The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Vaccines: Separating Fact From Fear - Good Information vs. Bad Information

Parent: With more and more of the population having access to computers, when you type in vaccinations, you get 20 pages of possible Web sites. How can the general public know the difference between good information and bad information?

Suzanne Walther, parent: I first started my search for information about vaccines while I was still pregnant with Mary Katherine. And the first place I looked was on the Internet, and I started looking at Web sites that said, "You cannot trust pediatricians. They make a living off of well-baby shots. You cannot trust pharmaceutical companies. They make a living off of giving kids shots. You cannot trust the government because they're lobbied by the pharmaceutical lobbyists. They spend a lot of money making them happy to make laws about vaccines." So all of a sudden everything became tied to the almighty buck. And I personally don't like to tie my child's welfare to somebody else's income.

Paul A. Offit, MD: It's hard, frankly, in this, the 21st Century to say things like, "Trust your experts." We live in a relatively cynical time.

Suzanne Walther, parent: I postponed vaccines, and at 11 and a half months of age, Mary Katherine came down with Haemophilus influenza type b meningitis. The very next morning in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, the Infectious Disease pediatrician came to me and asked me why didn't I vaccinate and I told him. He said, "What are your questions?" And I had a long list of them, and they were on the front of my mind at that moment. And he answered most of them very quickly, confidentially. And said, "I can back this up with documentation. I'll get it for you."

Paul A. Offit, MD: I think that there are experts have served us well. We certainly have had--we have now the highest rates of immunizations we have ever had in our country's history. And the result of that is that we have the absolute lowest rate of vaccine preventable disease. We've almost eliminated measles from this country. We have eliminated polio from this country. We virtually eliminated diphtheria from this country; diseases that routinely killed or permanently harmed children.

Suzanne Walther, parent: She did not die of it, by the grace of God. For 10 days at the hospital, I sat and read just article after article after article about specific vaccines, safety, the proof of their efficacy. I wanted to know they actually worked before I bothered with taking any risk. What were the risk of disease? What were the risk of the vaccines? And what adverse reactions had been reported but not proven? That was important to me.

Paul A. Offit, MD: Good science really rests on two foundations: One, that the science be published in a good reputable journal, meaning that the data or information has been reviewed by peers; and, secondly, I think most importantly, is that the data be reproducible.

Suzanne Walther, parent: When I finally got accurate information, I discovered that the risk of taking a vaccine is very, very, very, very small in comparison to the risk of getting the disease and the dangers associated to the specific diseases that are out there. I never dreamed that my child would get one of the diseases that was on the vaccine list.

Paul A. Offit, MD: As a doctor, I've had the misfortune of having to watch children suffer the severe and occasionally fatal consequences of infections. And I can tell you as a parent, I would no more send my children into a world without vaccines than I would put them in a car without a seat belt or a boat without a life jacket. I will do whatever I can to put them in the safest position possible, and vaccines offer that safety.