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Concerns linger even as most Hall County parents vaccinate children
Nationwide controversy mounts over some concerns over immunizations
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A child is vaccinated Wednesday at the Longstreet Clinic. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Vaccinations: lifesavers or poison?

It’s a recurring debate engaging the nation, thanks to a measles outbreak beginning in California and spreading east into a total of 14 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. But the airborne virus is back, due in part to a decrease in immunizations.

In Georgia, where 98.3 percent of children entering a kindergarten classroom have been vaccinated, there are not yet any reported cases of measles. Hall County has one of the higher vaccination rates in Georgia, with 99.9 percent of kindergartners and 100 percent of seventh-graders.

“What you have is maybe someone who is a little behind on their vaccinations when they get to kindergarten, they get caught up by the time they get to seventh grade,” said Dave Palmer, public information officer for the Hall County Health Department. “The school systems here — both the city and the county — are very diligent about making sure everybody is compliant with regulations as far as vaccinations go.”

Mamie Coker, registered nurse and Hall County Schools’ health services coordinator, said she believes the benefits of vaccinations outweigh the possible risks.

“Of course, there are some risks with immunization, just like there are some risks with any medications,” Coker said. “But because immunizations have done such a good job, we don’t even see the vaccine-prevented illnesses like our grandparents did. So I think a lot of families are just not aware of how severe and even deadly these illnesses can be.”

Though the county vaccination rates are high, they do not include the children who are home-schooled, according to Palmer.

Hilary Gronas home-schools her 10-year-old son August. She chose to have him vaccinated, but did so through the health department instead of a pediatrician.

“The reason I did that was because I could do it when I wanted to,” Gronas said. “So I staggered the shots and had them done one at a time over a period of time. Then I also was able to know his shot record is complete and held at the county.”

Gronas has a medical background in the Navy and said she knows firsthand the possible side effects from immunization.

“I’ve had a lot of immunizations from my time in the military and I know how serious they are,” she said. “They have affected my health and I have had health issues my whole life from having so many immunizations when I was in service. But, at the same time, I know they are important because of my medical background, and I knew I did not want to have them done all at once.”

Kimberly Pils also vaccinated her two daughters on a delayed schedule. She worked with her pediatrician after doing extensive research and was able to space out her children’s vaccinations while still meeting the CDC’s recommended timeline.

“I didn’t believe it was healthy to be giving them so much so soon,” Pils said. “I think that’s one of the issues, and more parents are becoming educated on this and don’t just go along like sheep.”

Terri Cote and Sandra Cantrell also home-school their children. Cantrell, mother of four, said her three oldest children responded well to immunization, but her youngest had a bad reaction to the chickenpox vaccination.

“There’s nothing that’s 100 percent, period,” she said. “My youngest must have gotten a ‘bad batch,’ if you will, and he ended up getting the worst case of chickenpox I’ve ever seen or heard of in my life after the vaccination.”

Cantrell said she followed most of the pediatrician’s recommendations, but after her son’s bad reaction, she chose not to do the more recently-developed HPV vaccine for any of her children.

Cote also watched one of her four children have a bad reaction to vaccinations. When her first son was born she began his first round of immunization as the doctor suggested, but he had a seizure soon after and she decided to stop immunization.

“These are my children, I’m responsible for them and I don’t feel like it’s necessary,” she said. “After doing all my research and seeing what happened to my son, I feel like the risks outweigh the benefits.”

Dr. James Gilbert, pediatrician with Mountain View Pediatrics in Gainesville, said the public perception of vaccinations has changed in the last 60 or 70 years. In the 1950s, when the polio vaccine first came out, it was considered miraculous to parents.

“Polio was at its peak and tens of thousands of people across the world were getting sick, being paralyzed, going into iron lungs and dying,” Gilbert said. “So when parents could put a sugar cube in their child’s mouth with a couple of drops on it and all of a sudden they don’t get polio, it truly was a miracle.”

Cote said she believes a part of the problem with vaccinations today is all the other ingredients in them. She said she was disturbed to find the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or the database of thousands of adverse reactions to vaccinations annually.

In 2014, more than 30,000 adverse reactions were reported in the U.S., ranging from soreness and fatigue to vomiting, diarrhea and seizing, according to www.vaers.hhs.gov.

Gilbert said he believes the U.S. is a kind of post-epidemic society, something many parents still take for granted.

“I had measles and chickenpox,” Gilbert said. “I knew people that had polio. It’s easy, when you don’t see that anymore, to think it’s not there. And sometimes it’s good when we see it again in our own country so people can remember again why we had these vaccination programs to begin with.

“It’s never good for a child to become sick or even to die from something like measles, but sometimes we need our eyes opened to the fact that those things do still exist out there. There is a reason for vaccinations.”