Idaho has the second-highest vaccine exemption rate in the nation, with 6.1 percent of its citizens choosing not to vaccinate. North Idaho has a 12 percent exemption rate.
Two vaccine specialists from Minnesota were invited by Panhandle Health District to host a symposium Thursday on the scientific facts about vaccinations. Their main point: vaccinations do more good than harm.
“We are victims of our own success,” said speaker Patsy Stinchfield, a pediatric nurse practitioner and senior director of the Children’s Hospital in Minnesota. “People fear vaccines because they’re not sure what they’re fighting against; we’ve done such a good job suppressing those diseases.”
She said some people who don’t vaccinate believe the risk of the shot is higher than the disease. No vaccine is 100 percent effective, she said, but only one in 1.3 million vaccinations causes severe side effects.
Stinchfield compared that risk to the risk of children being in car accidents, which is much higher.
She then shared a few stories of children she saw in her hospital who had diseases for which they could have been vaccinated. She said those diseases were so bad, the children’s parents immediately regretted not getting their child vaccinated.
Dr. William Atkinson, the other presenter of the night, is the associate director of the Immunization Action Coalition and recipient of the U.S. Public Health Service Distinguished Service medal.
Atkinson described the lengthy process of scientifically developing vaccines and putting them through trials before the vaccine can be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and given to the public. He said the average vaccine takes five to 10 years to get certified and costs anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion. Vaccine development is a private business, so manufacturers pick up the whole tab.
Atkinson also addressed the concern people have that vaccines cause autism. He referenced a study done in Denmark, and others very similar which had the same results.
“No study has ever found that rates of autism are higher in children that are vaccinated than children that are not vaccinated,” he said. “But yet that concern continues to echo throughout our communities today.”
Patricia Kraft of Coeur d’Alene attended the symposium hoping to get more information on an important issue. She said when her kids were growing up, their neighbor was against vaccinations.
“When we asked our doctor if we should get (vaccinated) for whooping cough, my doctor got really mad at me,” she said. “He said the chances of our kid dying once they got whooping cough was significant, so we got the vaccination. But there are a lot of people in North Idaho that don’t get their kids vaccinated.”
John Pierard of Coeur d’Alene has been following the vaccine debate for 29 years. He said he has read a lot of books and a lot of articles on social media about vaccines. He also recently watched the film “Vaxxed: From Cover up to Catastrophe,” which alleges the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention destroyed data that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.
To top it off, he said he met “a severely damaged child who only lived to be a teen because of a shot.”
Pierard said he attended the symposium to get more information, but he didn’t get much out of it.
“I wasn’t persuaded either way,” he said. “Risk really wasn’t touched on; if your child was that one in a million with side effects, that’s massive.
“It would have been a better symposium if both sides were here to have a discussion.”