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Vaccine timetable for children is safe, U.S. experts say

WASHINGTON -- 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 yesterday.

In what they called the most comprehensive review to date, scientists at the Institute of Medicine said there is no evidence that giving children vaccines according to the recommended timetable causes other problems such as autism or asthma.

The institute, part of the National Academies, a federally charted group of scientific advisers to the government, said it hopes the findings will 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.

The yearlong review of existing studies, requested by U.S. health officials, underscores the lingering concerns some people have about the vaccines, especially the many shots babies and toddlers receive.

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. Sometimes children can get up to five shots in one doctor's visit.

While most people follow the recommended timetable, IOM said about 1 percent of Americans refuse all vaccines. Some object for religious reasons; others are concerned that underlying medical conditions could raise the risk of possible complications from the injections. Still others worry that 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, Md., 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.