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Depending on who you talk to, immunizations are critical for the health of a society and individual children or they can cause serious health problems. The debate over the benefits and risks of vaccinations hasn't ended and a growing number of parents are declining childhood vaccinations, prompting health organizations to clear up misinformation about vaccines.
The center of the argument has been whether vaccinations trigger autism--a link made in a controversial study in 1998. Subsequent research overwhelmingly rejected the study's claims that Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in some vaccines, causes the disorder. One study actually showed a rise in autism cases in Denmark and Sweden after both countries discontinued the use of mercury in their vaccines, offering strong evidence that vaccinations do not cause autism.
Most vaccines in the U.S. are mercury-free. And the doctor who conducted the now retracted study was stripped of his medical license for unethical behavior in May. The debate, however, persists: vaccination rates are down, particularly among middle and upper-middle class families. This has led to a rise in some vaccine-preventable diseases, including measles and pertussis (whopping cough).
In California, health officials recently warned that unless residents get vaccinated, the state is on pace to suffer the most illnesses and deaths due to pertussis in 50 years. As of July 27, there were 2,174 reported cases, a six-fold increase over the same period last year. In L.A. County, one out of five children is under-vaccinated and at risk for serious diseases.
Some parent groups that claim a vaccination-autism connection have sparred with leading health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Both CDC and AAP refute the vaccine-autism link and say it's far safer to vaccinate than risk contracting disease.
The AAP launched an awareness campaign in April called Protect Tomorrow to remind parents that unvaccinated infants and children are at risk for contracting infectious diseases that can lead to hospitalization and even death. The debate is not likely to end soon, but the AAP hopes the campaign will encourage parents to talk with their pediatrician about the benefits of vaccines.