Monday, November 28, 2011

Pediatric Controversies: Immunizations 1/3

I'm going to focus on aspects of the pediatric immunization controversy that could easily be a whole novel in itself (and has been), but can add layers to novels that have a pediatric character or perhaps you want to add conflict to an issue that involves a child.

Issue based novels that are preachy typically perform poorly. It has to be about characters first. A novelist who does this well is Jodi Picoult. There is generally a central issue in her novel but the characters are likely why you keep reading.

One of the largest areas in pediatrics that is a main source of controversy and angst amongs parents is whether or not to immunize their child. Much of this stems from the fear that there is a link between autism and vaccines, particularly the MMR vaccine. Thus far, no credible scientific study has proven a link between autism and any vaccine.

Let's start by talking about thimerosal. Thimerosal is a preservative that contained mercury that was added to vaccines. This additive has largely been removed from immunizations since 2001. It can still be found in some influenza vaccines so if you're concerned, ask your healthcare provider about it.

However, did you know that since thimerosal has been removed from vaccines, rates of autism have continued to rise? I'm going to list some articles that talk about this revelation. Is it known among parents that this is the case? I'm not convinced.

Check out these resources:




Unfortunately, the power of celebrity is over-riding sound medical study and research in some cases. Millions in research dollars have gone to disproving and have disproved many of these vaccination myths. The question to ask now is whether or not we should continue to investigate these myths or put these limited dollars into research that actually supports the autism community in finding a cure.

Not immunizing your children has risks as well. We'll be talking about this next post.

How can this add conflict to your novel? What if a child died from a disease that he could have been protected against but the parents chose not to immunize? Would that parent have guilt? Would the medical team caring for the child place blame on the parent? What are your thoughts?

I am very interested in comments, however, I know there is a lot of passion on both sides of this debate. So, keep it respectful and curse word free and it will stay posted-- even if you disagree.


  1. Actually rates of autism haven't been rising; Rates of autism diagnosis have.
    A recent study, which I am led to believe is reliable, found no difference in rates of autism between children and adults, but many adults with autism had not been diagnosed.
    In particular, this means that vaccinations have not been responsible for a rise in autism.

  2. My son has Asperger's syndrome, which puts him on the spectrum of autism disorders. I'm certain his father--and grandfather,for that matter--also have Asperger's, but of course they were never diagnosed. CarrieVS is right--rates of autism diagnosis are rising, in part because autism is now considered a spectrum disorder. The definition has become much wider and inclusive of people who would not have born the definition in the past.

  3. Our pediatrician's office recently sent out letters saying it will only treat patients who receive vaccinations. While our son receives his immunizations, I didn't like the way the letter was phrased (it's all in the communication. I think it made it sound like you were stupid, if you chose not to immunize. I know lots of intelligent parents, who make that choice). At least the doctor's office made its position clear. So, parents know to make a different choice for immunizations, they need to choose a different doctor.

  4. These are excellent points Carrie and Olivia-- Dr. Offitt mentions this in his book Deadly Choices how the diagnosis of spectrum disorders has become more loose over the years.

    Stacy-- this is a tough one. The tone of the letter doesn't sound like it came across very well. The issue becomes the risk of spreading disease to those infants who cannot be immunized. That is the risk.

    But, there are parents who make very odd choices. Take an instance of an unimmunized child who comes in for asthma and the caregivers are smokers who won't give the child their maintenance medication. How does that make sense? Trust me, there are stories like this all across the US every day in every ER.