Decoding The Sensation Around Immunization - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Decoding The Sensation Around Immunization

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KALISPELL -

It is a national debate--whether to vaccinate or not--and the repercussions are real in the Flathead Valley.

Just two years ago, Kalispell experienced the largest ever outbreak of Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

"It's amazing how many people know Angela's story that have come to me, particularly young parents, and said 'we're thinking about this vaccination issue and we don't think we should do this.' In which case I always say 'well you need to talk to your doctor about it and tell them your concerns,'" said Earl Houtz, Angela Houtz's father.

Earl Houtz believes the Pertussis vaccine given to his daughter when she was only a few months old caused her to have hour-long seizures and permanent brain damage, and he has paperwork to back it up.

"There's no other reason," explained Earl Houtz, "She had a healthy, my wife Carla, had a healthy pregnancy. She had a healthy delivery. She was perfectly fine the first few months and no sign of abnormalities whatsoever. And then it was immediately following that second Pertussis vaccine that we started questioning why, and we couldn't get any answers."

Joseph Russell, the Flathead City-County Health Department Officer, explains the vaccine Angela received is most likely not the same vaccine being administered today. We have sacrificed effectiveness for safety; the old vaccine contained whole Pertussis bacteria cells that had the potential to harm in addition to conferring lasting immunity.

"When you have a vaccine that's highly antigenic, you may be more reactive to it. So, you could be reactive, it might be sore arm, it might be general malaise, it might be a lot of different things," said Russell.

Today's vaccine typically includes Tetanus and Diphtheria in one shot and is acellular, meaning there is less of a chance for an adverse reaction, but there is also less protection against whooping cough.

The Houtzs already realize this.

"We don't believe it was the Pertussis vaccine itself being solely the issue. In fact, it was the toxicity level, which at that time there was no standard in the United States," said Earl Houtz.

"During the big Pertussis scare a year and a half ago here in the Valley, I was getting reports from the Flathead County Health Department and they would say, first they said '74% of the patients who got Pertussis had been fully vaccinated,'" said Dr. Ann Bukacek with Hosanna Health Care in Kalispell.

Russell chalks this up to the new, acellular immunization.

"What we found over that time period is that the vaccine does wane," countered Russell, "That's clear."

Both Dr. Ann Bukacek and Russell agree that every medical procedure, no matter how routine, carries with it a certain amount of risk. They say it is up to the patient, or the patient's guardian, to weigh that risk against the possible consequences.

Russell also points out that nearly one out of every twenty school-aged children in Kalispell is not vaccinated against Pertussis.

For these students, just the potential of infection will require them to stay at home, away from the classroom, for weeks during an outbreak.

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