Anti-vaccine mom changes stance after kids become severely ill

CHICAGO -- A Chicago-area mother who used to be against childhood vaccines had a change of heart following a real-life scare.

Kristen O'Meara wanted all parents to hear her story. She never had her three daughters vaccinated for fear of side effects. But after they all became so sick they might die, O'Meara said she knew what she had to do.

"I put my kids at risk. I wish that I had taken more time to research from both sides before my children were born," O'Meara said.

O'Meara, a teacher living outside of Chicago, said she was a big believer in anti-vaccination research.

"I scoured everything I could possibly find about why vaccines might be harmful. I became pretty convinced," O'Meara said.

She chose not to vaccinate her children. But then her 5-year-old and 3-year-old twins were stricken with a case of rotavirus. Kristen and her husband also got very sick. She was suddenly living with the scary repercussion of her choice.

"It was awful and it didn't have to happen because I could have had them vaccinated. I felt guilty. I felt really guilty," O'Meara said.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vaccinations for practically every child, the group said the number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children may be on the rise. In 2013, 87 percent of pediatricians surveyed had encountered parents who refused a vaccine, up from 75 percent in 2006.

The most common reasons for refusing to vaccinate? Some parents cited they believed vaccinations were unnecessary and they had concerns about autism - a link which has been repeatedly disproven.

O'Meara's children are now fully up to date on their vaccinations after an aggressive catch-up regimen. She encourages others to vaccinate their kids too.

"I'm here because I wanted to share my personal story. If it does help someone change their mind, then that's great," O'Meara said.

Doctors said the beginning of the school year is a good time for parents to check their children's vaccination records.
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