The anti-vaccination movement could be to blame for the recent trend of babies suffering a rare bleeding disorder caused by a deficiency of Vitamin K.
In the past 10 months, eight babies were brought into Vanderbilt University’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Nashville, TN, with seven suffering from the bleeding disorder.
After looking into the cases, doctors discovered the cause of the deaths to be parents’ refusal to give their babies a vitamin K shot usually given at birth. Dr. Robert Sidonio, a Vanderbilt pediatrician, believes this to be a result of the anti-vaccination movement.
“The group includes people who are fairly liberal and those with strong religious beliefs,” Sidonio told Yahoo Health. “It’s not purely a religious objection like most people think. And unfortunately, there are a lot of bad websites that are spreading misinformation.”
Despite popular belief, the shot is not an vaccine but rather a vitamin given in the form of a shot, reports Chris Mooney for Mother Jones.
The disorder, vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB), affects 1 in 100,000 infants, who are naturally deficient in the vitamin. Mothers do not give enough of it to their infants while in utero, and do not produce large quantities of it in their breast milk, making the injection at birth a necessary precaution.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), infants who do not receive the shot are 81 times more likely to contract VKDB than those who get the shot.
Vitamin K causes blood to coagulate. Not having enough could cause internal bleeding, brain damage, or even death.
The shot, injected into the leg muscle in the first 24 hours after birth, has been in use since 1961 when it was first introduced by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Despite its effectiveness in protecting the disorder, a number of parents are now refusing it for their children.
This success could in fact be part of the reason parents feel the shot is unnecessary.
“This shot is a casualty of perfect public-health policy,” said Sidonio. “It’s very inexpensive, widely used, and highly effective. And because there are rarely any cases [of VKDB], parents had never heard of it, so people begin to wonder why they should have the shot at all.”
In a recent survey, the CDC asked parents to list reasons for refusing the shot. Reasons cited included a fear of contracting leukemia, minimizing exposure to toxins, and a belief that the shot was ineffective. None of the parents surveyed were aware of the risks of not giving their infant the shot, reports Ryan Wallace for Yahoo Health.
The link to leukemia came as a result of a study linking vitamin K to childhood cancer. “Unfortunately, the subsequent studies that came out proving there was absolutely no link to leukemia didn’t make the Internet rounds,” said Sidonio. “So people rely on the false information that got more publicity.”
No new cases of VKDB have been brought to the hospital. Sidonio attributes this to widespread media coverage and better communication between doctors and their patients. However, similar cases throughout the country are still cropping up.
“The problem is that there isn’t a national tracking system in the United States, so it’s difficult to keep tabs on what’s happening elsewhere,” Sidonio explained.
According to pediatrician Clay Jones, the reasons for giving the shot are irrefutable, “especially when you take into account just how ridiculously safe these intramuscular injections are.”