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Vaccine debate continues; VAXXED film producer comes to Carolina Forest

The VAXXED bus came to Carolina Forest on September 30, 2016 to speak to the local community about vaccine awareness and education. (WPDE/Erin MacPherson)

Students in South Carolina are required to get vaccinated unless there's a medical or religious exemption. But, personal opinions about vaccinating children differ from parent to parent.

Friday, ABC 15 News talked with a handful of families who have special needs children. They said their children were fine until they were vaccinated.

They all came out to meet the producer of "Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe," Polly Tommey.

Tommey described the movie as "a documentary about fraud at the CDC from a scientist that has come out and said we knew children would be damaged by the MMR (mumps measles rubella vaccine). We knew all along. We hid the data, so we have the facts on that."

Tommey was once a firm believer in vaccines, until her now 20-year-old son had a reaction to the MMR vaccine. Her son, Billy, is severely autistic.

"For 19 years, I've been telling Billy's story. I just don't want this to happen to other people. I just want parents to know that this can happen," said Tommey.

She's traveling around the U.S., sharing her story and meeting families.

"Every single signature that you see on the bus behind me, and it goes right around the bus, is a vaccine injury or vaccine death. It's a catastrophic mess. It's heartbreaking, it's absolutely heartbreaking and you cannot deny it. This is not a coincidence. Just these 3000 signatures cannot be a coincidence," said Tommey.

Dr. Jon Pangia, director of emergency medicine at Grand Strand Medical Center, said he's talked with family members with stories similar to Tommey's.

"They make a very convincing argument that their child's autism symptoms started the day of or after getting vaccines; however, the research just doesn't support that. What may be possible is that the vaccines--who knows--could actually cause the autism that they're going to get anyway to come sooner. Nobody can say that though because there's no research on it," said Pangia.

Pangia said vaccines save lives.

"They prevent the complication. We don't see as much blindness, deafness. We don't see as much, many people who can't have children anymore because we've almost eradicated the diseases, that did that through vaccines," he said.

He said he struggled with vaccinating his children, but knew it was the right thing to do.

"In this day and age, as a parent with SIDS and the vaccine scare, you don't know what to believe. It's horrifying. It's really scary to know what the right thing is to do. I'm a physician. My wife is a nurse. We were scared. We were hesitant to get our daughter vaccinated for the first time. Since then, all four kids are vaccinated and they're doing fine," said Pangia.

He said the scare all started in the 90s.

"In 1998, an article came out that suggested there was a link between vaccine and autism," said Pangia. He said that article was "shown to be fraudulent made up." He continued, "I don’t know why the doctor did that and why they made these things up? It's not true, but it leaves us with the very big question what does cause autism? We’re not sure. And do vaccines have anything to do with it at all?"

Tommey said she's not anti-vaccine and neither is the movement. It's about being informed.

"Our passion is to give parents the informed choice. They must know the risk," she said.

Tommey is asking parents to do one thing.

"Please do the research yourself. Don't listen to the safety studies; they're flawed. They're paid for by the pharmaceutical studies. It's a conflict of interest. Take your child take yourself and do your own research" she said.

Dozens of people came out to meet Tommey on Friday.

"We drove two plus hours from Charleston because we are passionate about this message. Where there is risk, there has to be choice. I didn't fully understand the risk and allowed my child to be vaccinated with five vaccines at 18 months and now I have a permanently disabled brain-injured, vaccine-injured child that I will be taking care of for the rest of my life. So, I'm here to support this message," said Ashley Rice.

Rice said her daughter Rowan was "a normal, happy, healthy, organically-fed, water-only drinking child and she had HEP A and flu and MMR vaccines at 18 months." After those vaccines were administered, Rice said her daughter had "a complete neurological breakdown."

"Earlier that morning she was eating, walking, talking and then when she woke up in the middle of the night her brain was inflamed and she couldn’t walk or talk or look at us," Rice said.

She said her daughter now has permanent brain damage.

Alexandria Cowell is the city captain for the VAXXED bus and the movie captain for the VAXXED screenings in our area. She said parents need to know that they aren't alone and there is a choice.

"Vaccinations come with risk and where there's risk there must be choice," she said. "I think it's important all parents know all the information before they seek to inject their children with anything. With the VAXXED movement, the whole point is 'let's educate.' Let's get this message out there."

Crowell got involved in the movement when she saw VAXXED: from Cover-Up to Catastrophe, earlier this year. She said regardless of which side you stand on, you need to see the movie, look at the facts, and then come to a decision.

"We can't trust what we are blindly given anymore. We have to figure it out for ourselves," she said.

Another woman, Cheri Verdone, came to meet Tommey on Friday.

Verdone said she was given the DTaP vaccine and then became very sick.

"I developed autoimmune disease, memory lose, neurological problems. My whole life as I knew it changed. My family thought they were going to lose me," she said.

She said each day is a struggle, but she considers each one a success. She said adults can be damaged by vaccines too and wants you to fight for safe ingredients in vaccines.

For more information on VAXXED, click here.

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