Childhood vaccine safety: Defended by many but challenged by some
In New Jersey, some parents continue to voice concern about the safety of having their children vaccinated.
While a variety of vaccinations at different grade levels are required for children to attend school in the Garden State, getting a religious exemption - even if you're not religious - is very easy. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, all parents need to do is fill out a statement that indicates immunizing their child would interfere "with the free exercise of the pupil's religious rights."
It is estimated by the state that about 2 percent of children in New Jersey are not vaccinated for religious and medical reasons.
Nevertheless, most doctors insist vaccinations are safe and beneficial.
"Vaccines have been hugely helpful, they're one of the great public health triumphs of the century and I can't emphasize how important vaccines have been to relieve misery, complications and death," said Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey.
He said when it comes to vaccines, people seem to have a very short memory.
"Before we had vaccinations there were many complications from illnesses like measles. Not so long ago many people got polio, mumps, terrible diseases that are now preventable. Science has proven vaccines are safe," Louie said.
He also said very extensive studies have been done on this.
"There was one study that suggested that there was a link to autism, but later on it was debunked," Louie said.
According to Louie, when children are vaccinated, there is a so-called "herd immunity effect," where other people in the community will get the benefit and will become immune as well.
He also said adults should get vaccinated for influenza as well as other diseases, including whooping cough, diphtheria and shingles.
"It's a good idea to review this with your primary care physician," he said.
Dr. Julia Piwoz, chief of Pediatric Infectious diseases at the Joseph Sanzari Children's Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center, agrees that vaccinations are very important.
"It's critical, especially for children," she said. "We have diseases like whooping cough which has certainly made a resurgence, measles, that can really be life-threatening."
Piwoz said we now have a safe and effective way to prevent these maladies, and "the scientific evidence shows that vaccines are very safe, the link between any vaccine and autism has been disproven."
She said some children cannot receive certain vaccines because of allergies or certain medical conditions, but the bottom line for most is, "vaccines save lives and they prevent disease, they prevent diseases that can be spread from person to person that may affect you, your child, and the people around them."
According to federal data, New Jersey ranks 22nd in the country for vaccine compliance, at almost 73 percent. The national average is about 70.5 percent.