The stakes are high – your health or your child’s health, everyone’s health. From many groups, we increasingly hear competing, confusing, unsettling, even frightening assertions: Vaccines contain toxic compounds like mercury (recently removed in most, though trace amounts still remain), phenol, acetone, alum, and formaldehyde. They damage the delicate immune system of the newborn leading to a host of problems like autism and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Many health professionals have concluded that their use is based on inconclusive science and questionable epidemiology. However, the government and most doctors urge people to get vaccines. Why is that?
The push for more vaccinations is – according to many – driven by commercial interests in the pharmaceutical and medical industries, and even convenience factors which are more concerned with minimizing sick leave for parents rather than holding children’s long term health in the highest regard.
Some suggest that vaccinations should be considered individually, rather than adopting a blanket stance. Others such as Richard Moskowitz, M.D., having devoted years of their lives to studying this issue, have deep reservations towards this medical practice in general.
On the other side, groups such as the American Pediatrics Association and the Centers for Disease Control adamantly maintain that by not vaccinating yourself or your child child, he or she risks dangerous and life threatening disease. They further assert that even if your child does not contract pertussis, polio, measles, etc., this is due to the fact that most people in the United States are immunized. In other words, they assert that the “herd immunity effect” makes it possible for some individuals to skip the vaccination process, taking advantage of the social conscience and personal sacrifice of other families.
Some of the more controversial vaccinations are pertussis – potentially severe side effects; HBV (heptatitis B) – side effects and of dubious necessity for an infant; MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) – side effects, rarely causes severe childhood disease today, vaccine has questionable effectiveness; polio – side effects, wild virus eliminated from Western hemisphere.
And there are many possible middle roads: for example, choosing to selectively vaccinate your child, and waiting until your infant is at least six months old to begin.
Definitions. Immunization vs. Vaccination.
Immunization is defined as a process of conferring immunity, and the public health authorities, by using this term imply that injecting antigens and other material (a vaccine) via a hypodermic needle, directly into the deepest layer of the body’s immune system – the blood stream – accomplishes this goal. However, the scientific literature does not unmistakably bear out this assumption, and an injection of antigens via a hypodermic needle is more accurately termed “vaccination”.
The degree of immunity one obtains from a vaccine is a controversial topic clouded by conflicting data and different theories regarding the need for repeated booster shots. (Editor note: The current January 2013 flu vaccine is only deemed to be about 62% effective according to the CDC – source Reuters)
On the other hand, acquiring diseases naturally in childhood almost always confers lifelong immunity, which in the case of females, is then available for the next generation of infants via the maternal antibodies in breast milk. There is great concern by proponents of natural health that by attempting to circumvent the normal process of gaining immunity naturally through childhood illness, over time we are weakening the genetic viability of our immune system as a species. In many ways, this bypassing of nature is similar to Big Agriculture’s introduction of seeds treated with genetically modified organism (GMO’s), claiming they increase food yields (not true) and cynically using patent laws to profit, and attempting to gain complete control of the seed supply. The profit motive run amok.
Western medicine excels at keeping people alive. We can keep someone alive even when the brain has stopped functioning. How many of the elderly who are statistically recorded as having died from influenza (flu), would have died anyways from other concurrent disease? Notwithstanding the horrible genocidal eugenics practices that some nations, including our own, have employed, what is the social health cost when the medical industry so manipulates our biochemical functioning via vaccination? And can a comprehensive assessment of this cost ever truly be made? Are the epidemiologists who make these determinations truly neutral, or does the huge influence of the pharmaceutical corporations shape the conclusions these people make?
I don’t think we can ever know what the sum total effects of vaccination use are and in the end, we all need to either make our own decision, or let someone else make it for us. As difficult as this may seem, it is both possible and appropriate to take charge of this decision and conduct your own investigation into the pros and cons of vaccination. As the average person attempts to unpack these diverse claims in an understandable way, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by medical terminology and a sea of statistics whipped up in a typhoon of competing claims.
This article can only present the briefest of summaries on such a complex topic. For parents wishing to take full responsibility for this decision, I refer you to the list of resources at the end. In addition to making your own investigation, I do suggest that you discuss this issue with your primary health care provider. As a parent, it may be difficult to find a pediatrician who has actually examined the research in depth. Given the time constraints of health care in the era of managed care, it is quite possible they have just accepted the general (pro-vaccination) recommendations. One doctor told me this is likely to be the case.
If you make a decision that your pediatrician or nurse practitioner seems reluctant to support, you may be better off finding another practitioner who can support you. During an emergency, you and your child will need it. If you choose not to vaccinate, you will be acting in a manner that is inconsistent with general societal standards. You need to be firm in your convictions and prepared to explain them to others, demonstrating the knowledge and thoughtfulness that motivated your decision.
