July 12, 2011
By Carol M. Ostrom
Seattle Times health reporter
At a forum in Shoreline Tuesday on whether to add meningitis to the vaccination schedule for children, more than 100 parents, health-care providers and others interested in the topic considered questions about vaccine safety, effectiveness and whether mandates are advisable. The Centers for Disease Control and its advisers, who are seeking citizen views around the country, will ultimately decide.
But what poses the greater risk: vaccines, or the diseases they’re made to prevent? Should all children undergo vaccination — and its risks — to prevent a relatively rare, but potentially dangerous disease?
These were among the questions debated Tuesday at a forum in Shoreline on vaccines, the second of four around the nation held by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC will decide whether to add a vaccine for bacterial meningitis to the list of those recommended for infants.
For a full day, more than 100 people wrestled with questions of safety, cost and effectiveness of a vaccine for meningococcal meningitis, one of several types of the disease, which can cause inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.
In groups and alone, parents, health providers, grandparents and others who signed up online to take part in the meeting dissected graphs and statistics, listened to CDC vaccine officials and delved into their own experiences and values.
Michael Belkin of Bainbridge Island was there, holding a bundle of reports of vaccine-caused adverse events, his views shaped by the death 13 years ago of his 5-week-old daughter after she got a hepatitis B vaccine.
Lori Buher of La Conner was also there, telling of her anguish when her athletic teen son lost his legs and fingers to meningitis eight years ago. “Everybody thinks it won’t happen to them — we were like that, too.”
When her son, Carl Buher, stood, khaki shorts exposing his artificial legs, the room was quiet as he related in a matter-of-fact way how the fast-moving illness overtook him at age 14. He respects the right of parents to make a decision, but he wants everyone to know there’s a vaccine that can prevent the disease. “As a survivor, I feel it’s my job to do it.”
Karen Crisalli Winter of Seattle recalled how her 23-year-old friend quickly died after contracting meningitis. But she worried that a CDC recommendation would become a mandate, and the wishes of parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children would be ignored, further polarizing pro- and anti-vaccine parents.