I'll be the first to confess that I wasn't a fully informed parent when it came to getting my kids their early immunizations. They got every shot on time without my weighing the risks and benefits. I barely glanced at the consent form except to note when to dispense Tylenol for crankiness or fever. Thankfully, they all sailed through with no more than a few tears. Then it was time for my 12-year-old daughter to get Gardasil, the vaccine against the cervical-cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV). I was a little worried because it was a new vaccine and, after talking with some experts, decided to delay getting her vaccinated until she was older.
My primary concern was that since this vaccine was so new, no one knew exactly how long its protective effects would last. The vaccine could wear off, some experts told me, before my daughter was even exposed to the sexually transmitted HPV. I was also told that, although the vaccine was very safe, no one knew whether it caused rare side effects since not enough young girls have received the vaccine to detect them.
This spurred me to do extensive reporting on the immunization system in this country—how new vaccines get approved, how their safety is monitored, how adverse events are dealt with by the medical community. I explored these issues in this piece on new scrutiny for vaccines. After reading my article and this one on the need for more research by my colleague Bernadine Healy, M.D., leaders at the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote to U.S. News expressing their concerns that the articles would drive parents away from having their children vaccinated.
We invited the AAP president, David Tayloe, and president-elect, Judith Palfrey, to participate in a videotaped roundtable discussion on various issues concerning vaccines. Below is the first video excerpt: Is there still a need for more research into whether vaccines are associated with autism? Other videos will be posted soon on the following topics: the pros and cons of taking a flexible approach to the vaccine schedule; Gardasil concerns; how to communicate risks and benefits to parents; and the swine flu vaccine and other new immunizations.