Be knowledgeable of the risks of various childhood diseases and other non-pharmaceutical options for treatment (e.g. rest and self care, acupuncture and homeopathy). If you choose to vaccinate, learn how best to prepare your child, how to detect adverse reactions and what to do when they occur. Ask to see the vial containing the vaccine to insure there is no obvious mistake before the shot is given. Record the batch number and manufacturer of each vaccine, and be ready to contact the National Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
The following contraindications to vaccination are often mentioned: a history of convulsions, twitching, insomnia, teething, family history of epilepsy, weak immune system with recurrent coughs and colds, child has already had the disease, hyperactivity. If an allergy to egg is present, one should check whether the particular vaccine is made from egg protein. Assuming that a busy medical doctor will rule these out could prove to be a fatal oversight.
Medicine and science in the modern age. I was too young to ever see the an iron lung – an artificial breathing machine that assisted individuals paralyzed by polio. Smallpox was eliminated from the world by 1979 according to the WHO. Though some dispute even this, most agree that scientific knowledge has undeniably made great leaps forward, helping greatly to alleviate suffering on the planet. However, it is not a system of knowledge free from error, and biases in research are an ever present concern.
Vaccines are now a thirty four billion dollar a year industry in 2012 (editor – this is a doubling since 2008), and revenues continue to soar. Source: The Pharma Letter. Another industry publication “vaccine-nation” (the title speaks volumes about the disconnect between for profit health care corporations and public health) mentions $100 billion by 2050. Too often it seems, the corporate money behind today’s research, at best leads to a loss of objectivity. At worst, it perpetuates suffering by manufacturing misinformation, and relegates viable alternative solutions to the fringe.
Furthermore, scientific research has never been able to accurately account for a very elusive variable, the human mind. Leaving aside this major shortcoming, do epidemiological statistics account for variances such as genetics, nutrition, environmental toxins, or other lifestyle factors? Such statistics are mainly gathered through voluntary case reporting of physicians which are widely thought to grossly under-represent the actual incidence of adverse responses to vaccination, besides giving little information on individual differences.
Children and people are viewed as the same from a western disease point of view, and so the standard reasoning goes, the drugs created to fight bacteria and viruses should also be uniform. But do scientific discoveries and advances in medicine remain consistent over time? Our unexamined cultural tendency is to see phenomena as existing in a solid, objective and permanent manner.
Chinese medicine does not deny the existence of viruses, but places health in a much wider context which includes variables such as genetics, lifestyle, nutrition, environmental influences, emotions, etc. Why do some children get sick even when they have been immunized for a particular disease? And why are other children quite healthy without immunizations?
These variances do not fit with our western reductionist tendencies which like to place people and diseases into neat little cubby holes instead of grappling with their infinite diversity. Science depends upon controls – hence the importance of controlled studies with double blind design to minimize the potential biases of participants and researchers. Such rigorous research is both expensive and faces difficult design problems in revealing the complex and constantly changing dynamics of living organisms. Within these limitations, good studies are possible. The problem is that so far government and industry has not shown much resolve in funding them. There are many studies claiming to prove the desired status quo, but the scientific community as a whole is not of one unanimous opinion.
Is Pasteur’s germ theory valid? As an acupuncturist without extensive training in infectious disease and virology, I can only offer my unproven doubts. Eastern medicine utilizes a different paradigm and has worked well for thousands of years for a vast portion of humanity.
Good medicine today uses all knowledge traditions as appropriate for the predisposition of the individual, respecting both the unique contexts and historical frameworks of the medicine, and the cultural predispositions of individuals. We are fortunate to live in a country which recognizes and upholds the value of such diversity and openness in today’s health care.
Do vaccinations do what they are purported to do – confer immunity? People in the pro-vaccination camp, namely public health officials and medical doctors answer almost unanimously – yes, though there does seem to be growing dissent. Some doctors suspect that the net effect of vaccination may be an immunized population protected from acute and virulent infection, but prone to chronic low level infection. In short, the immune system may be compromised in the long term. The growth in a long list of health disorders which have exploded mainly since the mass vaccination era – autism, AIDS, ADD (attention deficit disorder), diabetes, fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome – to name a few, highlights this concern.
This question simply has not been answered with any degree of certainty, and it seems likely that many factors may be involved – for example, environmental toxins in air, soil, water, and food, and increasing levels of mental stress in modern life.
Redommended Books and Online Links
O’Mara, P., ed. “Vaccination, the Issue of our Times”. Santa Fe, NM: Mothering Magazine, 1997.
Scott, Julian, Dr.; “Natural Medicine for Children”, William Morrow & Co; 1990.
Barbara Loe Fischer of NVIC: Swine Flu Mild & Vaccine Overhyped (2009). One billion dollar giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry!
Integrity in Science: Searchable database detailing the extensive monetary ties between non-profits and industry.
National Vaccine Information Center
Joseph Mercola: 20 Times The Risk of Autism When You Make This Choice.
*Seattle King County Public Health Department: The official local government position on influenza.
National Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
Washington State Department of Health Certificate of Exemption (multiple languages .pdf download). You have the legal right to choose not to vaccinate your child in Washington state. You only need to sign the exemption on page two of the Immunization Certificate. During an outbreak of disease, your child may be asked to stay home from school.
This article first appeared in the Evergreen Monthly, published in Seattle, Washington, January 2003. Revised Oct. 2009.
Jordan Van Voast, L.Ac.©