Seven percent of Colorado families are now opting out of immunizations, and that is very concerning to public health officials.
In a recent outbreak of whooping cough in Boulder, 37 people were sickened, and measles rates nationwide are at their highest levels in 15 years. Still, there are families who believe the best choice for their kids is no vaccinations.
We take a look at the controversial subject through the eyes of two families, with two very different points of view.
Julia Grimes is a beautiful six year old girl, with the mental capacity of about a three year old.
She has epilepsy, trouble moving her left side and she struggles to speak.
Her mother and step-father say she was injured by a vaccine when she was a baby, and she now gets money for her care from the federal government.
Dr. Susan Lawson, Julia’s mother, says Julia received several vaccinations at her one-year check up, including an MMRV, which is measles, mumps, rubella and varicella.
Eight days later her father found her in her crib. “He found her comatose, covered in vomit, covered in feces, non-responsive,” Susan said.
Julia was diagnosed with encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain. She had seizures and suffered brain damage.
Susan, a veterinarian, believed her daughter’s injuries stemmed from that MMRV vaccination, and she filed a claim with the National Vaccine Injury Claims Compensation program.
“After four years, the government recognized that yes, this was a vaccine injury and she was compensated for life care,” Susan said.
Julia’s case is incredibly rare, but she is not alone. The NVICP has paid out more than $2 billion in cases. Since the program began in 1988, more than 14,000 people have filed petitions and nearly 3,000 have been compensated.
After her experience, Susan no longer vaccinates her children. “You decide for yourself, “ she said. “I’m never going to tell someone not to do it, I’m just going to let them know my story and let them know that this is a possibility.”
But how much of a possibility is it? Public health officials say the chances of something like that happening are so small, it is literally one in a million.
“Overwhelmingly vaccines are safe, and they are the most effective way to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Joni Reynolds, the Director of Public Health in Colorado.
She says on the other side of the issue, there are about 50,000 babies successfully vaccinated in Colorado every year.
They now live healthy lives, protected from certain diseases like whooping cough and measles.
“I see vaccines as one of the most important ways to protect the health of children, but I believe that parents make the best choices for their child,” Reynolds said.
She is very concerned that parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids. She says those decisions affect the individual and the community, and can be devastating for children who are too sick or too young to be vaccinated.
Children like Leena Bristol. She is now a perfectly healthy toddler, but when she was an infant she was diagnosed with whooping cough.
“When she had coughing spells she would stop breathing and turn blue,” said her mother, Dr. Lisa Farkouh. It was a grave situation. Leena spent two weeks in the pediatric ICU on a ventilator for life support.
She was just six weeks old and too young to be vaccinated when she was exposed to whooping cough by someone in the community.
“By choosing not to vaccinate your own child, you are also choosing to expose other parents’ children to a potentially deadly disease,” Farkouh said.
To her, it is shocking that parents would choose not to vaccinate. “The risk of not vaccinating your children and them contracting a deadly disease is much, much higher, than the risk of any side effect from a vaccine,” she said.
Two families, two very different views on vaccines.
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Here are some sites recommended by Susan Lawson, Julia’s mother.