Whether or not to vaccinate a child has become a touchy subject in recent years.
Most doctors are solidly behind them, but a growing number of parents are refusing to get their kids vaccinated.
It's the law--to go to 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.
Heather Maurer says she should decide what's best for her child, not the government.
"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 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 said.
Protecting Children or Putting them in Danger?
In some school districts, as many as 20 percent of students are opting-out of vaccines, which has led to disease outbreaks.
"In addition to measles and whooping cough, the other big concern is meningitis," said Dr. Bruce Gellin, of the National Vaccine Program. "Just last year there was an outbreak in Minnesota where they had the greatest number of cases they'd seen in ten years and had a child die who wasn't vaccinated. A perfectly preventable disease."
Dr. Michael Roizen is a bestselling author and the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. He says parents should vaccinate their kids because the benefits outweigh the risks 20 to 1.
No Connection to Autism
Many parents believe vaccines cause Autism, but in February the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that vaccines do not cause the disorder, 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 there is no link between vaccines and Autism.
"We vaccinate between zero and two years of age. That's when autism shows up," Roizen explained. "So there are going to be some cases that show up at the same time because they come coincidentally, but unrelated."
A Generation of Sick?
Barbara Loe Fisher heads the National Vaccine Information Center. Fisher's son had a severe reaction to a DPT shot when he was a toddler. She believes the government-recommended vaccines are creating a generation of sick kids.
"As we have more than tripled the number of vaccines that our children get as children 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," she said. "We have a lot of kids who are chronically ill now."
In addition to childhood vaccines, there's also debate about adult vaccines, particularly for the seasonal flu.
Most physicians recommend it 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 to seven times that. 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 IQ.
"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.
A Case Against the Flu Shot
But flu shot critics say it doesn't work, citing an American Medical Association study that found that 3 percent of unvaccinated adults got the flu, but 2 percent of those who were vaccinated also got it.
Right now, vaccine makers are looking to the fall, when flu season begins. This year, they have a new challenge: a swine flu vaccine. They're making one, but also have to decide which will be needed most: a swine flu or seasonal flu vaccine.
Only a finite number of vaccines can be manufactured, and it takes months to do it. The seasonal flu kills as estimated 500,000 people a year. So far the swine flu has killed fewer than 100, but it's unknown whether the swine flu will become widespread.
So when it comes to vaccines, whether childhood or adult, it's about projecting the most educated guesses, but not everyone agrees.
*Originally aired June 10, 2009.