Let's work for safe vaccines
Opinion: Perspectives from readersby Sheryl Shenk and Yvonne Hershey
We are parents of young adult sons who were mild on the autism spectrum but now have significantly recovered. We write to raise awareness and concerns about the article “We’re All Connected and Therefore All Potentially Infected” (The Mennonite, November 2011). We support immunizations that prevent diseases and do not want to be misinterpreted as anti-vaccine. We affirm the author’s intent of having readers pursue protection from diseases. We focus our response on the safety of our vaccines and why the public may hold some mistrust of science or agencies that seek to mandate them.
The medical field emphasizes evidence-based research, which informs and provides direction for medical practice. Much of this scientific research is financed by pharmaceutical companies, which have a vested interest in their test study outcomes. In contrast, independent research has at times been called “junk science,” and some of it is questionable. But some is good research that does not get the media coverage it deserves. As a result, there is discrepancy in reports about the safety of vaccines.
Dr. Paul Offit, an oft-quoted spokesperson promoting vaccines and referred to in the November article, has financial connections with pharmaceutical companies and shares a patent for the Rotavirus vaccine. His push for mandatory vaccinations alarms those who believe not all vaccines are safe. In the past three decades, the recommended number of childhood vaccines has more than tripled. Within this same time frame, we have seen an explosion in neurological disorders, from ADHD to autism and, in the elderly, Alzheimer’s. Many parents, medical providers and independent scientists are concerned.
Some independent research points to the use of a preservative in vaccines, thimerosal, which contains mercury, a known neurotoxin, as a contributing factor to neurological disorders. Two nonprofit organizations, SafeMinds and Coalition for Mercury-free Drugs (CoMeD), have links to studies and research that explores this plausibility. Although many of the childhood immunizations in the United States and Europe have had thimerosal removed, pharmaceutical companies have not eliminated it from childhood immunizations sent to developing countries.
In the United States, thimerosal continues to be used as a preservative in more than half the flu shots, which are recommended annually for pregnant women, children and adults of all ages. Perhaps some caregivers have not been made aware that thimerosal remains in the multidose vial of the flu shot and that the single-dose alternative, a thimerosal-free flu shot, is a safer choice.
We have sons who were impacted by mercury in vaccines. We are grateful for the expertise of their physicians, who performed lab tests that identified this toxin in their bodies and provided a protocol that led our children to much-improved health and functioning.
How can the church enter the conversation of seeking safety within our vaccines? In 2008, the United Methodist Church’s General Conference approved a global resolution entitled “Protecting Children from Mercury-Containing Drugs.”
Other organizations have addressed safety issues at national and global levels. Both SafeMinds and CoMeD presented data on thimerosal at a June 27-July 2 session of the United Nations Environment Programme Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee. This committee is preparing a global, legally binding instrument on mercury, reducing its toxic impact upon the world.
We raise questions for broader discernment: With mandatory vaccinations, how can recipients make informed choices if concerned about safety? Are vaccine profits a higher priority than safety? When developed countries receive thimerosal-free childhood immunizations, why do developing countries not have access to the same? How does one justify inclusion of an unnecessary and often undisclosed toxin, thimerosal, in modern vaccines? The documentary film The Greater Good (2011) communicates wider vaccine safety concerns than we have articulated here; the issue is complex. The film offers a window into conversations on both sides of the vaccine debate and presents discussion on moving toward a safer vaccine program.
Mennonites are involved globally in peace and justice issues. We urge our faith community to ask probing questions and pursue a just path for ongoing neurological impairment occurring within some of our vulnerable populations from administration of some potentially unsafe vaccines. As we seek vaccinations against diseases, may we also attend to vaccine safety.
Sheryl Shenk is a member of Harrisonburg (Va.) Mennonite Church. Yvonne Hershey
is a member of Hershey Mennonite Church in Kinzers, Pa.
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