VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The start of the new school year has begun, which means its time to make sure your children are up to date on their vaccinations.
But for some people, immunizations can be a touchy subject. While most doctors are solidly behind them, a number of parents are saying 'no' when it comes to vaccinating their kids.
All 50 states require by law that children be vaccinated in order to attend public school. But there are exceptions in every state - including medical exemptions, often religious exemptions, and an increasing number of philosophical exemptions.
Flu Shots for Kids
The Centers For Disease Control recommends that all children older than six months, get a flu shot. This year's flu vaccine protects against the swine flu as well as the seasonal flu.
The CDC says even if your child was vaccinated for the swine flu last year, all children need the new vaccine since the old one has worn off. The swine flu, while relatively mild, can be deadly and is expected to return this year.
Still, some parents choose to ignore vaccine recommendations. Parent Heather Maurer said she, not the government, should decide what's best for her child.
"I've been doing reading for years about vaccines," she said. "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," she added. "We're talking about a tremendous amount of money."
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," explained Dr. Bruce Gellin, director of the National Vaccine Program.
"Just last year there was an outbreak in Minnesota, where they had the greatest number of cases they had seen in ten years and had a child die who wasn't vaccinated," he said. "A perfectly preventable disease,"
Benefits Outweigh Risks
Dr. Michael Roizen is a bestselling author and the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Roizen urges parents to vaccinate their kids because the benefits outweigh the risks 20 to 1.
"Generally if you said 20 to 1, 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," he said. "I mean, that's how safe they are in general."
Many parents believe vaccines cause autism. But the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled recently that vaccines do not cause autism after examining several studies brought forth by the Institute of Medicine.
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.
"We vaccinate between zero and two years of age," Roizen said. "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."
Generation of Sick Kids?
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.
"I think we have to look," she said. "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."
"We have a lot of kids who are chronically ill now," she said.
Children aren't the only ones taking a pass on vaccines. Adults are, too. Immunizations during adulthood are recommended for more than a dozen diseases that people who don't get vaccinated suffer from or even die from each year.
For example, more than 1 million adults get shingles every year but less than 2 percent get the shingles vaccine.
Currently, the CDC recommends all adults get this year's flu vaccine, which is available now, especially senior citizens and women of childbearing age.
Flu shot critics argue that 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.
However, a Columbia University study showed getting the flu in the first half of pregnancy results in three times the risk of schizophrenia for the baby. If the mother gets the flu in the first 13 weeks, that risk jumps to 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 IQ.
"If you're going to get pregnant or plan on it. make sure you get your flu shot that year, early," Roizen advised.
So when it comes to vaccines, whether for kids or adults, doctors overwhelmingly agree -- they're not perfect, but we need them.