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Minn. mom advocates for vaccines after losing child

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A Sleepy Eye mom has become a pro-vaccine advocate after losing her daughter to two preventable diseases.

Shannon Duffy Peterson says her daughter, five-year old Abby Peterson, died from chicken pox and pneumonia because of her pediatrician’s bad advice.

ABC News reports that when her daughter caught a severe case of chicken pox, and then pneumonia in 2001, she talked to her doctor about vaccines.

“I asked for them and my doctor talked me out of it,” Duffy Peterson told ABC News.

“He said vaccines were too new and recommended I expose my children to diseases instead because he felt they could build up their immunity naturally.”

After the autopsy, Duffy Peterson says, it was discovered that her daughter was born without a spleen, an organ that is an essential part of the immune system. This made her especially vulnerable to germs and viruses.

Now, Duffy Peterson is speaking out in favor of childhood immunization.

She says parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for fear of adverse reactions including autism are well-intentioned but irresponsible.

Duffy Peterson is lobbying state lawmakers for tougher immunization laws.

“Not vaccinating can kill your child,” she says. “No one wants to have a child die in their arms when it could have been prevented.”

Minnesota requires childhood vaccinations but the state also allows exemptions for children at certain ages, including for medical, Religious or conscientious objection.

A 2011 survey found nearly eight percent of parents refused to have their children immunized for personal, religious or medical reasons. Another 25 percent delayed their child’s vaccinations citing safety concerns.

Duffy Peterson said that she wishes she had questioned the doctor’s recommendations more forcefully.

Medical institutions and public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control, urge parents to immunize children to prevent epidemics of diseases that in the past disabled or killed many thousands of people in the U.S. decades before large scale immunization, such as polio, measles, meningitis and whooping cough, among others.

Many of these diseases continue to kill children in developing countries, and public health experts warn they could rise again in the U.S. without vaccination.

Some parents have resisted vaccination out of fear immunization could cause other disorders, like autism.

This week, a case of the mumps was confirmed at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. It is the first case in the county in seven years, the LaCrosse Tribune reports.

Test results are expected soon in the cases, says Christine Gillespie, a public health nurse with the county health department.

Two other students are also suspected of contracting the viral illness, she says.

“It’s significant in the sense that we don’t see it very often,” Gillespie said. “We hope it isn’t the tip of the iceberg.”

The malady is preventable with a vaccine called MMR that combines immunization against mumps, measles and rubella, she says.

CDC officials say American vaccines are safe and “continually monitored for safety and efficacy. As a result, the United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history.”

“From a scientific point of view this is a closed question,” Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. told ABC.

“Vaccines have virtually wiped out a number of diseases that used to plague this country –- and they do not cause autism.”

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