When I recently came across an article listing 8 reasons the author had not vaccinated his daughter, it reminded me of my own search to find good information about vaccines when my first daughter was born. Years later, I fully understand how and why vaccines are safe, effective ways to protect children from many diseases. In this post, I respond to each of the points made in that misinformative article.
To vaccinate or not. That is the question.
Before I had my first daughter I was a vaccine “fence-sitter.” When I first came across pro- or anti-vaccine articles on social media and blogs, I was truly looking for information.
I questioned why the hepatitis B shot had to be given at birth and wondered why there were so many shots on the schedule. I was perplexed why whooping cough is so prevalent even though babies receive several shots in the vaccine series that are supposed to protect against it. I questioned why I still needed to vaccinate for many other diseases that didn’t seem to be around much anymore. I got called a concern troll and was attacked on “pro-vax” pages for admitting I’d used complementary medicine. Then I got called an uneducated “sheeple” and Big Pharma Shill on the “anti-vax” sites. I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.
I was stunned by the passionate and rapid-fire judgmental comments from both camps and initially retreated from conversation as I became further alienated by both sides.
I realized it was my choice to take it to heart or continue to ask questions and learn. I realized that I couldn’t expect others to automatically know my intentions, so I decided to put on my objective glasses, see beyond the language and emotion and take on board the facts. Here’s what I have learned.
1 A. The risk of adverse events from vaccines are greatly outweighed by the risks of adverse events from the diseases. If you think it’s the other way round, either:
• you’ve failed at risk/benefit analysis
• you don’t know what these diseases are capable of, or
• you are getting your information from dubious sources.
Hands down, the risks are greater with not vaccinating. Gaining ‘natural immunity’ means putting your child through unnecessary suffering and risk of a severe or even fatal outcome. You simply cannot obtain specific immunity to vaccine preventable diseases safely through any other method than vaccination. Natural births, exclusive breastfeeding, chiropractic visits and a well-nourished, healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle will not build specific antibodies to the diseases as vaccination can. Healthy, robust children get sick and die from these diseases. Ask any pediatric ICU doctor. We don’t vaccinate for trivial reasons.
For example, chickenpox is often thought of as a mild disease, even a ‘rite of passage’ in childhood, but it can actually be fatal. I’ve had chickenpox myself, and I was fine. The risk of dying from chickenpox is low, but the risk of severe effects from the chickenpox vaccine is magnitudes lower.
As I did, you may wonder why we need to keep vaccinating children against diseases like polio and diphtheria, which are rare in developed countries. It’s because many diseases we vaccinate against are still common in other areas of the world and can easily be spread by travellers. There have been recent outbreaks in developed countries – including the US – of whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella. Diphtheria and tetanus are rare (thanks to vaccination) but they still occur and when they do, can be deadly or devastating. These diseases still exist, and without vaccines, they could re-emerge. With every disease on the immunization schedule, the risks from the disease outweigh the risks from the vaccine in gargantuan proportions.
1B. Your sources are key. A decision made from Natural News articles and other pseudo-medical blogs will be poorly informed because the science is dubious and the information is cherry picked, misconstrued or downright wrong.
Every health organization of every country around the world is supportive of vaccination. And so is the overwhelming majority of the medical profession. You can trust information from legitimate medical sites and government health agencies because they are evidence-based.
And please don’t claim that “Big Pharma” are behind every study and every decision these organizations make.
Look up research in the PubMed library, where you will find scientific studies from all over the world from independent scientists, universities and other organizations with zero financial interest in pharmaceutical companies. If you exclude the pharmaceutical company-funded studies, the medical and scientific consensus still concludes that vaccinating is the safer choice over not vaccinating.
1C. Vaccine critics may worry about the long-term effects of being injected with multiple vaccines. Do they build up to toxic levels? Do they lead to chronic disorders?
No. Here’s what happens when you’re vaccinated. You get injected with antigens (bits of the original disease that have been inactivated, killed or weakened) that stimulate your body to make specific antibodies (disease-fighting immune cells) to fight this disease. Developing a good level of immunity from a vaccine can take anywhere from a couple of weeks (the flu shot) to a couple of months (DTaP given at 2, 4 and 6 months). Once antibodies are made, the body disposes of the antigens.
Vaccines also contain inactive ingredients (the excipients), such as aluminum salts, formaldehyde and trace antibiotics. These don’t stay in the body long enough to build up and create long-term health effects. They leave your body within days or weeks. The excipients found in vaccines are also found in things we consume or are in our environment. When spaced out over months on the vaccination schedule, the amounts are diminishingly small compared to what we shovel into our mouths several times a day. And please don’t worry that ingestion differs from injection. We’re talking about infintisimally small amounts here and the calculations for safety limits on injected substances are already factored in. The only long-term effect from vaccines is the immunity to the disease our children develop from them.
There is nothing to suggest a “synergistic toxicity” either. The ingredients can’t build up and cause “multiplied” harm because we are talking about tiny, miniscule amounts of ingredients and many of them are inert. And again, they exit the body.
