In light of the recent measles outbreak in Southern California, I thought I would chime in on this topic since I happened to be one of the people visiting the area at the time. I am also a parent, and I too long ago had to once weigh the pros and cons of the vaccine debate. For me it was a matter of medical concern and not a religious belief, as autism runs in my family. This past week, Californian health officials recently warned people with unvaccinated children including babies under 1 year old, to avoid Disneyland and other crowded venues that attract people from around the world. I concur.

Both of my children are fully vaccinated. I believe in order to eliminate certain illnesses in this world, people need to be vaccinated. I also believe that to not do so is harmful to both our society and the world–this includes the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, as well as those of us who have been inoculated. However when my children were babies, I too was faced with the decision whether to vaccinate or not. In my situation, two close similar-aged female family members each have a son who is autistic. I therefore had to do some serious soul searching, as I was the last female relative having kids at the time. In making my decision, I not only wanted to do what was best for me and family, but what was best for society as a whole. This was also the time when the English doctor Andrew Wakefield released his study linking autism to the MMR vaccine. As a first time mom having children, this was not a pleasant time for me.

Within the past 16 years though, the CDC, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and many other well respected medical reporting agencies have stated they cannot find a link between vaccines and autism. The research that has been done during this time clearly states that autism is genetic. It begins in utero in the early stages of development far before a child is born into the world. I fully believe this to be true and my family’s history lends support this research. As a person and as a parent, I understand that it can be extremely difficult if not gut wrenching to see families struggle with this disorder, but to not vaccinate your children because of either autism or a possible rare side effect occurring is harmful. What you need to understand is that there is a bigger picture to consider; you cannot look at just a small portion of the painting. When you choose not to vaccinate, that is what you are doing. Andrew Wakefield by the way, was stripped of his British medical license in 2010 after his autism research had been discredited,

An illness such as the measles and polio is highly contagious and poses a real risk to everyone. Measles can linger in the air, infecting people even two hours after a sick person has left the room. Take FDR for example. It is believed he was exposed to the polio virus while visiting a Boy Scout camp. At the age of 39, this vibrant man was left paralyzed from the waist down. As we saw in Disneyland, people who are both unvaccinated as well as those who are inoculated are at risk. One of things that I love about Disneyland is that it attracts people of all ages. It’s not just people that are young with small children going there. I was blown away how many elderly people I saw this time around. I am talking people in their 70’s and 80’s zipping around in their wheel chairs. It is the elderly, the ill and the young who have the most susceptible immune systems. The reality is vaccines have turned many childhood diseases into distant memories in industrialized countries. However, questions have been raised about the safety of some vaccines because of rare but serious adverse effects that have sometimes been attributed to them. As mentioned, no substantial evidence links measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism. The same is true for the hepatitis B vaccine to multiple sclerosis. Thimerosal is also being eliminated from routine childhood vaccines because of concerns that multiple immunizations with vaccines containing this preservative could exceed recommended mercury exposures

I know it is also hard when you have celebrities in the news like Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher and Katie Couric taking an outspoken stance on vaccines. The thing that you need to remember there is that they are not part of the medical community. I know it’s easier for us to want to put the blame on something, but you cannot deny the genetics. Does that mean environment does not play a role? No. Does it mean that there are not going to be rare, unusual side effects? No. If you feel that strongly about vaccines, then delay and space them out. That’s what I chose to do with my younger daughter. A newborn’s immune system takes between 6 months to one year to kick in. Breastfeeding your child during this time is extremely important. I also believe in using organic and natural foods.  Stay at home with your child or hire a nanny if you can’t. The key though is to vaccinate your child before they begin school, and to not take them to large, crowded places such as airports and Disneyland while they are unprotected. I waited until my youngest was about two and a half before I started the vaccination process and spaced them out.  I also did all of the above. A California High School has now barred dozens of non-vaccinated students from school on Wednesday over concern that a classmate may have contracted measles in a rare outbreak that began last month. The order, which affects 66 students at Palm Desert High School near the resort community of Palm Springs, marks at least the second time a California school has prohibited non-vaccinated students from classes since the outbreak began. More than 90 people have been diagnosed with measles in California and nearby states since an infected person, likely from out of the country, visited the Disneyland resort in Anaheim between Dec. 15 and Dec. 20. This is very sad since in 2000 it was declared that measles was eliminated from the United States.