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Don't let fear overshadow vaccines' real value

Shots fired: Vaccines and autism | Nov. 23, story

Don't let fear overshadow vaccines' real value

The vaccination program is one of the greatest public health accomplishments in U.S. history. Vaccines have changed the face of this nation over the last 100 years. Since then, countless numbers of lives have been saved in our country and throughout the world due to new vaccine developments and advances in science and medicine. Vaccination programs are proven effective, and some examples in history include the eradication of smallpox and wild-type polio in the United States, two diseases with dire consequences.

Unfortunately, there are misconceptions portrayed by the media and other groups who suggest there is a link between autism and vaccines. These groups have claimed that the measles vaccine and thimerosal are the cause of autism. This has created fear in parents resulting in many unvaccinated children. When we stop vaccinating, or delay the timing of vaccines, diseases will re-emerge, as we have seen this year with measles outbreaks. There are no established links between vaccines and autism. This is based on well-designed scientific studies over the last several years. Currently, thimerosal only exists in the multidose vial of the influenza vaccine since its removal in 2001. So why have the cases of autism increased since the removal of thimerosal?

Since the public no longer experiences diseases like polio, measles, diphtheria, tetanus and rubella, it is difficult to understand why we still need to continue to vaccinate. These diseases are rare because the majority of the population is vaccinated. As an infectious disease physician, I have dealt firsthand with families that have had their child die or suffer permanent brain damage from a vaccine-preventable disease. Once you have seen a child suffer from one of these diseases, you can better understand the implications.

It's time to shift the focus away from vaccines and to use sound scientific methods to find the cause of autism. Furthermore, the public needs to move away from implicating doctors, vaccine companies and the U.S. government, stating that they are trying to hide safety issues regarding vaccines.

Some individuals have advocated breaking up the vaccine schedule. This is very risky and could potentially expose children to many preventable diseases. Vaccines are provided at a particular time when children are at highest risk for exposure to those diseases.

I encourage people to read two of Dr. Paul Offit's books, Vaccinated and Autism's False Prophets. Dr. Offit, like many pediatricians, has dedicated his career to saving children, and all of the profits from his current book are directed to autism research. Let's not forget history. Lessons can be learned.

David M. Berman, D.O., FAAP, pediatric infectious disease specialist, St. Petersburg

Seek real causes

My heart goes out to all the families that are faced with the daily challenges of an autistic child and those that have faced serious illness or death because their children weren't vaccinated.

Neither side of this issue is conclusive, and yet parents still must decide what is best for their child. Just looking at the data and what we know, it seems to me the risk is much greater by not getting vaccinations.

The most interesting fact of all, though, is this:

The rate of autism continues to rise rapidly (up from less than 1 per 1,000 to more than 4 per 1,000 in 12 years) even tough the percentage of completely vaccinated children has dropped somewhat.

It appears to me that there is some other instigator of this phenomena going on. Let's keep our minds and resources focused on other possible causes, and help parents make more informed choices in the meantime.

Gary Ward, Tampa

Communication is key

I am pleased to see the attention the Times gave to the issue of autism and vaccinations. As the director of the USF Autism Clinic, I can bank on being asked the vaccine question by the parent of a newly diagnosed child.

The answer has implications far beyond simply identifying an etiology. It typically guides a parent in critical treatment decisions as well as in selecting a vaccination schedule for younger siblings.

For these reasons it is imperative that pediatricians allow adequate time for discussion with parents, and that they respond to concerns compassionately and with an open mind.

It is also imperative that scientists continue to research how to make vaccines more effective and safer for our children.

Danielle Thorp Sutton, Ph.D., Tampa

No connection

Concerning the supposed vaccination/autism controversy: Folks, there is no demonstrable, believable connection. It is natural enough, when you discover postvaccination that you have a diagnosed autistic child, to look for something to hold responsible. We have autistic kids in our own family, and well understand the huge added challenge that autism adds to parental responsibility.

I'm also aware that to contend as I do is likely to be seen as hurtful to the "believers" of the contrary view, like those featured in your story. However, not to speak up here is vastly more hurtful to public health, and actually, to those families too.

We must learn how science works — the "scientific method" — in regard to the discovery of both causes and treatments (and correctly designed studies to assess probabilities). We cannot go on making public health decisions of the magnitude of "vaccinate or not" based on celebrity opinion and "natural medicine."

A book reviewed Nov. 23 in the Times is to be strongly recommended for the "vaccination skeptics": Scattershot: My Bipolar Family, by David Lovelace. Although it is about a different condition, it apparently forcefully draws a conclusion identical to that of the medical community in regard to vaccination: "Stop the B.S. Take the medicine!"

Allan Avery, Clearwater

Shots make a difference

The answer to your headline question, Do they need the needle? is, very definitely, "Yes, they do." I hope those provocative words led the reading public to go on to read more, and perhaps go online to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I've been a public health nurse for more than 25 years, many of those years giving immunizations to children and adults.

To set the record straight, here are a smattering of statistics that may help to clarify why "We do Need the Needle."

Before polio vaccine was available, 13,000 to 20,000 cases of paralytic polio were reported each year in the United States.

