Benefits of vaccines far outweigh risksMuch misleading and...

the Forum

June 21, 1991

Benefits of vaccines far outweigh risks

Much misleading and potentially dangerous information about the safety of vaccines has appeared in the media recently ("When vaccines lead to tragedy," The Evening Sun, June 4).

The last thing parents should worry about is that vaccines will

harm their children. The chance of a child contracting a disease from a live-virus immunization is extremely small. The possibility of an unvaccinated child contracting a disease is a far mor serious risk.

I was the physician who made the diagnosis of poliomyelitis in Laura Thompson, the child mentioned in the article, and I coordinated the medical team that cared for Laura during the remainder of her short life. I believe that certain key information was left out of the article to reinforce a dangerous, growing public attitude that immunizations are bad for children.

Contrary to the impression given by the article, there are fewer than 10 cases of vaccine-acquired polio in the United States each year. This low number will probably drop even further as more high-risk children are immunized with a new form of the vaccine recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This contrasts with the era before the polio vaccine was introduced, when as many as 16,000 children contracted polio each year.

In the case of the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) vaccine, there may be no connection at all between that vaccine and neurologic complications. A huge study in Tennessee, involving more than 38,000 children, found absolutely no evidence that the DPT vaccine caused seizures or any of the other neurologic abnormalities cited in The Evening Sun's article. Because o public fear, however, decreased use of the vaccine has led to a dramatic increase in whooping cough (pertussis) cases in the United States. Some of these children require hospitalization. Among that group, one in 20 will have seizures, and one in 50 will die.

While nothing is sadder than the death of a child, parents must understand that Laura Thompson was a special case. She was not a healthy child when she contracted polio from the vaccine. She was born with an extremely rare birth defect that made her body unable to fight a variety of infections. Unfortunately, that problem could not have been predicted and was not detected before she was immunized. Laura did not die from polio; she died from a severe fungal infection resulting from a defective immune system.

Of course, parents should be aware that there may be side effects from immunizations, but they should also be aware of the greater danger of not immunizing their children. In fact, Laura' parents realize this. Laura's young brother, who also may have an immune deficiency, has been safely immunized with a killed polio vaccine and has received his DPT immunization as well.

Howard Lederman

The writer is associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and co-director of the Immunodeficiency Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The good Nixon

When people talk about Watergate they should also remember that Richard Nixon did a lot of good things also.

He opened the door to relations with the Soviet Union and China.

He got us out of Vietnam, where presidents before Nixon got us in.

As for Watergate, presidents before Nixon also recorded their conversations on tape. Now we are faced with a lot of problems. Nobody knows what to do about them, and I wonder if Mr. Nixon could have at least solved some of these. That we will never know.

Robert Hoover


Not home yet

This past week I have been disappointed in your paper's glory journalism. I am speaking of articles about the parades in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Your articles glamorize these parades as if everyone's life is back to normal.

If your newspaper wants to be fair, why wasn't it mentioned that not all of the troops sent to the Persian Gulf have returned home? What about the approximately 25 men from the Fourth Combat Engineer Battalion, here in Baltimore, who departed from Baltimore-Washington Airport on Nov. 15, 1990, and are not expected home until mid-July at the earliest?

Are these soldiers unworthy of mention since they are still doing their part for their country?

My fiance was one of the Marine reservists who left in November, ready to serve his country. It saddens me that not only his country, but the city he grew up in, ready to bask in the glow of a Baltimore war hero, now seem to have forgotten him. Please do not misunderstand me; I am very happy that the troops are home. Many of my friends have already returned, but please remember that not all of our brave troops are home yet.

Gail L. Hilseberg


Why not the best?

Why shouldn't we want the best qualified individuals, drawn from the largest and most diverse pool of volunteers, to serve and defend our country? The military, including combat forces, should be a microcosm of our society. It should not be all white, all black or all male.

As we saw recently in the Persian Gulf, modern warfare does not always distinguish between combat and non-combat roles. U.S. women military personnel were killed and wounded in action, and they were captured by the enemy. They also served with courage and skill.

It makes no sense to place artificial and anachronistic limits on American women who have the desire, the ability and the dedication to serve in the military. This includes most combat functions.

Roger C. Kostmayer


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