With ever-present concerns over the safety of vaccines, should parents be forced to vaccinate their children?

“It’s like every time we go to the doctor’s office the nurse, the receptionist, the doctor all act snarky when my kids don’t have every vaccine on the market. They don’t need them!” Laurie Chan, mother of six, isn’t the only parent with an opinion on vaccinations.

“Parents need to be wise and make informed decisions about vaccines, without being bullied by doctors and nurses.”

Vaccine requirements for children have been a hot button subject for years. While there is no federal mandate for children to be vaccinated, all states in the U.S. require children to vaccinated before entering the public school system.

The purpose of vaccines is to introduce an agent of or similar to a particular disease to the human body. The body then produces antibodies and builds up immunity against the disease. Common vaccines required for children include mumps, measles, rubella, (combination of the three referred to as MMR) tetanus and polio. The proof is in the pudding: people seldom contract these diseases because of vaccination during childhood.

But all that glitters is not gold. Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study in 1998 claiming a possible connection between vaccines and autism in children. The study claimed to have identified a new syndrome named autistic enterocolitis which links autism, bowel disease and the MMR vaccine. ⅔ of the patients began to show symptoms of bowel disease and development regression within two weeks of receiving the MMR vaccine.

Wakefield and his team of 12 other doctors worked with 12 children with autism, whom were described in the study as “previously normal children” prior to the MMR vaccination.

The study, released in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet, was immediately controversial. Though Wakefield did not claim a causal connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, people worldwide began to question how safe vaccines really were.

Ironically, Wakefield is a supporter of vaccines. While he called for further research of the MMR vaccine and it’s effect on some children, he advises parents to continue to vaccinate their children for against these diseases. Wakefield recommends separating the injection of the measles, mumps and rubella shots with a year time span in between each.

Wakefield’s study echoes the real life experience of the MacDonald family. Rosemary, mother of four, shares the effects the vaccination process has had on her children. “My first two children got all the vaccines. My third child suffered a vaccine injury after her shots at 20 months (MMR,DPT,polio) She lost fine and gross motor skills and all her language within two months after her vaccines. within a week we started to notice a change in her disposition (from “always happy” to “never happy”) and in her ability to have eye contact with us.”

MacDonald’s third child, Claire, has been diagnosed as autistic. Even with the similarities to Wakefield’s study, Rosemary does not blame the MMR vaccine. She believes that vaccines may be a contributing factor to “kids who are predisposed to brain injuries” being “pushed over the edge” by environmental triggers.

The experience of the MacDonald family does not stand alone. Over 30,000 cases of adverse reactions have been reported to the federal government since 1990. Since 2009, 5,500 of those cases have claimed a causal relationship between vaccination and autism in children.

Parents may want to take Wakefield’s advice with a grain of salt. Since his research was published, many studies have tried to recreate his work and have failed. On May 24, 2010, Wakefield was stripped of his doctoral title and erased from the U.K. medical register because of falsifying information and unethical practices on mentally-disabled patients.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, AAP, has done further research about vaccines and adverse reactions, such as beginning to display autism. Several studies evaluated the statistics of children who had received MMR and children who were diagnosed with autism. While the percentage of children who were vaccinated drastically increased, the percentage of children diagnosed with autism remained the same. This data suggests that autism is not linked to the MMR vaccine.

Another study conducted by the AAP closely examined children with autism is often remembered as the “home video study”. Neurodevelopmental specialists viewed home videos of children before their first birthdays, before they received the MMR vaccine. The specialists were able to differentiate children who had autism from children who did not because of subtle characteristics, such as movement. This data suggests that autism is present before any vaccine is administered, but is difficult to detect.

Today, vaccines remain widely trusted and administered annually.  Lisa Cleaver, mother of two, wholeheartedly supports this common medical practice. “I think we should have vaccinations for children. If we didn’t we’d go back to the days of polio and measles. There’s a reason we have them, it’s to save kids from getting sick and dying.”

Statistics prove that vaccines work medical wonders. Measles, mumps, rubella and diphtheria mortality rates have decreased over 99% since vaccines became readily available, according to immunize.org. Polio, once a serious, widespread and debilitating disease for children, has not had an outbreak in the U.S. since 1979. The disappearance of this disease is attributed to widespread vaccination against it.

Polio, once a serious, widespread and debilitating disease for children, has not had an outbreak in the U.S. since 1979.

If you are a parent or may become one someday, heed a mother’s advice. Rosemary MacDonald urges, “Parents need to be wise and make informed decisions about vaccines, without being bullied by doctors and nurses.”