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UNPROTECTED PEOPLE: Stories of
people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases
PHYSICIAN UNDERSCORES THE IMPORTANCE OF
HEPATITIS B VACCINE
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Reprinted below is the testimony of Dr. Keith Van
Zandt, which was presented before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform
at the August 3, 1999, Congressional hearing on vaccine safety. Dr. Van
Zandt, a member of the organization PKIDs (Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases), represented his family
and all of the families at PKIDs whose children have been affected by vaccine-preventable diseases.
My name is Keith Van Zandt, and I appreciate the opportunity to address this
committee regarding hepatitis B vaccines. I have degrees from Princeton and Wake Forest
Universities, and completed residency training in family medicine here in Washington, D.C., at Andrews Air Force
Base. Today, however, I am here as a dad. I have five children, two of whom my wife Dede
and I adopted from Romania. Our youngest, Adrianna, was nearly four years old
when we adopted her from the orphanage, and was found to have chronic active hepatitis B when we performed blood
work prior to bringing her home. She had contracted this from her mother, who died when Annie was nine
months old, from the effects of her liver disease as well as tuberculosis. We
have been very fortunate to have had some excellent medical care for Annie, but her first year with
us was an endless procession of liver biopsies, blood draws, and over 150 painful interferon injections I gave to
my new daughter at home. We know first hand the pain and family disruption this completely
preventable disease can bring.
As a family doctor, I see patients every day whose lives have been significantly improved by the immunizations we
now have available. My forebears in family medicine struggled in the pre-vaccination era with the
ravages of horrible diseases that are now of only historical interest. Preventive
immunizations have so changed our world that I am afraid that we no longer remember how horrible some of
these diseases were. I am certainly aware of the potential for adverse reactions to these vaccines, but we must
maintain the perspective that these reactions are extremely rare. My partners and I in
Winston-Salem care for over 40,000 patients, and I can honestly say that in over 20
years of practice we have never seen a serious adverse reaction to any vaccine. I believe that the vast majority
of family physicians around the country can say the same. Certainly, I do not wish to minimize the suffering
and losses of families who have experienced these problems, but we must remember that immunizations remain the most
powerful and cost effective means of preventing disease in the modern era.
Personally, it still sickens me to know that the disease my daughter has was
completely preventable if hepatitis B vaccine had been available to Annie and
her mother. I know first hand the gut-wrenching feeling of being told that your
child has a chronic disease that could shorten their life. I know first hand the
worry parents feel when their hepatitis B child falls on the playground, and
you don't know if her bleeding knee will infect her playmates or teachers. I
know first hand the concern for my other children's health, and the thankfulness I feel that they
have had the availability of successful vaccines. I know first hand the pain a parent feels for their child as they
undergo painful shots and procedures for their chronic disease.
I am not the world's leading expert on hepatitis B or the hepatitis B vaccine,
but I am an expert on delivering the best medical care I can to my patients in
Winston-Salem, NC. I am also not the world's leading expert on parenting children with chronic diseases, but I am the world's best
expert on parenting my five children. I know professionally that immunizations in general have
hugely improved the lives of those patients who have entrusted their medical
care to me. I know personally that had the hepatitis B vaccine been available
to my daughter, her life and mine would have been drastically different. I am
also thankful that my other children have been spared Annie's suffering by being successfully vaccinated.
Thank you very much for your time.
Keith Van Zandt, MD
ABOUT THE "UNPROTECTED PEOPLE" SERIES:
The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) has published this story for the purpose of making it available for our
readers' review. We have not verified the story's content, for which the author is solely responsible. The views
reflected in this story are the writer's and do not necessarily reflect the position of IAC.
To read "Unprotected People" stories that were previously
published in "IAC EXPRESS" visit: http://www.immunize.org/stories/
DO YOU KNOW OF STORIES THAT CAN HELP SAVE LIVES?
IAC is collecting stories of people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases. Please let us know
if you have personal stories, or if you know of stories that have appeared in the media, that describe the
suffering that occurred because someone wasn't immunized. In addition, we are also collecting case reports to help us
illustrate the morbidity and mortality caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.
If you have stories or case reports that can help save lives, e-mail them to:
firstname.lastname@example.org or fax them to