Anti-vaccine activists endured a cold, rainy day in Washington one recent Friday, to rally against childhood vaccines.
Gabriele Cashman drove for five hours to support the anti-vaccine cause. She and her husband don’t want anyone to force anything on their children when they have them.
“As parents, it’s our decision whether or not we want to vaccinate,” she said.
Watch: Top Doctors Address Vaccine Safety
The anti-vaccine movement has gained so much momentum that doctors like Peter Hotez are alarmed. Hotez works on vaccines at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
“We now, in the state of Texas, have 50,000 kids whose parents are opting them out of getting vaccinated,” he said.
Hotez said these children generally live in communities near each other. He is concerned that only an outbreak of measles will convince these parents that vaccines save lives and prevent disability.
The activists don’t believe the science. Instead, they believe vaccines can cause anything from autism to severe allergies.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health says while children can have an adverse reaction, it’s so rare, that it’s unmeasurable. Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and oversees the development of vaccines.
Side effects that children may have are usually minor, according to Dr. Linda Fu, a pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.
“The most common side effects to any of these vaccines are pain at the injection site and fever for 24 to 48 hours,” Fu said.
Still, anti-vaccine activists, like Irine Pi, who helped organize the protest in Washington, are convinced harmful ingredients are added to vaccines. The preservative thimerosal was removed from vaccines in the U.S. by 2003, to help alleviate parents’ concerns that it caused autism. Numerous studies in the U.S. and elsewhere show it has no negative effect on children. But Pi is adamant that harmful ingredients are in vaccines routinely given to children.
“Now it’s aluminum that has been added. Add to that formaldehyde, polysorbate, and add to that significant human aborted fetal cell lines, bovine cells, pigs, sheep, monkey, dog. These cells are not meant to be injected into the human body,” Pi said.
Again, the science says otherwise. Fu has a specialty in immunizations. She told VOA, “The vaccines that the children are getting today are more pure and are very safe and effective.”
They are so effective that Dr. Flavia Bustreo at the World Health Organization says young people have no memory of the diseases they prevent.
“Currently, if you speak with any young mother or young father in Italy, where I come from, they don’t know diphtheria. They’ve never seen it. They don’t know that you can lose your child from diphtheria,” she said.
The World Health Organization has an online site to help parents find reliable information on vaccine safety. The CDC does the same.
Hotez wants the U.S. government to launch a campaign to persuade parents to vaccinate their children, but Fauci disagrees.
“I think that there will be a certain number of people, a certain percentage of people, who no matter what you say to convince them with evidence, they’re not going to be convinced, but I think the approach towards people who are anti-vaccinating is to respect their opinion and don’t denigrate them and don’t criticize them, but try to explain to them on the basis of solid evidence why the risk/benefit of vaccines clearly, clearly favors very, very heavily towards vaccinating your children,” Fauci said.
Hotez is now writing books for parents about vaccines. He says scientists have to get away from their laboratories and talk to people about vaccines.
Otherwise, he says, children will suffer and die from diseases that can be prevented.