The Canadian medical establishment has consistently told parents that benefits of immunization far outweigh any risks that may be associated with vaccination. But a growing number of parents are concerned with the possible side effects from vaccines. More and more cases of disabled children are getting publicity now, especially when the parents of these children are seeking compensation from the government for making vaccination compulsory without adequately documenting the risks of some vaccines.

Of particular concern is the whooping cough, or pertussis vaccine. Young children are routinely vaccinated against pertussis before school age. Along with vaccination against diphtheria and tetanus, these three shots are known ad the DPT vaccine.

In 1982, NBC produced a documentary called Vaccine Roulette. The film focused on families whose children suffered permanent disability from the pertussis vaccine, but it also focused on the medical establishment. The documentary showed how doctors disagree on how risky pertussis vaccine may be.

The pertussis vaccine was first used in the 1930’s when whooping cough was a major childhood disease. In California, for example, there 21 332 reported cases of whooping cough compared with 147 cases reported in 1980. The disease often leads to convulsions, brain damage, pneumonia, or collapsed lung. But due to better nutrition and sanitation, and improved antibiotic medicines, whooping cough has been in decline for the past 20 years.

“When children die from pertussis, it is because they have been disadvantaged in some other way. It has not been a killing disease for a very long time,” said Dr. Gordon Stewart, a well-known British epidemiologist, when he appeared on NBC.

The side effects of pertussis vaccine can range from mild to severe. The common side effects are fever, fretfulness, and swelling at the place of injection. Severe reactions from the vaccine are rare but include convulsions, brain damage, and encephalitis.

In 1982, a twelve month old Oshawa boy suffered a brain seizure after a routine vaccination. Steven Ventress, now almost three years old, is retarded.

Twelve-year-old Jody MacLeod of Ottawa was five months old when she received her pertussis vaccination. She later suffered massive brain damage.

The parents of these children resented the fact that their doctors told them “not to worry.” In fact there are no studies in Canada which follow up on children who were disabled by pertussis vaccine. So doctors may not document any ill effects the vaccine may have caused. Parents feel they are on their own when their children are disabled by the vaccine.

Experts disagree on how often these cases occur. British research puts the figure at 1 in 100 000 while studies in West Germany report 1 in every 39 000. But no matter how often these cases occur, Canadian families receive no compensation. Last may, a Quebec family whose daughter was severely disabled by a measles vaccine lost its claim for 2 million in damages. The Supreme Court ruled that the government was not responsible when it urged parents to vaccinate children against measles.

Six nations do provide compensation for vaccine related disability including Great Britain, Japan, France, Denmark, West Germany and Switzerland.

About a year ago, a group of Ontario parents formed the Committee Against Compulsory Vaccination. This group believes that parents should be given complete information about possible side effects of vaccination before their children are immunized. Spokesperson Edda Goldman write in a recent article that the committee is trying to provide the public with information and hoping to persuade the government to introduce a system to document incidents of vaccine related injuries.

Although immunization in Ontario for school children is compulsory, parents can object to having their children vaccinated for health, religious beliefs or for reasons of conscience.

But Dr. Ron Gold, chief of infectious diseases at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children said ”we would be worse off without a vaccine.”

“I think it would be a disaster if parents were so frightened they didn’t get their children immunized,” he said.

Parents should check with their doctor before having their child immunized if the child has any nervous disorders, infections, or is undergoing chemical therapy. By learning about the possible side effects of DPT vaccine, parents can make an informed decision on immunization.

Perhaps the recent publicity of DPT vaccine will not alarm parents without cause, but rather parents, the medical establishment and the government can work together so that more clinical testing and documentation of the results of pertussis vaccine can remove these side-effects altogether.

For further information, please contact Thea Nausbaum, of the Committee Against Compulsory Vaccination at: 325 Connaught Ave., Willowdale, Ontario, M2R 2M1

(221 5345) or Edda Goldman at Health Options: 238 Montrose Ave., Toronto Ontario, M6G 3G6 (533-3697)