Critics might also point out that “artificial” stimulation of the immune system could lead to chronic disorders such as asthma, allergies, diabetes and autoimmune disease. But there is no evidence of this.
Children who receive vaccines on time do not have different neuropsychological outcomes to those who are unvaccinated or on a delayed schedule.
The incidence of allergies and chronic diseases in vaccinated versus unvaccinated children is the same.
1D. Side effects are real, but extremely rare. There is no evidence to suggest serious side effects are under-reported.
Conversely, there is evidence that serious adverse events are over-reported. Minimal side effects, such as swelling and a sore arm, do tend to be under-reported. Yet, most adverse events tend to be over-reported because of the perception that they are caused by the vaccine when the adverse event’s appearance is really just coincidental timing with the administration of the vaccines. For example, there are adverse reports in the US VAERS database which list motor vehicle accidents, accidental drownings, drug overdoses, suicides and teenage pregnancies as adverse events. Each of those is clearly an unfortunate incident that occurred around the same time as vaccination but could not have been caused by vaccines. Similarly, reports such as ovarian failure, autism and multiple sclerosis are not caused by vaccines because each has been studied and found through the scientific method not to be linked to vaccines. Some people might think they got the flu from the flu shot because it developed later on that same day. But the timing of the incubation period makes that implausible. And so on.
When side effects are reported to VAERS, experts evaluate them and many are found to not be causally related. For example, this study shows only 3% of adverse events reported to VAERS were determined to definitely have been caused by immunization. Further, those 3% and the 40% determined to be “probably” or “possibly” related to a vaccine “were dominated by local reactions, allergic reactions, or symptoms known to be associated with the vaccine administered.” In other words, they were the minor adverse events that we already know about and are provided on VIS sheets.
Severe adverse events from vaccines occur less than 1% of the time. We know this from clinical trials, post marketing surveillance and clinical evaluation or reports.
2. It is very unlikely a vaccinated child will contract the disease. If they are unlucky enough to do so, the disease will, with minimal exceptions, be very mild.
With some vaccines, such as the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), it’s extremely unlikely for a vaccinated person to catch the disease. With pertussis and flu vaccines, it is more likely that a person might catch the disease, but the course of the disease will not be as severe as if the person were unvaccinated. That this can occur has more to do with the kinds of vaccines and the nature of the organisms than vaccine failure.
3. You should not automatically dismiss vaccines because you don’t trust drug companies. Pharmaceutical companies’ vaccine manufacturing processes are heavily regulated and stringently tested. To reject vaccines on the basis that Big Pharma needs to make a profit is folly. All businesses need to make a profit, and yes, Big Pharma is heavily invested in the health sector.
However, profits from vaccines are not huge as with other drugs, such as statins, cholesterol or even Viagra. Yes, Vioxx took a long while to recall, but the system has many checks and balances in place in order to work. And work it did. And few pharmaceutical products have the broad evidence base that vaccines have, both in how long they’ve been studied and in how many different countries, institutions and foundations have studied them.
Vaccines have been around for more than a century. Yes, there may be corruption and greed within big corporations – but why is Pharma any different from any other big company? Do you distrust people who manufacture your baby’s car seats, food and clothing as well because they need to make a profit?
4. In the US, you can sue anybody, including the doctor, the nurse or the drug company, if there has been a breach of protocol. You can also seek compensation through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) if you experience a serious side effect.
In the US, you can seek compensation through a specific program called NVICP if you suspect an adverse reaction from a vaccine. You actually can sue the vaccine manufacturer through the civil court system for liability claims to do with manufacturing defects, such as a vaccine which is improperly made, or for warning defects, such as a vaccine which was incorrectly labeled.
In other countries, you can sue for vaccine injuries through the civil system. The US is lucky to have a specific system in place which actually tries to make it easier on people in the unlikely event they have an adverse reaction.
5. We know enough about the human microbiome to understand that it is implausible to be permanently affected by vaccines; actually the microbiome is probably not affected by vaccines at all.
The microbiota inside the walls of my gut is a separate and unique environment from what is within others’ guts, established from birth and genetic influences. It can be affected by things I consume. Vaccines, which are injected into muscle? Not so much.
The microbiota in my gut form part of my gut immune system, the mucosal immunity which makes IgA antibodies. Vaccines are injected into muscle, stimulating local immune cells to make IgM and IgG antibodies. This is occurring well away from your gut biota.
It is possible that a vaccine taken orally, such as the oral polio vaccine or rotavirus vaccine, may have a temporary effect on gut biota. But there’s no evidence these changes are significant, let alone permanent. Taking antibiotics is something that can change a person’s biota, yet even those courses do not have the power to make permanent, irrevocable changes. Eating a diet consisting primarily of heavily processed and readily absorbed food can adversely affect gut flora.
