* No evidence that immunization schedule is unsafe -IOM
* Expert panel calls for continued study
* IOM says review is most comprehensive to date
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Jan 16 The current U.S. guideline
for immunizing children against polio, whooping cough, measles
and other infectious diseases is safe, but should still be
monitored, federal health advisers said on Wednesday.
In what they called the most comprehensive review to date,
scientists at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) said there is no
evidence that giving children vaccines according to the
recommended timetable causes other problems such as autism or
IOM, part of the National Academies, a federally-charted
group of scientific advisers to the government, said it hopes
the findings would reassure parents, doctors and others even as
it recommends that the research continue.
"The message is that the schedule is safe by all existing
data," said Dr. Pauline Thomas, an IOM adviser and a professor
at New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
Requested by U.S. health officials, the year-long review of
existing studies underscores the lingering concerns some people
have about the vaccines, especially the many shots babies and
The findings come as the nation wrestles with various
outbreaks, including an influenza epidemic. Several U.S. states
are also grappling with record spikes of whooping cough.
Federal vaccine guidelines recommend 24 immunizations by age
2, and sometimes children can get up to five shots in one
While most people follow the recommended timetable, IOM said
about 1 percent of Americans refuse all vaccines.
The reasons vary. Some object for religious reasons but
others are concerned that underlying medical conditions could
raise the risk of possible complications from the injections.
Others worry potential harms outweigh the benefits or simply
mistrust the government, which reviews and approves vaccines
before they can be marketed.
Still, most parents comply.
Pamela Maslen, a registered nurse and lactation consultant
in Silver Spring, Maryland, said her work overseas influenced
her decision to follow the recommendations when her first
daughter was born nearly five years ago.
"I pretty much decided I wanted to keep on the schedule
because I knew we would be moving, and I didn't want her to be
susceptible to anything," said Maslen, 35, who has two daughters
and is expecting her third child soon.
SOME PARENTS STILL WORRY
IOM's panel of independent scientists looked at the schedule
of immunizations and all available scientific literature to
determine safety. They also reviewed CDC and the Food and Drug
Administration databases that track side effects.
Yet suspicions over vaccines have continued for years.
Nearly 40 percent of U.S. parents have some mistrust of
childhood vaccines, the CDC has said.
Some suspicions arose over autism and thimerosal, a
mercury-based preservative once used in many U.S. vaccines but
no longer. No studies have shown a clear link, and IOM said in
2004 that researchers should look elsewhere for the disorder's
"The concerns are certainly still out there," said Cassandra
Jessee, 39, who opted to "delay" the vaccines for her
16-month-old son by spreading them over several months rather
than one doctor's visit.
"It means more co-pays and doctors appointments, but to me
it is worth it," she said.
While some pediatricians allow their patients to stretch the
timetable, others refuse to do so saying it poses risks.
The IOM panel said there is no evidence that an alternative
schedule that would be safer or less safe.
But studying the health impact of children who get vaccines
on time versus those who do not would be too risky and
expensive, it said. Instead, while current databases could be
enhanced, they are still the best way to monitor safety, it
Panelists also said doctors need to find better ways to
communicate with the public about vaccine safety and concerns.