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Doctors Condemn Immunization Ads : Health: Chiropractic group places advertisement, timed to the start of school, questioning need for vaccinating children.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A newspaper advertisement that questions the need for immunizing children against diseases was denounced by doctors Thursday who are worried that parents will think vaccinations are harmful and that students do not have to be immunized before starting kindergarten.

The half-page ad that appeared twice this week in the San Diego Union and once in the San Diego Tribune was placed by Concerned Doctors of Chiropractic and appears just before the start of school--traditionally a time for children to be vaccinated--and about three weeks before a national immunization campaign.

In bold type, the ad says that according to state law, “your children do not have to be immunized to attend school.” That is technically true, but students are exempt only if parents have a letter or affidavit saying that immunization is contrary to his or her beliefs, said Stephen Waterman, the chief of Community Disease Control in the county’s Department of Health Services. Usually less than .5% of entering kindergarten students are exempted, he said.

The bottom of the ad reads, “This ad does not intend to offer an opinion on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of vaccinations in regards to health care. It is intended to provide you with a better understanding of your rights. . . .”

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But the fine print in small boxes in the ad has upset some doctors at county hospitals, who say the information in quotes from authorities is misleading and dangerous because it may cause parents not to vaccinate their children.

A U.S. surgeon general in 1955 was quoted as saying, “No batch of vaccine can be proven safe before it is given to children.”

Another practitioner said, “Cancer was practically unknown until compulsory vaccination with cowpox vaccine began to be introduced.”

Stephen Spector, chief of infectious diseases at UC San Diego Medical Center, called the quotes “outdated, outmoded and currently inaccurate.”

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Most of them, he said, are from the 1950s, when vaccines were still being developed.

Spector conceded that some children have “minor” reactions to vaccinations--such as mild fevers or flu symptoms--but emphasized that childhood diseases such as measles, rubella and diphtheria are far more harmful and that vaccines have not been known to cause cancer.

Last year, San Diego County had 985 cases of measles--the county’s worst epidemic in 20 years, said Sandy Ross, the immunization project coordinator for the county Department of Health Services.

Because of all the publicity last year, Ross speculated that more people are getting their children immunized. As of last week, there have been only 18 reported cases of measles in the county. About 40,000 children in the county will enter kindergarten this year, Ross said.

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“We believe that immunizations are a vital part of children’s health care,” said John Bradley, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital.

“I think the gist of the ad is deceptive. I can’t think of a motive for placing it, unless he’s crazy or rich.”

Concerned Doctors of Chiropractic placed the ad because “it was a right-to-know issue,” said Ronald Oberstein, a chiropractor who practices in Clairemont and belongs to the 17-member group.

“The whole intent was to let people know they have a choice regarding immunizing,” explained Oberstein, who said his two children are not immunized. “It was not meant to offer an opinion. It is not a chiropractic issue. We are in no way telling people to immunize or not to immunize. We just thought they should know about the choices open to them.”

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Oberstein said the group deliberately timed the appearance of the ad to coincide with the beginning of school so parents would be informed about the personal-belief exemption.

According to a recent Gallup poll provided by the Surgeon General’s Office, a large percentage of parents had little knowledge about how many shots children should be given or when they should be given. Thirty percent did not know how many measles shots should be given, and 43% did not know at what age the rubella vaccine should be given.

National Immunization Week will be held Sept. 21-29 and will focus attention on a national goal that every American child be fully vaccinated by the age of 2 and remain up-to-date on immunizations, said M.J. Fingland, a spokeswoman for the surgeon general’s office.


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