A group of parents and doctors are now evaluating the value of childhood immunizations. While vaccines have been credited with wiping out diseases such as chicken pox, polio and smallpox, some people claim they can be dangerous.
Paul and Linda Mullhauser say their son Stephen, who is now 18 years old, was a healthy baby until he received his second DPT shot.
"Within about two to three hours after the vaccine, he began screaming a very high pitched scream," says Paul Mullhauser. "It went on for nine hours."
Stephen is now autistic and severely disabled.
This weekend the Mullhausers are joining hundreds of families at a conference in Arlington, Virginia. All are raising questions about vaccines. They want to know why in the past 20 years, childhood cases of asthma have jumped 100%, juvenile diabetes 200% and autism as much as 500%.
To date, federal health studies have not shown a link between vaccines and disorders such as autism. But even some doctors who support immunizations believe that there are children predisposed to some illnesses that may be triggered by vaccination.
"Remember, when you give a vaccine, you're injecting something into a healthy child," says Mary Megson, MD, a pediatrician at the Medical College of Virginia. "You better make darn sure we're not doing any harm with that intervention."
Most physicians, however, say the threat of an epidemic of smallpox or polio poses a far greater danger.
"There is no reason that I have seen as a physician or as a scientist that would say let's stop the vaccine," says Mohammad Akhter, MD, of the American Public Health Association. "That's not the answer because that will do a lot more damage."
The Mullhausers, however, say they will continue to speak out against too many vaccinations.
"If we don't continue to speak out, then this will just disappear, and it will not help our son, and it will not help other children," says Linda Mullhauser.
Yet many parents who claim that their children have been injured by vaccines are not calling for an end to all shots. They are asking the medical establishment to acknowledge that vaccinations do carry a risk and to do something about it.
Currently children receive 33 doses of ten different vaccines before they reach age 5.
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