The start of the new school year is upon us, and that means it's time to make sure your kids are up-to-date on their shots.
In addition to the usual suspects like whooping cough, measles and the seasonal flu, many people also need to be concerned about H1N1, commonly referred to as the swine flu.
Vaccines can be a touchy subject. But most doctors are solidly behind them. And in most places, it's the law: in order to attend school, children must be vaccinated.
But there are exceptions. All states allow medical exemptions, many offer religious exemptions, and an increasing number offer philosophical exemptions.
'Parents know best'
Heather Maurer says she believes she, not the government, should decide what's best for her child.
"I've been doing reading for years about vaccines and have been following news stories about the safety or lack thereof, effectiveness or ineffectiveness of these vaccines," she said.
"And then I've also been watching how much money the pharmaceutical companies have been making from these vaccines and we're talking about a tremendous amount of money," she added.
In some school districts, as many as 20 percent of students are opting-out of vaccines, which has led to disease outbreaks.
Dr. Bruce Gellin, the director of the National Vaccine Program said he's concerned about this trend.
"In addition to measles and whooping cough, the other big concern is meningitis," he said. "Just last year, there was an outbreak in Minnesota where they had the greatest number of cases they'd seen in 10 years and had a child die who wasn't vaccinated. A perfectly preventable disease."
Dr. Michael Roizen is a best-selling author and the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. He says parents should vaccinate their kids because the benefits outweight the risks, 20 to one, which he pointed out, are outstanding odds.
"Generally, if you said 20 to one, if you went to a casino and you have $20 and you let it ride, by the end of the night, you'd own the casino. I mean, that's how safe they are in general," he said.
But many parents are wary of vaccines because they believe they cause autism.
However in February, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that vaccines do not cause autism, examining several studies brought forth by the Institute of Medicine that failed to prove any connection.
The Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Food and Drug Administration, and The American Academy of Pediatrics all agree that vaccines do not cause autism.
Roizen agrees, saying, "we vaccinate between zero and 2 years of age, that's when autism shows up, so there are going to be some cases that show up at the same time because they come coincidentally, but unrelated."
Barbara Loe Fisher, of the National Vaccine Information Center, believes the government-recommended vaccines are creating a generation of sick kids. Her son had a severe reaction to a DPT shot when he was a toddler.
More vaccines, more sick kids
"I think we have to look, as we have more than tripled the number of vaccines that our children get as children," she said. "In the last quarter-century, we've seen a simultaneous increase in chronic disease and disability, a tripling in the number of children who are suffering with learning disabilities, ADHD, asthma, autism, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease.
"We have a lot of kids who are chronically ill now," she added.
In addition to childhood vaccines, there's also debate about adult vaccines, particularly for the seasonal flu.
Most physicians recommend the flu shot for seniors and women of childbearing age. A Columbia University study showed getting the flu in the first half of pregnancy results in three times the risk of schizophrenia in the baby. If she gets the flu in the first 13 weeks, that risk jumps seven-fold.
In fact, 14 percent of all schizophrenia cases are linked to the flu virus in the womb. Having the flu while pregnant is also linked to other developmental disorders like low I.Q.
Flu and pregnancy
"So if you're going to get pregnant or plan on it - only 50 percent of us do plan on it, 50 percent are unplanned - but if you think about it, make sure you get your flu shot that year, early," Roizen said.
But flu shot critics say it doesn't work, citing an American Medical Association study that found that three percent of unvaccinated adults got the flu, but two percent of those who were vaccinated also got it.
Right now, vaccine makers are planning for this fall, when the flu season begins.
This year they have a new challenge: a swine flu vaccine. They're developing a vaccing, but they have to decide which will be needed most: a swine flu or seasonal flu vaccine. Making one takes away from making the other. Only a finite number can be manufactured, and it takes months to do it.
The seasonal flu kills 36,000 Americans a year. So far, the swine flu has killed 300. But it's unknown whether the swine flu will become widespread.
So when it comes to vaccines, whether for kids or adults, doctors overwhelmingly agree, they're not perfect, but we need them.
*Originally aired on July 29, 2009