New vaccine makes 20

Federal committee recommends three rotavirus doses before age 1

Parents will be asked to get one more vaccine—this one against rotavirus—for their new babies if Illinois accepts recommendations made by a federal advisory committee.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends babies receive three doses of oral vaccine for rotavirus at 6 months, 2 years and 4 years.

Rotavirus can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, high fever and dehydration and "still remains a major cause of hospitalization," says Curtis Allen, a CDC spokesperson. In fact, rotavirus has been the cause of 200,000 emergency room visits a year as well as anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 hospitalizations, Curtis says.

This newly approved vaccine is the first infant rotavirus vaccine since another was pulled from the market in 1999 after being linked to bowel obstructions. Studies show this vaccine prevented 96 percent of the most severe rotavirus cases and 74 percent of all cases without adverse side effects.

This would bring to 20 the number of vaccinations recommended for children before age 1 to fight 13 different diseases.

That has some parents questioning if enough research has been done to ensure babies are safe. One of them is Christina Blakey of Oak Park, whose 3-year-old son contracted rotavirus and ended up in the hospital emergency room.

"They recommend so many vaccines at such a young age," Blakey says. "I believe in vaccines theoretically. The problem I have is the way the government has gone about mandating them and testing their safety."

Blakely’s older son, now 6, is autistic and she links her son’s neurological disorder to the mercury preservative thimerosal that was used in some vaccinations.

The preservative is banned in most immunizations but was still used when her son was vaccinated. (Some influenza vaccines still have trace amounts of thimerosal, Allen says, but the new rotavirus vaccine does not.)

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine released studies concluding there was no link between autism and thimerosal but said the question required more research.

Doctors caution that vaccines are important to protect children from dangerous infections such as polio and measles. "We have a great opportunity to prevent childhood diseases," says Dr. Joseph Bocchini, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases.

The committee’s recommendation goes to the CDC director and the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for approval—something that Allen says should happen in April. (The committee’s recomendations carry a lot of weight and more often than not are approved.)

If approved, the CDC publishes it as part of its recommended childhood and adolescent immunization schedule, which becomes the guideline for most states, including Illinois. Meg Shreve


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