Authored by Marina Zhang via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours)
The United States now faces its highest-ever childhood vaccine exemption rate in history, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published on Nov. 10.
Before the pandemic, the United States had maintained nearly 95 percent nationwide vaccination coverage for 10 years.
Yet between 2020 and 2021, vaccine coverage in kindergarten-aged children fell to 94 percent; between 2021 and 2022, it dropped to 93 percent.
“It is not clear whether this reflects a true increase in opposition to vaccination, or if parents are opting for nonmedical [vaccine] exemptions because of barriers to vaccination or out of convenience,” the report authors concluded.
“Whether because of an increase in hesitancy or barriers to vaccination, the COVID-19 pandemic affected childhood routine vaccination,” they continued.
Post-COVID Skepticism Spilling Into Vaccine Skepticism
Dr. Cody Meissner, a professor of pediatrics at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, was concerned that people’s skepticism toward the current COVID-19 vaccines may have also affected their attitude toward conventional vaccines, leading to the decline in CDC-recommended and state-required vaccinations, as recently reported by the CDC.
He suggested that the CDC’s initial delayed recognition of myocarditis as a COVID vaccine side effect in adolescents and young adults, coupled with the agency’s encouragement to vaccinate, as one example of what may be contributing to people’s distrust.
“I think those [vaccination] recommendations were well-intentioned,” he said, but the slow acknowledgment of side effects may have left some people with a perception that the CDC was “not completely forthcoming.”
Pediatrician Dr. Mark Barrett said that the current trend is likely caused by people distrusting recommendations from the CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and even their doctors.
“I feel parents are doing their own research,” he wrote to The Epoch Times via email.
Pediatrician Dr. Derek Husmann said that children having the lowest risk of severe COVID-19 gave parents and pediatricians a unique perspective, making them question the broad need for vaccines.
“The pediatricians’ perspective is pretty significantly different—in reference to the COVID pandemic—than a physician who takes care of adults,” Dr. Husmann said, “because the pediatric population was at essentially zero risk of death or serious complications from COVID infection.”
According to the CDC website dashboard, deaths from COVID-19 make up about 3 percent of all deaths, but the percentage is even smaller in children.
“There was a perceived conflict between the information that COVID was less serious in children, yet the vaccine was recommended for them. This was never satisfactorily explained or resolved,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and health policy in the Infectious Disease Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, wrote to The Epoch Times.
California pediatrician Dr. Samara Cardenas said that the public slowly came to realize the COVID-19 vaccines were not safe nor effective as initially promised, and this may have also prompted parents to question the need for routine vaccinations.
“[In California], if you’re not vaccinated, they won’t even take a medical exemption. So I have quite a few patients asking about homeschooling rather than vaccinating their children,” she said.
“There has been this incredible increase in homeschooling since the COVID pandemic, and so that may have falsely inflated the vaccine rates in the [report],” added Dr. Husmann, who is based in rural Texas.
Conventional Vaccines vs. COVID-19 Vaccines
Some doctors are now troubled by the risks posed by declining rates of conventional vaccinations and the potential for increased outbreaks due to vaccine-preventable diseases like polio.
Dr. Meissner said, “At this time, it is important for parents to consider a distinction between the benefits versus risks of the pediatric COVID vaccines and other childhood vaccines that have successfully controlled many infectious diseases.”
Dr. Schaffner agreed, adding that children are encouraged to get immunized against COVID-19 and that more public health work is needed to encourage conventional vaccine takeup.
“Measles, polio, diphtheria, for example, are vague concepts to [parents]. And so, these diseases are not known, therefore not respected or even feared, leading to questions about the vaccine,” Dr. Schaffner said.
“I tell current medical students that before we had measles vaccine available in the United States, back in the 1960s, there were 400 to 500 children that died annually in the United States, secondary to measles and its complications,” he explained. “Their jaws drop. They have no idea.”
However, some doctors have become more cautionary about childhood vaccine recommendations, fearing denial and the potential coverup of side effects.
“There is a potential public health concern when children remain fully unvaccinated for all traditional childhood vaccines,” pediatrician Dr. Renata Moon, who previously worked as a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, wrote to The Epoch Times. “[But] the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘what safety data do we have for each childhood vaccine?’
“Many parents who used to follow the traditional childhood vaccination schedule have stepped back from vaccinating their children altogether. They have lost trust in recommendations from public health agencies and are taking a ‘safer to wait’ approach,” she added.
