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    Letters to the Editors

    Address doubts about vaccinations

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 27, 2000

    Re: The harm in injecting doubt about immunizations, Aug. 20.

    Dr. J.B. Orenstein's reaction to doubts about the effects of standard childhood immunizations is both ignorant and predictable. Ignorant because he characterizes parents of children with regressive autism as people motivated by rumors and fears who can only express themselves with "heartbroken tears." Ignorant because he incorrectly simplifies our position as "questioning the benefits of vaccination" so that he can dramatize a world "without vaccines" where outbreaks of preventable disease abound. Ignorant because he disregards experienced pediatric and medical specialists who state that regressive autism is increasing at a phenomenal rate, an epidemic rate. Predictable because it is exactly the same reaction that most of the medical establishment demonstrates. Predictable because Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines that are produced by one of the most powerful political lobbies are mandated for entrance to public education institutions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    As a parent of a child with regressive autism, I have shed many heartbroken tears and dispelled many rumors and fears. Neither I nor any of the parents of autistic children that I know advocate the elimination of vaccines. We are perfectly capable of understanding how they work and their benefits. But it is scientifically impossible to have an epidemic of a developmental or genetic disorder of any type. So we have some legitimate questions about the safety and efficacy of vaccinations that we invite the medical community to ponder.

    Is it not possible that a certain segment of our population is genetically predisposed to symptoms of regressive autism when young (18 to 24 months) immune systems are severely challenged by viral exposures? Is it not possible that the "cocktail" vaccinations, those where three viral strains are combined such as the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) and DPT (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccines, could constitute such a severe challenge? And, if so, is it not possible that adjustments in dosing and frequency could accomplish the desired vaccination without the side effect?

    I agree with Dr. Orenstein's last statement. Doctors, get ready.
    -- Peter Kramer, St. Petersburg

    Compare the risks

    Re: The harm in injecting doubt about immunizations, Aug. 20.

    As a pediatrician, I would like to thank you for running this article. In no other area of medicine are there so many unfounded fears, inaccurate assumptions and panic-inducing rumors. Dr. J.B. Orenstein did an excellent job of explaining why the diagnosis of autism is usually made after a patient receives the measles-mumps-rubella shot (because autism is very difficult to diagnose before 12-18 months of age).

    In 1992, I finished residency and joined a Tampa physician who had been in practice for 40 years. He told me about being a chief resident (a graduated pediatric resident who stays on an extra year to train new residents), during an outbreak of polio. That year, they took all the chief residents from the United States and brought them to a central hospital to help manage and care for all the children on "iron lung" machines. They were in ward after ward, row after row of paralyzed children.

    In 1993, one of my patient's parents felt strongly against immunizing for pertussis and refused to have her child vaccinated. I had the unpleasant task of caring for this child when he came down with whooping cough (pertussis). This child required nearly three weeks in the hospital, including time in the Intensive Care Unit due to apnea (lack of breathing). This child had a 1 in 800 chance of dying from this illness. His risk of dying from the vaccine was 1 in 1-million doses.

    I understand that parents want what is best and safest for their child. Unfortunately, most of the media have played upon the fears of parents just to sell more books and magazines, promote their own agenda or for increased ratings. It is rare to see any article on vaccine risks that compares the complication rates from the disease to the complication rates from the vaccine. By avoiding these statistics, they are biasing their information. Parents need to know the true risks of not vaccinating, i.e. the risks of the disease itself. Since most adults have never seen these diseases, they don't have a strong fear of these illnesses. Fear of these diseases is a more reasonable fear than their concerns of side effects from vaccines. Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Council on Immunization Practices and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention constantly monitor the vaccines to watch for any complications and to choose the absolute safest immunization schedule possible.

    When you look at the dramatic decline and even eradication of these previously rampant illnesses, it would be very difficult to find any other treatment in medicine with such an amazing success rate. We need to focus on the obvious and well-defined benefits of vaccines and be thankful for all the lives they have saved.
    -- C.L. Raybon, M.D., Inverness

    Scary surveillance

    Robyn Blumner keeps us continually informed on what is happening to our Bill of Rights. On Aug. 20, she describes how the high-tech devices of the police intrude on the privacy of even ordinary, innocent citizens (Police's high-tech devices intrude on our privacy rights). This is scary stuff! The most frightening is the electronic device that gives police the X-ray vision to see through clothing from a distance. This device can even penetrate "... just about any building material in order to see what is going on inside a building."

    This violates the true meaning and intent of the "search-and-arrest warrants" under the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution. Now, if these clever inventors develop a device so that the police can also hear what is being said behind the walls (information, of course, would also be recorded), rights under the First Amendment will be destroyed. Will people still have a right to say in private what they might consider ill-advised in public? With all the miracle inventions already here, I feel certain that a listening-in scanner will soon be in the police arsenal. Essentially, that means our country could be on its way to becoming a police state. Will our justice system step in before it is too late?

    The price of freedom for us all is eternal vigilance toward the greedy few who would take it away.

    I don't always agree with Robyn Blumner, but she is an essential contributor to your interesting and informative newspaper.
    -- Eleanor Carlson, St. Petersburg

    Just fighting crime

    Re: Police's high-tech devices intrude on our privacy rights, by Robyn Blumner.

    Blumner calls the police "gear-heads" because they are using technology to prevent crimes and capture criminals.

    She objects to the use of a new device known as an "electronic frisk," which can allow police to see through clothing from a distance and detect metal, plastic or ceramics. She thinks it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment and invades our private domain. This device will benefit those who do nothing wrong.

    I wonder -- if she were preparing to board an aircraft to a foreign country and the airline was informed that some passenger was in possession of a weapon, would she object to the use of this device? I think not.
    -- Herman Pastori, Spring Hill

    Spend on air safety

    Re: Overcrowded, overbooked and overwhelmed, Aug. 20.

    As a former pilot, I feel that instead of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars sending rockets into outer space, those millions could be put to better use for the benefit and safety of the traveling public.

    That money could be used to upgrade our outmoded control tower equipment, which is in dire need of more modern, up-to-date safety controls. The public has a constant fear of a disastrous mid-air collision.
    -- Bob Schallehn, Largo

    Vinegar verbiage

    I have just read Diane Roberts' Aug. 20 column, A convention diary. What mean-spirited, hateful writing. I feel certain she drank a cupful of vinegar before putting that column together.
    -- Bernice B. Phillips, Beverly Hills

    All spite and sarcasm

    Diane Roberts' Aug. 20 column regaling us with her Democratic convention experiences was devoid of information on the business of the convention. I read complaints about her hotel and the "Everest height" location of her seat in the Staples Center. She also described many trips to bars looking for something stronger than hotel coffee.

    The entire article is all spite and sarcasm. It did not belong on the front page of the Perspective section. It did diminish respect for your opinion page writers.
    -- Rosalyn Estrin, Port Richey

    Linguistic speed bump

    Re: Pardon moi? A traffic calming what?, Aug. 18.

    Regarding the blinking sign provided by the Clearwater traffic department to notify Morningside Estates residents of the upcoming "traffic calming charrette," I believe it is unnecessarily confusing.

    Although the sign may be correct, I would like to remind the city that in matters of communication is it always best to eschew obfuscation.
    -- Jim Westerkamp, Indian Rocks Beach

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