Area medical experts fielded questions Monday night during a forum in West Islip about the use and effectiveness of vaccines from residents two months since a state law banned religious exemptions from vaccinations.
The discussion, which drew skeptics of the safety of vaccines as well as people who were curious about the effect of the law enacted in mid-June, was held at West Islip Public Library and was sponsored by Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.
The law repealed a religious exemption to the state law requiring vaccines for school enrollment, in the wake of a measles outbreak in the country with the majority of them occurring in New York.
“There are 15 diseases that we’re protecting against,” said Melody Butler, a registered nurse at Good Samaritan who conducted the forum and noted that August is National Immunization Awareness Month. “We’re protecting our children from the suffering and complications from infancy to adulthood.”
Other panelists included Mary Beth Koslap-Petraco, a pediatric nurse practitioner and children’s immunization advocate; Albert Pan, an infection control nurse at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue in Manhattan; Joanne LaCrosse, chief of special education services for the state Education Department; and Dr. Paul Lee, a physician at Good Samaritan specializing in pediatrics and infectious diseases.
Panelists were staunch advocates for vaccines for diseases including measles, mumps, polio, whooping cough, hepatitis A and B and others.
But some people in the audience of about 15 members questioned the premise that vaccines are safe. They cited studies that countered conventional wisdom in the mainstream medical community, prompting spirited exchanges between the panelists and audience.
“We’re speaking the truth here,” said Rita Palma, founder of My Kids, My Choice. “There’s something up with the vaccines. They are ruining our children.”
Amanda Ascher of Great River said she was upset that the ban on religious exemptions was signed into law, affecting some 26,000 children.
She came to the meeting with several books that challenge vaccinations as the gold standard of care because she said they can expose people to both the diseases they are designed to prevent and because they can contain ingredients — such as aluminum — that studies she cited say can contribute to other illnesses.
“For you to say that vaccines are completely safe and effective, I say that’s a complete lie,” she said, adding that two of her three children are scheduled for vaccinations but that both she and one child were hurt by them. “I do agree that vaccines can reduce illnesses, but that’s sometimes at the cost of lifetime chronic illnesses.”
Lee said he hopes doctors, nurses and lay people have a dialogue about vaccines to reach a common ground.
“There are two sides to the story,” he said, advocating an open mind when debating the hot-button issue. “Doctors and parents have to listen to each other. We need to do what is best for our kids.”