Dr. Cardenas echoed Dr. Moon with a similar statement. “I used to be 100 percent vaccinated,” she said, adding that the COVID era has made her realize she needs to do more research, and has similarly taken the safer-to-wait approach for now.
Dr. Husmann added that immunization does not guarantee a complete elimination of outbreaks, explaining that there have been measles outbreaks among both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
In 2003, a measles outbreak occurred in a highly vaccinated boarding school in Pennsylvania. The school had a vaccination rate of 95 percent. Out of nine laboratory-confirmed cases of measles, only two were unvaccinated.
Other cases demonstrate the opposing scenario. In December 2022, a measles outbreak occurred in central Ohio. The jurisdiction estimated an immunization rate of 80 percent to 90 percent, yet of the 73 children infected, most (67) were unvaccinated.
The centuries-long recommendation to vaccinate stems from the notion that there is no trade-off for immunity against infectious disease. However, Drs. Husmann and Cardenas argue that childhood vaccines may also present long-term risks that are not well-known and rarely discussed.
Safety of Childhood Vaccines Scrutinized
Recently, childhood vaccines have faced renewed scrutiny. These include the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP) vaccines for their links to autism and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for its links to encephalitis.
Yet long-term vaccine safety data and vaccine studies are lacking, and this applies to all vaccines on the market.
For instance, the Haemophilus influenzae B vaccine (Hib), a four-dose series approved for infants and children aged 2 months to 5 years, had safety monitoring for only 30 days post-vaccination. The package insert for Infanrix, a DTaP vaccine, states that adverse reactions were monitored for only four days after vaccination.
In 2013, the National Vaccine Program Office commissioned the former Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee, now the National Academy of Medicine, to reexamine the evidence supporting safety claims for the CDC’s childhood vaccine schedule.
The committee found that “few studies have comprehensively assessed the association between the entire immunization schedule or variation in the overall schedule” and health outcomes, and “no study has directly examined health outcomes” the way the committee was charged to address.
The committee further stated that no studies have been conducted “to determine the long-term effects of the cumulative number of vaccines or other aspects of the immunization schedule.”
While no long-term randomized, controlled trials exist for any vaccines, extensive research has compared vaccinated populations to unvaccinated. Randomized placebo-controlled trials are considered the gold standard in testing treatments.
A 2017 pilot study led by professor Anthony Mawson at Jackson State University compared vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and unvaccinated children aged between 6 and 12.
The researchers found that while fully and partially vaccinated children had significantly fewer cases of chickenpox and pertussis, they had 30 times greater odds of being diagnosed with allergic rhinitis and around four times greater odds of having allergies, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism. They also had about five times the odds of having a learning disability and almost four times the odds of having a neurodevelopmental disorder.
Mr. Mawson’s second study compared children who were unvaccinated, vaccinated, and vaccinated with preterm birth, which is a risk factor for neurodevelopmental deficits. The vaccinated children had almost thrice the odds of neurodevelopmental disorders, while preterm and vaccinated children had 14.5 greater odds of neurodevelopmental disorders than unvaccinated.
A 2020 study led by Brian Hooker, professor emeritus of biology at Simpson University, compared data of vaccinated and unvaccinated children collected from three different medical practices. The authors found that vaccinated children had nearly 4.5 greater odds of asthma and over twice the odds of developmental delays and ear infections.
Since these studies are not randomized and controlled, they do not indicate a causal relationship but suggest potential health concerns.
The study findings suggest that children may be trading long-term health for infectious disease immunity, Dr. Husmann said.
“We think that we’re making a choice between immunization and maybe some short-term adverse reactions like pain, swelling, fever, fussiness, or not feeling well for a few days,” Dr. Husman said, “but we are also giving your child a significantly increased risk of a whole host of chronic health conditions, including, autism, seizures, and asthma.
“You really don’t know if it’s worth it to try to prevent an incredibly rare infectious disease and put your child or yourself at risk of a chronic illness.”
An Opportunity for Safer Vaccines
While Dr. Husmann questions the safety of vaccines, he is keeping an open mind about adequately tested and safe vaccines in the future.
“I do not [want my patients to be] necessarily anti-vaccine; what I want them to be is vaccine freedom-friendly … I want my patients to be open and accepting of any vaccine that is truly safe and effective.”
Similarly, Dr. Cardenas agreed that it is a good thing that parents are proactively learning about these medications.
“Everybody should get instructed and educated on what is happening when you are being injected or even when you’re getting medicines. You should ask your doctor, what is this for? What are the side effects? I think the public is beginning to do that, and I think it is very good.”
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