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The Vaccine Debate

by Mary Ann Romans

There are passionate opinions on both sides of the spectrum—and it’s about more than autism these days.

As parents, we make millions of decisions for our children over the course of a lifetime, but what if one of those decisions might have harmed your child? What if a decision resulted in your child dying, suddenly, and without warning?

Five years ago, Danielle Martin Bonner of Westmont kissed her daughter Kaela goodbye and went off to work. The 12-year-old was home from school, complaining of a headache and an earache. The pediatrician prescribed rest and told the Bonners to check for a fever. There was none. Bonner’s husband, a medical technologist, was home to keep an eye on Kaela and make her comfortable, until whatever bug she had took its natural course. Just a few hours later, he was frantically calling 911. Their little girl wouldn’t wake up. The next day, she was gone. “There was nothing they could do for her,” Bonner says.

The official cause of death: pneumococcal meningitis.

“A vaccine could have saved her life,” Bonner says. “Kaela was playing Barbies with her sister the day before, and the next day she was on life support waiting for the organ harvest team. Within 24 hours, she went from being a funny little girl who loved to tell jokes to being brain dead.

“Right now, I’m dealing, in my own neighborhood, with certain people who don’t think that vaccinating is worth it. I tell them, ‘I would rather have my kid here, alive, than sitting in a box in my curio cabinet.’”

Are they worth it?
An advocate who speaks to parents about the importance of childhood vaccination, Bonner has a hard time understanding why some parents choose to avoid it. “Would you vaccinate your dog against rabies? If you would, why wouldn’t you vaccinate your child against something that would kill them? The chance of a vaccine harming your child is so slight that to choose that over your child possibly dying in your arms is unconscionable.”

But for every argument there tends to be an equally passionate counterargument, and adding kids into the equation results in this issue becoming one of the most hotly debated topics of the last decade. That’s where Kathy Seravalli, of Burlington, who respectfully disagrees with Bonner, comes in.

Not only would she not vaccinate a dog, “I wouldn’t inject them in my pet rat,” she says. When it comes to vaccines, her personal experience is quite different. She believes vaccines have directly caused her son’s autism. “I don’t know how they can say that vaccines are safe,” she says. “By his second birthday, Michael had already been injected with 200 micrograms of mercury, through his DTP, Hepatitis B and HIB vaccines.”

Seravalli says her son changed drastically after those vaccines, from a baby who hit all of his milestones, a “perfect child,” to a loner who spent his entire birthday party just pacing around and humming.

“I believe that our creator gives us an immune system for a reason and there is no way that these little kids can process [the vaccines],” she says. “There are so many parents out there that have no idea what is in them. I was guilty myself of not knowing and it hurt my son.

“Parents need to read the inserts and do their research. The packets will not lie. There are toxins in these vaccines. Aluminum, formaldehyde, mercury,” Seravalli says. Until these additives are removed, she advises every parent to avoid vaccinating at all costs. But what if the cost is a preventable disease? “I would prefer my child to get measles than to get these vaccines,” she says. “Are the risks greater? No. I would rather my child have measles than autism.”

What about more devastating diseases such as meningitis, the disease that killed young Kaela? “Meningitis, I really can’t answer on that,” Seravalli says, although she promises to do some research to get to the bottom of the question. “Polio is an interesting thing. A lot of the polio disappeared because of better sanitation. They want to say the vaccine cured it, but I don’t think so. I do think the risk of the vaccine is much more deadly than the risk of the disease.”

Why it’s still important
One person who believes the opposite is Dr. Edgar Collazo, a pediatrician with Advocare Township Pediatrics in Sewell. “For my own kids, I want [vaccinations] done as quickly as possible. Absolutely no doubt about it. Line them up,” he says. “I’ve seen too many kids who have died from preventable disease, and I would never want that to happen to my children, to any children.”

When asked if there is any connection between vaccines and autism, Collazo says, “Well, it really depends on how willing you are to accept the credible information that is there. There have been multiple studies done, there have been more than 20, and none of them have found a connection between autism and vaccines. From my point of view, I am fully satisfied.”

As far as why the connection is still being made, Collazo says it is a matter of timing. “Parents see they have a normal child and that these things happen around the time that vaccines are given. Someone made a connection and it has stuck. It is a time issue,” he says. “What they don’t realize is autism doesn’t manifest earlier. A lot of people have a hard time realizing that there always was something wrong with their child so they latch on to the vaccine as a cause.”

As for parents who prefer their children develop immunity naturally, Collazo says, “There is no sense to that.”

He explains: “The minute you are born, your body starts to develop immunity naturally. The number of pathogens that are attacking the body are numerous. A newborn baby is exposed to so many things, through the mouth, the skin, just existing. Fortunately, they have some maternal antibodies for protection,” he says.

“What we are trying to do is develop the immune system before they are exposed, so they don’t get sick. This theory about waiting until they have a stronger immune system doesn’t work. By the time they get exposed to a pathogen, without protection, it is already too late.”

Collazo believes parents not only have a responsibility to their own children, but to the community, as well. “I understand that on the one hand, you want to protect your child, but in doing that you are now risking the health of other children, other lives. Immunizing helps protect those who cannot be vaccinated, such as newborns,” he says. “There is a responsibility to those around you. When we don’t reach a certain level of immunity, the system fails. We are already seeing that with the measles, and there are deaths from it. I can’t imagine that parent, how guilty they must feel.” He says there has been a slow increase in other diseases, as well, such as whooping cough, an illness that could easily kill an infant.

Though measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, the highest number of cases in 15 years—222—was reported in 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control. In 2012, there were 41,000 cases of whooping cough, according to the CDC—the highest amount since 1959—and it’s been attributed to parents opting out of vaccines.

“We don’t want to become complacent about disease,” Collazo says.

A parent’s decision
It will still come down to an individual parent’s choice, and some, like Molly Fantasia, PhD, a chemist, bio-engineer and clinical director with The Cherry Hill Clinic in Cherry Hill, urges parents to do their research.

Asked if the chemicals added to vaccines cause harm, she had this to say: “When it comes to vaccines, why not split them up? If you subscribe to the thought that preservatives may cause problems, that immune systems may be overwhelmed, then don’t give them all at once.”

“Do vaccines cause autism? I don’t know,” Fantasia says. “If I had a grandchild, I would definitely split [the MMR] up.”

Unfortunately, that may be a problem. According to Merck’s website, the company that makes the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, separate vaccines are no longer available.

“From what I know, there are less of the metals in [vaccines] now. There is still mercury in the flu shot, but you can get a version without preservatives,” Fantasia says. In fact, her office only orders the preservative-free version for patients and suggests that parents request it. “It is a little more costly, but it is there.

“I want people to take control of their own health, within reason,” Fantasia says. “You want to do your research, and use professionals for the knowledge that they have.”


Advocare Township Pediatrics
123 Egg Harbor Road, Suite 206 Sewell
(856) 227-5437

The Cherry Hill Clinic
1930 Route 70 E., Building J-52
(856) 489-0505

Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 6 (August, 2013).
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