Stein and the great majority of pediatricians corroborate Halsey’s statement that vaccines are safe and necessary, and they encourage their patients to vaccinate. When patients such as R.B. and M.D. assure her they have “done their research,” Stein points out that there is a great deal of misinformation on the Internet. Much of it, she says, is based on opinion rather than science.
And although Stein will work with families who want to spread out the time in between vaccinations in the first several months of a child’s life, she doesn’t recommend doing so.
“The research on vaccine safety is based on having this schedule,” the pediatrician explained. “I’m not going to guess. I want this to be based on science.”
In the end, if parents are unwilling to vaccinate their children, Stein — and many other doctors — ask them to find another pediatrician. She decided on this policy after another doctor she knew was faced with the consequences of having an unvaccinated child with measles in her waiting room, where he exposed several children including a newborn. Two of those children contracted the disease.
Although he encourages parents to vaccinate their children, Dr. Arnold Brenner does not believe that the safety of vaccinations are indisputable. The Randallstown pediatrician said vaccinations are essential when it comes to maintaining public health, but he clarifies that some of the studies that have found no connection between autism and vaccines are flawed, others are “cooked,” and still other studies omit some of their findings.
Brenner, who is been in practice for 49 years and estimates that about 25 percent of his patients have some form of autism, counsels parents to delay their child’s hepatitis B vaccine until the infant is at least 6 months old, unless the baby’s mother has the disease.
“When I give the [measles, mumps and rubella vaccine], I give it alone, and when I give any immunizations, I give vitamin C,” he said, noting that autistic children typically are deficient in the vitamin.
Brenner also gives patients ibuprofen rather than Tylenol because in some studies, ingestion of the over-the-counter drug by pregnant women and young children has been linked to autism.
“Tylenol lowers the amount of glutathione in the body, and we know that autistic kids are low in glutathione,” he said.
He says he has treated eight children who stopped talking after receiving their measles vaccines and that the anti-vaccination parents he sees in his practice are well educated and responsible when it comes to the care of their children.
“They are vilified, and they don’t deserve it,” he said.
Many parents fear retribution from schools when they disclose that their children are not vaccinated. In Maryland’s public schools, students are required to be up to date on their vaccinations within the first 20 days of the school year. This applies to all students, except those whose parents claim a medical or religious exemption.
According to Dr. Linda Grossman, bureau director for clinical services at the Baltimore County Department of Health, independent schools that operate under Maryland laws have the same policy. She says that some Jewish day school parents claim religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children.
“I’m not aware though of any religious reasons not to vaccinate in Judaism,” she said. Beginning this fall, two additional vaccines are being phased in statewide. Kindergarteners will now be required to receive an additional dose of the chicken pox vaccine, and seventh-grade students must receive the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis as well as one dose of a vaccine against meningitis.
“There are far worse consequences to not vaccinating as compared with vaccinating,” said Grossman, reiterating her hope that parents do not claim religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children.
R.B. encountered significant difficulties when she claimed a religious exemption at a local boys’ day school. Before her son began school, she contacted someone at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as the state attorney general’s office, to inquire about Maryland’s laws regarding religious exemptions.
“They said that the school could not refuse to accept a religious exemption,” she related. “But then school started and the nurse called. She said the school didn’t accept religious exemptions. I told her they had to accept them so she said I would have to speak with the principal.”
R.B. reached out to Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, founder and dean of the Talmudical Academy of Philadelphia, whose wife, Temi, speaks out against vaccinating children. The rabbi wrote a letter on R.B.’s behalf, leading to her son’s principal relenting and apologizing.
When reached by phone, both Kamenetzkys confirmed their belief that vaccinations, not the diseases they prevent, are harmful.
“There is a doctor in Chicago who doesn’t vaccinate any of his patients and they have no problem at all,” said the rabbi. “I see vaccinations as the problem. It’s a hoax. Even the Salk vaccine [against polio] is a hoax. It is just big business.”
Kamenetzky says he follows the lead of Israeli Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky, who rules that schools “have no right to prevent unvaccinated kids from coming to school.”
“What about the people who clean and sweep in the school?” argued Kamenetzky. “They are mostly Mexican and are unvaccinated. If there was a problem, the children would already have gotten sick.”
Sharon Billing, a Baltimore nurse and mother, said she once challenged Temi Kamenetzky at a lecture.
“How can you advise young mothers to do this?” she asked the rebbetzin. “You’re old enough to remember whopping cough and diphtheria. As Jews, we are required to guard our health.”
Billing has a cousin born just prior to the development of the polio vaccine.
“He was wheelchair bound all of his life and had the use of only one arm,” she said. “I find it distressing that so many are so uninformed about vaccines.”
In her 20 years as a pediatric nurse practitioner, Stacy Schwartz of Pikesville has rarely come across parents who refuse to vaccinate. Schwartz, who works in a private practice in Cross Keys and at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School once a week, says she believes in vaccinating all children.
“For us, it’s a public health issue, and there is no credible research to show that vaccines lead to developmental disabilities,” said Schwartz, who added that Beth Tfiloh follows Maryland’s state vaccination policy.
Elsewhere, Talmudical Academy of Baltimore has accepted the use of an exemption on at least one occasion, and Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau of Torah Institute says the day school follows Maryland law. Ohr Chadash Academy of Baltimore does not accept exemptions, and Krieger Schechter Day School accepts only medical exemptions and requires a letter from a physician.