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To vaccinate--or not? 

A dozen young parents gathered recently to discuss something that sets them apart from their peers: They don't vaccinate their children. They're the minority who resist a 40-year worldwide vaccination campaign almost universally embraced by health care professionals.

Parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated have been told by physicians, friends and family members that they're endangering their children. Many of them must lie in order to get their children enrolled in daycare centers and schools. In North Carolina, only a religious exemption, submitted in writing, can be used to enroll an unvaccinated child in public school.

The meeting was sponsored by People Advocating Vaccine Education (PAVE), a Charlotte-based group founded by A.A. and Lisa K. Jillani, a couple whose daughter was "vaccine-damaged" in 1994 after receiving a round of shots. The Jillanis claim vaccinations are responsible for their daughter's diagnosis of sensory integration dysfunction, a mild form of autism.

Many vaccines produce side effects such as fever and soreness in some children, but in rare cases, side effects can also be fatal. Because the vaccines contain modified or weakened forms of bacteria or viruses from diseases they are meant to prevent, health care professionals admit that there are risks associated with vaccinations. They argue, however, that the benefits--protecting children from potentially fatal diseases--far outweigh the risks.

In fact, the risk of contracting disease may be greatest from vaccinations themselves, claim the Jillanis. All of the known cases of polio in the United States since 1979 have been caused by the live vaccine, Lisa Jillani said.

Not wanting to face lawsuits from families with vaccine-damaged children, the pharmaceutical companies lobbied Congress to pass the 1986 National Vaccine Injury Compensation Act. The act limits the liabilities of vaccine manufacturers and places a ceiling of $250,000 on what a family can receive if a child dies of vaccine-related complications. Since the act passed, the government has paid out about $1 billion to approximately 1,000 families. The vast majority of claims are denied, Lisa Jillani said. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that only about 10 percent of all vaccine adverse reactions are reported; still that amounts to more than 10,000 reactions reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control.

While the Jillanis don't counsel other parents not to vaccinate their children, they recommend that people make informed choices. You can reach PAVE at P.O. Box 36701, Charlotte, NC 28236 or by e-mail at werpave@yahoo.com.

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