Before measles immunization, an average of 450 measles-associated deaths were reported each year between 1953 and 1963. Of those, many had other complications: pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the lining of the brain), resulting in brain damage. Before pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine was available, there were up to 9,000 pertussis-related deaths.

Among the unvaccinated, deaths from seasonal influenza are still at 36,000 with hospitalizations at more than 200,000. These influenza statistics are preventable.

In my job as a public health nurse, there have been few, almost no, bad side effects. Children and adults who used to become ill, and often left with terrible side effects from the diseases mentioned, can now avoid all that pain.

Lilyan Dayton, New Port Richey

Don't forget the joys of charitable giving

Americans have always prided ourselves in the fact that through our support of charities that help and nurture the needy, we have made a difference.

Approximately 1.4-million nonprofits were registered with the IRS in 2005. Total private giving in 2006 reached $295-billion, and volunteers spent a total of 12.9-billion hours volunteering. In the Tampa Bay area, citizens donate $56-million annually.

Today, with the economic downturn we are all facing, the natural inclination is to reduce or eliminate our charitable giving at the very time that more of our fellow citizens are desperately in need of the very basics of survival.

We all pay a price when nonprofits do not have the funds to fulfill their missions. The unemployed suffer depression and a loss of self-worth. They lose hope. The result can be an increase in violence, disintegration of the family, the feeling of hopelessness and desperation. Crime is too often the outcome.

We are writing on behalf of the Tampa Bay Community Foundation Nonprofit CEO Leadership Program, the CEOs of 21 nonprofit organizations who come together each month to learn leadership skills and how to better run their organizations. As a group we are asking for help for the more than 4,000 nonprofit organizations in our community that need your charitable dollars. Organizations such as theaters, children's orchestras and museums that enrich our lives and give us respite from our worries are also struggling to survive.

For those who have never experienced the joy and satisfaction of gifting — and for those who can give more — we implore you to consider supporting a nonprofit organization. Your life — and the lives of those your dollars impact — will never be the same.

The challenge is in our own backyard, and as individuals in our community, we can make a real difference when we give a little more than usual. We gain a new understanding of how blessed we truly are, and we will feel good.

E. Howard Rutherford, executive director, Pier Aquarium Inc.; Barbara Inman, executive director, Habitat for Humanity-Pinellas; and Kelly Miles, executive director, Gulf Coast Division, Children's Home Society of Florida

Rays unlikely to land new stadium at airport Nov. 23, story

Citizens want a say

The idea that a stadium could be built at the Albert Whited Airport site is inconceivable given our current financial crisis. How can any responsible citizen even consider giving the Rays a new home when so many of the people in St. Petersburg are struggling to keep their own? Foreclosures are soaring, lines are getting longer at our soup kitchens and food pantries, unemployment is rising and businesses are closing left and right, yet you continue to write about using taxpayer money to build a stadium on public land for a for-profit corporation.

"We want to have our say," has been the overwhelming response of the people I have invited to sign petitions for two referendums that would give them the right to vote if their taxpayer dollars were to be spent on a sports stadium or their waterfront parks radically changed. POWW (Preserve Our Wallets and Waterfront) is circulating these petitions that would place the two referendums on next year's ballot. When passed, the referendums will guarantee the right of voter approval on those two major aspects of our city's future.

Then, such decisions will be placed in the hands of the people. The citizens will get to vote on what is done with their money and their parks.

Faith Andrews Bedford, St. Petersburg

Rays unlikely to land new stadium at airport Nov. 23, story

Waterfront park preferred

The prospect of another attack on the St. Petersburg waterfront by special interests bent on putting a baseball stadium with parking on the site of Albert Witted Airport requires citizen action to demand that the future land use of that facility be an expansion of public park land.

St. Petersburg could take a lesson from the city of Chicago, where Mayor Richard M. Daley took the bold step of tearing up Meigs Field airfield in 2003 and converting it to a passive prairie park in downtown Chicago. Over the years, the city of Chicago has demonstrated vision in creating an outstanding park system with 3,000 acres of waterfront parks.

Why can't St. Petersburg demonstrate a similar vision in protecting what little land remains of its waterfront? This requires a true, long-range outlook and should be incorporated in the city's vision statement.

Richard Selleg, Palm Harbor

This stuff really does matter, after all Nov. 23, Howard Troxler column

Ready to protest

I read with much interest Howard Troxler's column Sunday. Like thousands of Progress Energy's customers I'm mad as hell that my electric rates will go up to help pay for a nuclear power plant in Levy County. And I'm mad as hell that the Florida Public Service Commission had no choice but to grant the rate increases. And I'm mad as hell that the Florida Legislature passed such industry-friendly, consumer-unfriendly legislation.

I don't read every one of Troxler's columns because they often pertain to situations that don't have much effect on us up here in Citrus County. But I'm going to pay more attention in the future. And I'm going to write the governor and my representatives in the Legislature and let them know how mad I am! And I suggest that all of Progress Energy's customers do the same.

Alan J. Peterson, Homosassa

Don't let fear overshadow vaccines' real value 11/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 1, 2008 1:34pm]
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