GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- It’s a controversial decision that not only affects the health of your kids but possibly the health and well-being of others. We’re talking about whether or not to vaccinate your children.
When you have six children, like Kimberly Spaak, you get pretty good at counting.
"Being a mom is already so stressful and so hard and so when I see mom pitted against mom it breaks my heart because we should be banning together," Spaak said, who refuses to vaccinate her kids.
But counting on others is not her thing.
"Nobody is going to take responsibility for my children except for me," she said. "Whether my child gets injured taking a vaccine and there's a reaction from it or whether they get some type of disease because I've made a choice to not get them vaccinated, ultimately, I’m the one who's responsible," Spaak said.
She and her husband made the decision to not vaccinate after they say their nephew lost all motor skills because of vaccines. They started doing research and ended up deciding to go vaccine-free.
"The kids are healthy they don't have to see the doctor a whole lot, can I attribute that to not having them vaccinated, I cannot but can I attribute it to the fact we live a different lifestyle than most people, I believe I can," Spaak said.
Spaak homeschools her children who are all gluten and dairy-free. When one of her kids is starting to fall ill, they head to their chiropractor, Dr. Andres Sampedro, from Natural Choice Chiropractic.
"I believe we should have a choice when [it] comes to healthcare," said Dr.Sampedro, who believes in healing the body naturally.
"I believe in not looking for a way to temporarily protect myself, rather how can I strengthen my immune system so that I can avoid sickness and illness, he said.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, children entering kindergarten in the state of Michigan must show proof of immunization for measles, pertussis, polio, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, chicken pox, diphtheria, and tetanus.
"If a parent comes to a school nurse and tells us they don't want their child to receive immunizations state law requires us to inform them they can waive their rights to immunizations, but they need to go to the health department and participate in an education session," said Stephanie Painter, the School Health Program Director, GRPS.
In 2015, a new rule was put in place, requiring parents opting out of any vaccines to make an appointment at the health department and receive education on the risks.
Mary Wisinski with the Kent County health department says the overall waiver rates decreased by more than 30 percent.
"What happened when we brought the waivers to the health department is we decreased those waivers of convenience," Wisinski said.
"We educate the parent about the risks and benefits if they choose to listen, it seems most concerns fall around vaccine safety, vaccine schedule, vaccine ingredients."
Those ingredients are part of the reason Dr. Sampedro opted out of vaccines, he believes health comes from strengthening the body naturally, instead.
"If there was a way you could improve everything that works in your body heart liver stomach in your system if there was a way you can improve how your body works naturally without drugs, without side effects would you try it?" Sampedro said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, common ingredients in vaccines include thimerosal, aluminum, gelatin, human serum albumin, antibiotics, egg proteins, and yeast proteins just to name a few.
"Some ingredients are harmful if they were in our food [and] would not be okay by the FDA, but they're okay in vaccinations and certain people can react," Spaak said.
But we're told those reactions are rare.
"Am I going to tell you 100 percent vaccines will never cause a problem? I can't do that, a majority of problems with vaccines are very mild a mild fever, pain, redness at the injection site," Wisinski said.
"A lot of parents have misinformation about the vaccines, they're worried about side effects that don't occur they're worried the child may be getting too many endogenous at the same time and those are things we have to alleviate by talking," said Dr. Dan McGee, a pediatric hospitalist at Spectrum Health.
The FDA must approve a vaccine before it can be used in the United States. Safety and effectiveness of the vaccine are also evaluated by highly trained FDA scientists and doctors. After vaccines are licensed, they are monitored closely as people start using them, making sure the benefits continue to outweigh the risks.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says they have not seen any deaths in recent years related to vaccine-preventable diseases, aside from the flu, but according to the CDC, in 2014, there were three deaths in Michigan caused by vaccines. Spaak believes that number is low.
"There is no way every vaccine-injured person has been recorded," Spaak said.
But health experts say the benefits continue to outweigh the risks and worry without vaccines, we'd have widespread disease and say vaccinations are a social responsibility because those with weaker immune systems can't be vaccinated.
"The worst repercussion of not getting vaccines is death," Dr. McGee said. "These are diseases that are preventable that cause death in some children."
But Spaak and Dr. Sampedro stand by their decision, saying they will not be consumed by fear.
"Part of the issue with vaccines is that whole system medical system is fear based so they put fear into people to do it if you don't vaccinate you will get this you will do this you will die from this and while true, in some cases, I believe that if we improve our system naturally we can avoid all that," Sampedro said.
"This is not an ethical issue for me, it's not a moral right or wrong it's a have you done the research you need to do for your family and make the right decision for you and your kids," Spaak said.
Another debate, the fear vaccinations could cause autism in children. Doctors have dismissed that theory. Dr. McGee did address that and said: "there is no proof vaccines are linked to autism in any way."