Research from Stanford University shows that we can develop immunity to microbes we’ve never encountered through exposure to gut pathogens. These findings lend credibility to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, the idea that exposure to common, everyday germs, bugs and parasites strengthens our immune system. The study is not suggesting that we dismiss vaccines, but it’s suggesting we can make greater use of our oral immune system.
There are ways you can improve your oral immune system and develop a more diverse gut flora without probiotics or going to any great expense:
1. Avoid overuse of antibiotics (use when necessary)
2. Eat fermented foods and a wholesome, unprocessed diet with increased fiber intake
3. Get a pet
4. Relax the sanitary regime in your home by letting your children play in the dirt. Wash your hands when pathogens (eg, after visiting the toilet) or toxic chemicals (eg, after handling herbicides and pesticides) are likely to be present, but maybe not after patting the dog.
Meanwhile, injected vaccines target a completely different part of your immune system.
6. Herd immunity is a real thing. It is understood.
Herd immunity, also called community immunity, occurs when the vaccination of a large proportion of people in a community provides a chain of protection for those who cannot be vaccinated or have not developed immunity. When a certain percentage of the population has been immunized, the cycle of infection is interrupted because large numbers are immune or less susceptible to the disease and there are fewer infectious individuals. This means that any outbreak of the disease will be contained quickly. You can see a pictorial representation of herd immunity here. The CDC have even put out a chart of various herd immunity levels required for each disease (PDF, see Slide 17).
When herd immunity drops below a certain level, it fails. Vaccines aren’t 100% effective, and some aren’t as good as others. The MMR vaccine is around 99% effective at recommended doses. Pertussis vaccine is about 85% effective and flu vaccines range up to about 65% effectiveness. But vaccine effectiveness is all factored into the herd immunity percentages.
When herd immunity drops below the needed level and an infected person enters the population, disease outbreaks occur and can spread rapidly among the unvaccinated. Some who are vaccinated will get the illness as well (again, the vaccines are not 100% effective), but the incidence (the rate of infection, given in a ratio or percentage) in the unvaccinated will be far greater. For example, pertussis occurs at a rate 27 times greater in unvaccinated individuals than in vaccinated ones. Similarly, during the 2013 measles outbreak in the US, 82% were unvaccinated.
(Keep in mind: the number of vaccinated individuals who get sick in a disease outbreak may be higher than the number of unvaccinated individuals, but the percentage of vaccinated individuals who catch the disease will be lower than the percentage of unvaccinated individuals. This occurs because there is typically a far greater number of vaccinated individuals than unvaccinated individuals in a community: a small percentage of a big number (1% of 1 million people is 10,000 people) can be larger than a large percentage of a small number (25% of 1,000 people is 250 people).
Vaccinate first and foremost for your own child. And if those who can vaccinate do vaccinate, you get the bonus of herd immunity.
7. The ingredients in vaccines are not toxic in the tiny amounts they occur.
Some ingredients have scary chemical-sounding names that might concern those who don’t understand toxicology — that the dose makes the poison and it depends on the most harmful ways of exposure. For example, did you know that inhalation of formaldehyde is generally the most unsafe way for it to enter your body?
Aluminum, egg protein, antibiotics, formaldehyde, MSG and ethylmercury derived from thimerosal exist in some (but not all) vaccines in such tiny quantities that even people with allergies to these things do not usually react. (There are individuals with allergies that counter-indicate certain vaccines. These allergies are identified in the Vaccine Information Statements provided with each vaccine.) Whether a vaccine is injected or ingested does not matter when we are talking about such tiny amounts. Injection does not magnify the harm or the toxicity. The body has a way of dealing with substances that enter the skin and muscle just as it has a way of dealing with substances that enter the gut. You will consume far more of these substances in your daily diet.
8. I am a mum. Scientists can sometimes get it wrong. But so many scientists are pretty unlikely to be wrong.
The “tobacco science” analogy – that something once promoted as safe is now a lie – is a poor one. Tobacco is and always was a recreational drug. Vaccines aren’t here to help people have a good time or relax. They have a specific purpose for which they were developed and tested – to prevent diseases. And they work.
The system also works. RotaShield was recalled and examined for reported risks. Drugs are recalled for safety. Whistleblowers exist across all industries. There is also not much room for conspiracy when competitors are scrutinizing your actions. Science is a constant process of fact-checking and re-checking which involves scientists from around the world competing against one another to get the “big scoop.” They’re constantly checking out each other’s claims for accuracy and to see if they can be duplicated. Nothing should be taken at face value. But vaccine effectiveness and safety has been reliably and repeatedly replicated by scientists from all corners of the globe.
There are more shots on the schedule since than when I was a baby, this is true. But there were considerably more antigens in vaccines back then (see page 7 of this link) and more antigens means more load on the immune system. Tons more research, scientific advancement and refinements have taken place since. The fact that we now have more diseases covered for less load on the immune system should be viewed as a positive thing, not a negative.
And this why we vaccinate newborns against Hepatitis B: