Vaccinations. It is fitting that in the weeks that I decide to start a blog, vaccines are on the front page, above the fold. While I normally try to stay below the fold, I know it would be cowardly of me not to address this topic right now. Let’s start at my beginning: in fifth grade I did a book report on Edward Jenner and was fascinated by the theory behind immunization. I thought it was genius, it worked beautifully, and I was a firm believer from the age of 10! I was in 5th grade in 1986, and I was completely immunized from 7 different diseases having had a total of 10 injections by the age of 5. A lot has changed in 30 years. By the time a child is 5, if he or she has kept with the recommended schedule of immunizations, they will have been immunized from twice the amount of diseases with potentially (depending on combination immunizations) more than 30 injections.
I’d like us all to take a big deep breath when talking about and thinking about immunizations. Thankfully, we do not live in George Orwell’s 1984. We need to see this from all perspectives, not just our own. I do not believe that we as a people should impose our medical views on one another, nor do I think that today’s “view” on medicine and vaccination is necessarily the best. The current immunization schedule is very intense and often times in medicine we do not see the true ramifications of our actions until later. The first few years of any medication or immunization is a testing ground. The 1990’s release of the rotavirus vaccine is one example and thalidomide is another. I could post many more.
Having worked in allopathic (traditional) medicine for many years, I gave immunizations to many 2 month old infants as a medical assistant. I ordered immunizations as a Physician Assistant. In college, I worked for a chiropractor who told me he didn’t believe in immunizations (and at the time I thought back to my Edward Jenner book report and thought he was a nutcase). Dr. A.J. Rice MD, who was my longtime mentor and the MD that I worked with the closest was not against immunizations, but he thought they should be delayed and he thought that a lot of them were not necessary. He did not discourage parents from immunizing if that is what they wanted, but he would never force or even strongly suggest that parents immunize on the recommended schedule. Dr. Rice was allopathically trained, but found his way to homeopathy for a multitude of reasons.
In my short career in the world of medicine (just over 10 years as a provider) I have seen an interesting vaccine effect from the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine. Back in ’86 there was no vaccine for chicken pox and we (mostly) all had the chicken pox. From the CDC, there were approximately 100-150 deaths from chicken pox each year from an average of 4 million cases of the disease. In 1995 the chicken pox vaccine came into use. By the time I started practicing as a physician assistant in 2003, I NEVER saw chicken pox. What I did begin to see was younger and younger people with herpes zoster (or shingles), which is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus. We had been taught, and it was generally understood that shingles was a disease of the elderly population, so why was I finding it in someone as young as 12?
Granted, this is clinical observation from ONE person in ONE little town in California, but it made sense to me when I thought about immune response. When we weren’t immunizing our children from chicken pox, adults were regularly being exposed to the disease in its natural airborne form by the child coming down with it in the grocery cart ahead of you, or the grandchild visiting for Christmas. Our adult immune systems were being reminded of that disease (a natural booster shot if you will). Generally speaking shingles is a more miserable disease than chicken pox, though both can be debilitating especially depending on how old you are when you get it and to what degree. The worst effect of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia which is a searing burning nerve pain which I have seen last as long as 6 months. I’ll take chicken pox. Our response to the increase in shingles is, you guessed it, another vaccination. The shingles vaccine was released in 2006, about ten years after the chicken pox vaccine.
I like the big picture. I like to step back when it comes to all things and ask, does that make sense? Our bodies were made to heal themselves. Why is it that when 10 people are exposed to a cold or flu only 3 of them come down with it? Newborns get antibodies from their mothers milk for a reason, when they are done nursing they have made enough of their own. Does it make sense to inject 8 diseases into a 2 month old infant? Vaccine supporters will make lovely graphs of the plummet of the disease after the release of the vaccine, but if you are really interested, dig a bit deeper and look at the graphs of the natural progressions of diseases. When we are talking public health and the best decisions for all, finances need to be taken in to consideration as well.
When you look at 150 deaths out of 4 million cases annually versus the cost of manufacturing, distributing, and administering several doses of a vaccine to the entire population and an additional vaccine to those 60 and older, I have to wonder if that is cost effective or just making a lot of money for the company that makes the vaccine and those downstream of it. I haven’t even touched on the potential adverse effects of the vaccines themselves or the psychological stresses on the parent and child from the injection, nor have I compared immunization schedules in other developed countries to ours (take a look).
You would think that I would have a hard opinion on vaccines and I would either be strongly for or strongly against them, but I fall somewhere in the middle. I skipped some immunizations with my kids and I delayed the schedule, but they will be mostly immunized. I feel very strongly that what we feed our children, how much they exercise, and how much they sleep is more important for their health than whether or not they are immunized. I understand that children being at risk for disease can put others who are immune compromised at risk, and I hear the parents on that side, however I truly believe that each parent should have the right to chose what to do with their child and it is fair and valid to question the motives behind the current immunization schedule.
In the homeopathy world there is a movement called homeoprophylaxis. I have seen several presentations by Kate Birch and it is very interesting to me. I feel more confident that homeoprophylaxis is safe compared to vaccination, but I doubt we will see concrete evidence that it really provides immunity for many years. With parents who adamantly refuse vaccination for whatever reason, I think it is an option they should explore.
We should not live in fear of disease or in fear of vaccines, but lay the groundwork for the best health we can have with the basics of healthy food and plenty of sleep and exercise. All in all, until we are putting breathalyzers on the ignition to all cars and forcing birth control on any woman who turns up positive on a drug screen, we are living in a country that allows us choices. We should all try to see things from our neighbors’ point of view and respect one another enough to be open and aware of the fact that we don’t always know what’s best for everyone, let alone someone else’s child. Vaccines have really only been in widespread use since the 1970’s and since then the number recommended has tripled. We should tread lightly on our immune systems and consider the concept that sometimes more is not always better.
-Torey Ivanic MS, CHom