McHenry County health official: Attitudes on vaccinations improving, but some still skeptical

Doctor: Parents used to have more fear with recommendation, but some still skeptical

Fear surrounding vaccinations has lessened in the past decade, but some parents still choose not to follow doctors’ recommendations, a Northwestern Medicine medical director said.

Health agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Illinois Department of Public Health unanimously recommend that parents vaccinate their children against diseases that can be fatal, such as measles, polio and the flu. The agencies also recommend that adults stay up to date on vaccinations for illnesses such as the flu and tetanus.

However, some parents worry that the drugs can cause unintended side effects and harm their children.

Laura Bianconi, medical director of pediatrics at Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital, has 24 years of experience as a pediatrician, and she said there has been no valid research that links vaccinations to autism, autoimmune disease, chronic disease or neurological and developmental problems.

“These theories have been put forth as to why you shouldn’t vaccinate,” Bianconi said. “But there is no proof at all, and it has been studied. What we know about vaccines is they prevent illness that can cause death. I have been vaccinating kids every day of [my] career. I am confident that vaccines are safe and effective at preventing the diseases we don’t want kids to get.”

Between birth and age 18, children and adolescents are expected to receive about 14 vaccinations, some in multiple doses over the early months and later years, to prevent a variety of diseases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics immunization schedule.

Some medical practices, including Bianconi’s, won’t treat patients who don’t receive vaccinations, she said.

In most Illinois cases, students must present an immunization record before registering for public school unless a medical or religious exemption waiver is obtained, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

No vaccination works 100 percent of the time, which is why everyone who can get vaccinated should, Bianconi said.

“There is a risk to kids if they are around an unvaccinated person that has an illness,” Bianconi said. “And there are some kids who can’t get vaccinated because they have immune system problems or some disease. ... They would be at risk if that unvaccinated person caught a disease and brought it into the school.”

Vaccines typically have a 96 percent to 99 percent efficacy rate, although the medicine may not work well for people who have immune system problems, she said.

Huntley High School recently saw an outbreak of the mumps, a virus that can be prevented by vaccination. A student came down with the mumps in October, and an additional three cases were discovered in November, according to the McHenry County Department of Health.

During the 2017-18 school year,
29 students at the school were not vaccinated against the virus, which means the school still had a more than 99 percent immunization compliance rate, according to ISBE records.

Amanda Spitzer, a mother who lives in Gilberts, said she follows doctors’ orders when it comes to vaccinating her children.

“Some people claim that vaccinating or not vaccinating is a matter of personal choice. That drives me a little crazy because diseases don’t only target people who refuse to vaccinate themselves or their children,” she said. “It is socially irresponsible to spread diseases to this population. It is unreasonable to expect unvaccinated people and their unvaccinated children to exclude themselves from public life ... so it seems that mandatory vaccination is the best solution.”

Angela Johnson, a Marengo mother of four, said she prefers a more holistic approach to preventing and combating illnesses. She said her decision to abstain from vaccinations came from a lot of research, which included the attendance of a CDC symposium on vaccines.

“I believe our natural immunity is the best immunity of all,” she said.

The family sees a holistic health chiropractic doctor for many of its medical needs, and it uses supplements, probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes and vitamins to build up a natural immunity, Johnson said.

“I believe in what I am doing for my children,” she said. “I believe their immune systems are great and strong.”

Johnson now home-schools her school-aged kids, ages 8 and 13, after facing immunization requirement obstacles in the public school system, she said. Her older children are 18 and 24.

Johnson said her concerns surrounding the matter included the growing list of required vaccines and her objection to the materials used in the drugs themselves, such as aluminum and fetal tissue that initially came from abortions.

“I don’t want to put mercury and aluminum in my kid,” she said. “I don’t care if it’s all around. I don’t want to put it in the bloodstream. I don’t need to.”

The varicella (chickenpox), rubella, hepatitis A, one version of the shingles vaccine and one preparation of the rabies vaccine all are made by growing the viruses in fetal embryo fibroblast cells, which initially were obtained via two abortions in the 1960s.

Those cells continually have been cultured in labs, and no further sources are needed, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center.

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