Q&A with Dr. Debra Sowell about vaccines

Published: Mar. 21, 2019 at 4:18 PM CDT
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From Facebook announcing it will hide groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations, to recent outbreaks of diseases like measles, there have been several questions about vaccines lately.

Debra Sowell, M.D. has been a pediatrician for more than 30 years and is the Chief of Pediatrics at Graves Gilbert Clinic in Bowling Green.

She says from her time in the office and the studies that have been released, she's developed strong opinions about the importance vaccines.

"Vaccines save lives. Vaccines have come a long way. Vaccines that used to have bad side effects so to speak have been refined and we don't see as many issues at all," said Dr. Sowell.

"People are concerned about the vaccines of course and sometimes it's related to misinformation that they've received over the internet in particular and to be honest, from anti-vaccine groups," she added.

On Tuesday, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is cited in a radio interview saying that he exposed all of his children to chickenpox so they would catch the disease and become immune, but that's a tactic Dr. Sowell says she wouldn't recommend.

"Recently of course there's been concern about the chickenpox vaccine, that there's no reason to really get the vaccine. Most of these illness, yes, I survived it when I was five or six-years-old at the time, but there are complications associated. In particular there are complications with chickenpox and people who are immunosuppressed," she explained.

Dr. Sowell says some parents will come in with concerns about vaccines. A common question is, 'Do you think they cause autism?'

"I do not think that vaccines cause autism and more importantly, the studies show it's not related," said Dr. Sowell.

She went on to say, "In fact, there's been another huge study in California with 30,000 kids with the Kaiser Permanente group and kids who had not had the MMR (vaccine) were more likely to have autism than the kids who had. So I think that that's pretty much put that to rest but we still have parents concerned about it."

And every year, there are questions about the flu shot.

"Flu vaccines do not give people the flu," said Dr. Sowell.

"Yes, there are always people that say, 'The one time I got a flu shot, then I got the flu.' Well, first of all that means you've been exposed to the flu probably a few days before that, before you got the vaccine, but there's absolutely no risk of that," she said.

Dr. Sowell says although she encourages vaccines, she doesn't eliminate all non-vaxers from her practice.

"I don't think that that's fair to the children. I think the children still need to be seen for their well visits and stuff. What we do is we have them come in at a separate time, we don't allow them to use the elevator so that they're exposed to any other patients here, they use the stairwell. Because it's not the child's fault that the parents have made that decision for them," said Dr. Sowell.

And over the years she says she's seen tremendous progress with vaccines.

"One of the most important things was in 1987 when we came out with the hemolysis influenza vaccine. That winter before, I'd had 17 cases of H flu meningitis here in Bowling Green in my practice and since that time, since the vaccine came out, I've had one case and that's just amazing," said Dr. Sowell.

She says when it comes to not getting vaccinated, exposure to immunosuppressed people a a major concern.