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KATU News Story on Vaccines Story Published: Nov 25, 2007 at 11:00 PM PST Story Updated: Nov 26, 2007 at 8:07 AM PST By Angelica Thornton The number of kids skipping immunizations in Oregon is growing fast. They’re required for every child, but some parents think vaccines do more harm than good, so they’re getting around the law with a simple signature. Medical professionals around the state worry that such a decision is endangering the community. Stacy Korolewicz is one of those parents. She never gave much thought to vaccine safety until she took her daughter, Willow, in for her first shots and the girl had a bad reaction. "She had this very high pitched cry that lasted for hours and then she was exhausted and limp afterwards," Korolewicz said. Willow had the same reaction two months later after more shots. She was later diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Concerned it was connected to the shots, Korolewicz and her husband decided to avoid any more vaccines. The girl's pediatrician at the time didn’t think it was a good idea. “They didn’t even want my daughter in the waiting room,” Korolewicz said. That attitude was part of the reason the family moved from Illinois to Oregon. Oregon has one of the lowest immunization rates in the nation. All children attending public or private school or childcare are required to get vaccines. But if their parents sign a religious exemption form, they can skip them, no questions asked. Three percent of the state’s school-age children fall into the category. Since 1992, religious exemptions have more than quadrupled among children in childcare and preschool. The number has tripled among kindergarten and first graders. Salem pediatrician James Lace says parents are more apprehensive than ever. “The thing we hear, over and over again, is 'Will my baby get autism from the vaccines?' ” he said. That fear, Lace said, stems from a 1998 study of autistic children that raised the question of a connection between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The research only involved 12 children, and, in 2004, 10 of the 12 authors retracted the study’s interpretation. They said they were not able to establish a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Larger scientific studies have found no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. Still, many parents worry because autism usually appears around the same time children receive the MMR vaccine. Pediatrician Paul Thomas says their concerns should not be ignored. “Some of us thought that mercury was the smoking gun that caused autism, but we've had it out of the vaccine for awhile and autism continues to rise, so it's looking like it's going to be a combination of toxins, or perhaps some yet unidentified toxin,” said Thomas, who gives parents the option of splitting up or delaying certain vaccines. Thomas says there’s no scientific proof that that method is safer, but it does make parents feel more comfortable about the vaccines. Lace, pictured at left, has a more traditional approach. He strongly encourages parents to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention schedule, and he warns them about vaccine-preventable diseases. "They don't realize (the diseases) can kill children, they can leave them permanently impaired, blind, deaf, brain-damaged, seizures, you name it,” he said. Lace has even urged state officials and lawmakers to change the religious exemption law so parents will have to do more than just sign their names. As the law stands now, anyone who’s skeptical about vaccines can file a religious exemption. The law covers any “system of beliefs,” whether religious or philosophical. Lace believes it will take a disease outbreak in Oregon for the law to change. State immunization officials are worried about the growing religious exemption rate. “I think the whole community is in danger if we don’t maintain high immunization rates” said Lorraine Duncan, immunizations program manager for the Oregon Department of Human Services. Duncan said the state is considering changes that would make it less convenient for parents to opt out, but she believes parents should always have that right. It wasn’t a decision Stacy Korolewicz made lightly. She’s scared of the diseases but even more skeptical of the shots meant to protect her children. "We're cast as crazy, as less intelligent, as extremists, and that's just not the case," she said. "We really do care about our kids, and we're doing what we think is best for them." Resources: * National Vaccine Information Center * National Network for Immunization Information * Immunization Action Coalition * American Academy of Pediatrics * Children's Hospital of Philadelphia * Centers for Disease Control and Prevention * Institute of Medicine * Institute for Vaccine Safety * Oregon Immunization Program * Oregon Partnership to Immunize Children * Alternative vaccine schedules Find this article at: ©2007 KATU-TV. All Rights Reserved.