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Controversy over vaccine safety reignited

April 18, 2016

Actor Robert De Niro’s appearance on NBC’s “Today” show on April 13 has once again ignited the controversy over the safety of vaccines.

De Niro’s appearance on the popular morning show tied-in with the release of the anti-vaccination documentary, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe,” which attempts to show a link between vaccines and autism.

“I, as a parent of a child who has autism, I’m concerned. And I want to know the truth. I’m not anti-vaccine. I want safe vaccines,” said De Niro on the “Today” show.

Dr. Nathan Somers, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Baystate Medical Center, works with many families with autistic children.

No Correlation

“Doctors can only reiterate that there is no scientific evidence of a correlation between vaccination and autism, despite the comments of various celebrities and the attention these claims have received in the media, and from a very vocal minority of parents,” he said. "Unfortunately, this concern keeps resurfacing in the media every few years, and creates a great deal of unnecessary anxiety for families with infants and young children. It also diverts public attention from the importance of supporting legitimate research to help uncover the real causes of the rising incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders."

Each day, nearly 12,000 babies are born in the United States who will need to be immunized against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases such as whooping cough and measles over six visits before age two. Yet, some parents are choosing not to vaccinate, putting communities at risk for the spread of infectious diseases.

During National Infant Immunization Awareness Week, April 16-23, hundreds of communities and hospitals across the country like Baystate Children’s Hospital will highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases.

As for the safety of vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains its stance that the United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in its history. The country’s long-standing vaccine safety system ensures that vaccines are as safe as possible. And, CDC officials say that as new information and science become available, the system “continues to be updated and improved.”

“Countless research studies have consistently demonstrated time and again that vaccination is safe, and that no link exists between immunizations and development of autism,” said Dr. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “Vaccines prevent severe illness and death in our most vulnerable populations, and I have seen firsthand on numerous occasions unimmunized and incompletely immunized children who have succumbed to illnesses, which would have otherwise been prevented by immunization.”

5 Reasons to Vaccinate

The CDC lists five important reasons to vaccinate your child:

  1. Immunizations can save your child’s life.
  2. Vaccination is very safe and effective.
  3. Immunization protects others you care about.
  4. Immunizations can save your family time and money.
  5. Immunization protects future generations.

One example of the seriousness of vaccine-preventable diseases is the increase in measles cases and outbreaks that have been reported in recent years. The United States experienced a record number of measles cases during 2014, with 667 cases from 27 states. This is the greatest number of cases since measles elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000. Most of these people got measles in the United States after being exposed to someone who got measles while in another country.

Immunization Schedule

Parents should follow the immunization schedule provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is designed by experts to ensure maximum protection and safety for infants and children at various ages. The schedule can be found online at the American Academy of Pediatrics website.

“Health care professionals should be a parent’s most trusted source of information about vaccines for their children. It is our role to help support parents in understanding why choosing to vaccinate their children is both the safest and healthiest choice they can make. I urge parents to talk with their child’s doctor when they might be hesitant to vaccinate, and providers should be open to having these necessary discussions,” said Dr. Klatte.