15 Finds Out: ‘Anti-vaxxers’ weigh in on vaccination debate, measles crisis

Local News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported more than 700 cases of measles so far this year, making it the worst outbreak since the disease was thought to have been eliminated two decades ago. 

Just this week the Indiana State Department of Health issued a new order that allows Hoosiers to get a measles vaccine without a prescription in response to the growing crisis. 

Public Health officials said the rise in measles outbreaks is largely because more people refuse to get vaccinated. The term “anti-vaxxers” has been commonly used to describe them. 

Those who refuse vaccinations said they have good reason. 15 Finds Out wanted to know why. 

A post on WANE 15’s Facebook page generated more than 2,000 responses. 

Those who are against vaccinations believe the vaccines may come with serious health risks, including injury or death. They are concerned about toxins in vaccines and there is also a belief that the CDC, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and drug companies overlook the potential harm caused by vaccines. 

Rebecca Mekus said she began researching vaccine safety about 6 months after her 2-year-old son Eli Shugert died suddenly.  

She said Eli collapsed while playing outside 12 days after his birthday. He was rushed to the hospital where he later died. An autopsy indicated the cause of death was unknown. 

Mekus was devastated by his death and desperate for answers.  

“What could have caused a perfectly healthy two-year-old with no known medical issues to just go limp one day and not come out of it?” she said.  

Eli received all his immunization shots on schedule, but she wonders if those vaccines could have been the cause. 

Information that she found on the internet suggested that the toxins found in vaccines may have overloaded his immune system, she said. According to Mekus, Eli had MTHFR gene, which she believes impacted his ability to process some ingredients found in vaccines. 

Medical professionals dispute that claim. 

“I just knew going forward that going forward with more children I wasn’t going to be putting them in that situation for anything possibly to happen,” said Mekus. 

Ashley Wilson said “mommy groups” on Facebook raised fear and doubt about if she should vaccinate or not. 

“A lot of them are anti-vaccine,” she said. “They’re all seasoned parents. I figured they must know what they’re talking about.” 

Instead of following the vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC, she spread out her son’s vaccinations. 

“I think a lot of it at least for me was fear-based,” she said. “I just didn’t want to put my child into harm’s way. I didn’t want anybody pumping chemicals into him or hurting him.” 

As Wilson continued to research her stance began to change. She was reassured that vaccines are safe based on information released by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

“It just made more sense that the vaccinations actually do what they’re supposed to because they release these vaccines and the diseases go away,” she said. 

Wilson cautions against believing everything you read on the internet.  

“If you feel like you need to have an opposing opinion, make sure it’s fact based not opinion based,” said Wilson. “A lot of it sounds like it’s fact based but it’s really just opinions and fear mongering.” 

The CDC recommends an immunization schedule to protect young children from 14 serious illnesses. 

According to the Indiana State Department of Health 67 percent of children under the age of 3 completed the recommended series of immunizations in 2018. 

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deb. McMahan is confused by growing number of people who refuse to vaccinate. She said the risk of getting the disease vaccines are designed to build immunity against is far greater than the side-effect of the vaccine. 

McMahan said refusing to get vaccinations puts everyone at risk. Especially, babies who are too young for vaccinations and those with compromised immune systems.  

“I don’t know of anything else that is more closely monitored,” said McMahan. “The very fact that you have these outbreaks of mumps and measles proves that it’s really impacting the herd immunity.” 

Though public health officials insist vaccines are safe and effective, a local nurse said there is a group of medical professionals who agree there’s enough evidence to cause concern. Many of them are silenced out of fear they will lose their jobs.  

She asked that we not reveal her identity out of fear that her opinion on vaccinations would put her job at risk. 

 “I’m a nurse. I need the facts,” she said. “Give me the information so that I can not only make the best decision not only for my family but for my patients.” 

This woman has been practicing medicine for the last 13 years. She said about five years ago she began doing extensive research about vaccine safety. She believes more studies are needed to determine if there’s a connection between vaccines and certain illnesses diagnosed in children and adults. 

“Our genes are kind of like light switches,” she said. “So you have a predisposition to cancer or you have a predisposition to high blood pressure…. based on our environment – which could be inside our bodies or outside of our bodies – these genes can be turned off or on. Are some of those chemicals [in vaccines] causing those genes to be turned on?” 

Any concerns about vaccines can be reported by doctors and patients to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting system (VAERS). The Advisory committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) then investigates each report. 

McMahan said there are about 30,000 reports each year.  

“Every medicine, every vaccine, everything has risks and benefits,” said McMahan. “But what the ACIP has determined is that the risks are negligible.” 

Still, Rebecca Mekus remains confident in her decision not to vaccinate her children. She wants others to have an open mind when it comes to the vaccination debate. 

“If you think it’s what’s best for your kid, great. Fine and dandy,” she said. “Don’t try to make me do it and I won’t try to make you not and the world will still go on.” 

The Indiana American Academy of Pediatrics President Tony GiaQuinta, released a statement about the debate saying:

“Indiana’s pediatricians believe that immunizations are the safest and most effective way of preventing disease, disability, and death. We understand that some parents have concerns regarding vaccinations, and we welcome wholeheartedly open discussion and dialogue to sort fact from fiction. The undisputed fact, however, is that when a community does not vaccinate its population, children will reliably become sick from preventable disease. “

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