, she said.
"You don't have to be a doctor to know the facts," Van-Es said. "I'm just an
educated parent trying to make an educated choice about vaccines."
Before her first child was born, Van-Es said, she began reading medical
journal articles about vaccines; she chose not to vaccinate her son or her
Dr. Bart Classen, an immunologist in Baltimore, Md., agrees there are
reasons not to immunize children.
"(Vaccines) absolutely should not be required. It's very likely with many
vaccines that the risk exceeds the benefits," said Classen, who is studying
long-term health problems that vaccines cause and trying to develop safer
ones. He was among the doctors and health officials who testified in August
in congressional hearings to investigate reports of certain vaccines'
Classen said clinical studies that pharmaceutical companies conduct to get
vaccines on the market must prove that patients do not develop serious
health problems during the 15 days after receiving the shot. Most vaccines
can pass that test, Classen said, but some can cause serious illnesses over
the long term.
Making intelligent choices
Through her work with Concerned Parents, Van-Es hopes to encourage other
parents to educate themselves and make a choice about vaccines.
"With anything that goes into your child, you should decide yourself whether
you want it or not," she said.
Doctors at the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore, Md., agree that parents should learn all they can about vaccines.
The institute was founded in 1997 to address concerns in the medical
community about misleading vaccine information, especially on the Internet,
according to the institute's director, Dr. Neal Halsey.
Halsey is a pediatrician and has spent almost 30 years in the vaccine field
and published more than 150 medical articles on vaccines. The purpose of the
institute is to provide the public with objective information about
vaccines, Halsey said, as an alternative to traditional sources of
information, such as vaccine manufacturers, the government and anti-vaccine
groups. The institute also conducts medical studies of vaccines and
advocates changes that could lead to safer vaccines, he said.
"We certainly need to protect our children from those diseases, but we need
to do it with the safest possible vaccines," Halsey said.
Halsey said he hopes the Institute for Vaccine Safety will help parents
learn more about vaccines from an objective source.
"I think that all parents should be educated about both vaccines and the
diseases that the vaccines protect against," Halsey said.
* Staff writer Amy Tatko covers health and medicine. Reach her at
253-597-8541 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- - -
All children enrolled in childcare, preschool or school are required by
state law to have the following vaccines:
* Children ages 11-18 should have a diphtheria-tetanus booster shot if five
years have passed since their last one and another hepatitis B vaccine if
they have not completed the three-dose series.
* For children entering sixth grade and transfer students in grades 7-12, a
second dose of MMR is required.
* Hepatitis B - for children in childcare, preschool and kindergarten
through second grade.
* Haemophilus influenzae B - for children under 5 in childcare or preschool.
State law requires the vaccines, but parents may claim an exemption for
personal, medical or religious reasons. Unimmunized children can be excluded
from school if there is an outbreak of disease.
- - -
Resources for vaccine information:
* Parents who wish to learn more about the long-term health pros and cons of
vaccines may contact Concerned Parents at 253-445-2514 and the Tacoma-Pierce
County Health Department at 253-798-6500.
* People who think they or their children have been injured by a vaccine may
report the incident to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. The
system was established by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986
and created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food
and Drug Administration. About 800-1,000 adverse-event reports are filed
every month, according to the FDA, and about 15 percent of them are
considered serious. A filed report is not proof, however, that a vaccine
caused the injury. For information, call 1-800-822-7967.
* The Vaccine Injury Act also established the National Vaccine Injury
Compensation Program to resolve claims resulting from severe reactions or
injuries caused by required childhood vaccines. For more information on the
program, call 1-800-338-2382.
- - -
A look at the ingredients of required vaccines, and possible reactions to
Here is a look at some of the ingredients in - and possible reactions to -
four vaccines required by the State of Washington for children in school or
Among the ingredients contained in or used to make vaccine: Monkey kidney
Polio is a highly contagious and sometimes fatal viral infection that can
lead to paralysis and permanent muscle weakness.
Possible mild reactions to vaccine: Fever, soreness where the shot was
given, sleepiness, fussiness, crying, decreased appetite.
Possible rare/severe reactions: Paralysis, Guillain-Barre syndrome (nerve
disorder causing muscle weakness and possibly paralysis).
Recent Washington cases: The last case of polio was documented in 1993 and
was caused by the vaccine.
Disease: Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can cause acute illness that leads to loss of appetite,
tiredness, muscle and joint pain, vomiting and jaundice (yellow skin or
eyes) and chronic illness that leads to liver damage, liver cancer and
Among the ingredients contained in or used to make vaccine: Mercury,
aluminum, yeast protein
Possible mild reactions: Soreness where the shot was given, fever.
Possible rare/severe reactions: Serious allergic reaction, including
difficulty breathing, wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, increased heart
rate or dizziness.
Recent Washington cases: 114 cases in 1997, 158 cases in 1996 and 226 cases
in 1995. The number of cases has decreased overall in the past decade
because of the vaccine; before the vaccines there were about 1,000 cases
Diseases: Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles)
Among the ingredients contained in or used to make vaccine: Chick embryo
cells, human diploid cells (taken from aborted human fetuses).
Possible mild reactions: Fever, mild rash, swelling of glands in the cheeks
or neck, sore throat, headache, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea.
Possible rare/severe reactions: Seizures, pain and stiffness in joints,
serious allergic reaction, deafness, coma, permanent brain damage.
Recent Washington cases: Two cases of measles reported in 1997; 21 cases of
mumps reported in 1997; five cases of rubella reported in 1997. The last
outbreak of these diseases was 178 cases of rubella in a southern Washington
high school. Most of the people infected had not been vaccinated; when they
were children the rubella vaccine was not required for school entry.
Diseases: Diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw) and pertussis (whooping cough)
Among the ingredients contained in or used to make vaccine: Mercury,
Possible mild reactions: Fever, sore arm or leg, fussiness, decreased
appetite, tiredness, vomiting.
Possible rare/severe reactions: Nonstop crying, very high fever, seizures,
allergic reaction (breathing difficulty, shock), coma, brain damage.
Recent Washington cases: No diphtheria cases in the last 10 years. One or
two cases of tetanus occur each year in unvaccinated adults who did not get
booster shots. There were 481 pertussis cases in 1997, 830 in 1996 and 491 n
1995; the vaccine is less than 80 percent effective, which accounts for the
relatively high number of cases compared to other vaccine-preventable
Sources: Dr. John Kobayashi, senior epidemiologist, Washington Department of
Health; vaccine manufacturers' product inserts from vaccines used by the
Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department; Centers for Disease Control.
- Compiled by Amy Tatko, The News Tribune
The News Tribune Tacoma, WA
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