Dr. Judy Romano wants parents to know claims that vaccines are responsible for causing autism are false.
She said a study that claimed the measles/ mumps/rubella vaccine caused autism in children has been "completely debunked." The doctor, Andrew Wakefield, made the claims in the Lancet journal 12 years ago. After an investigation, the British Medical Journal called his claims fraudulent.
"He lost his license in Britain and he lost his license in the U.S.," said Romano, who is director of Wheeling Hospital's Center for Pediatrics.
DR. JUDY ROMANO
Romano said only recently people's concerns about vaccines have started to wane. She noted any minor complications from receiving a vaccine "pale in comparison" to the impact the diseases can have on children.
"Today, vaccines are much weaker. There's less antigen than in the past," she said in reference to parents' concerns about the high number of inoculations children receive these days.
Because so many parents have opted to not have their children vaccinated, some vaccine-preventable diseases are starting to come back, she said. West Virginia is one of the last states to still require children to receive vaccinations before entering school.
Q: Vaccinations remain a touchy subject for some parents. What are their concerns and what arguments do doctors have in favor of vaccinations?
A: Many parents are concerned that they are not able to opt their child out of vaccines due to religious or other beliefs. Doctors say vaccines are safe for children - and they protect the public health.
In the past, parents also had concerns about vaccines with thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury.
"Because of concerns, manufacturers removed that. All pediatric vaccines are thimerosal free," Romano said, adding some multi-dose flu vaccines still contain thimerosal.
But parents can ask for thimerosal-free, single-dose shots.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children need all of the following immunizations to stay healthy:
West Virginia Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, introduced a bill in the Legislature this year that would allow parents to opt-out of vaccinations for religious or other grounds.
Boley said parents should be the ones to decide whether or not their children receive vaccinations.
"I have had people come to me now for several years that are just concerned about the vaccinations. ... I think the parents should make that decision; they have a constitutional right to decide what's best for their kids," Boley said.
Patti Finn, a New York attorney and West Virginia University graduate who specializes in vaccine exemption laws, believes West Virginia's current law that mandates all children be vaccinated violates both the First and Ninth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
"Under the Ninth Amendment, people have a right to privacy and freedom over their body," Finn said.
"Not allowing a conscientious objection or philosophical objection runs afoul of the Ninth Amendment."
In addition to the Ninth Amendment issue, prohibiting a religious exemption to the vaccine requirements violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion, Finn said.