Therefore it seems timely to share a piece I wrote about this subject last fall as a handout for a public talk I gave on vaccination:
Few subjects in medicine are as controversial as vaccination. Both sides of the debate are passionate. Most vaccination advocates sincerely believe that vaccinations are safe and effective and save lives; they believe that those who do not vaccinate their children are foolishly endangering them, not only risking their lives but endangering others in the community as well. Vaccination opponents sincerely believe that vaccines are neither safe nor effective and have a significant potential of causing serious irreversible harm. Neither side is easily persuaded by the opposing side’s arguments. One would hope that science would provide the information necessary to settle this disagreement, but, unfortunately, the type of research that could best answer this question (long-term prospective studies evaluating the health of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children) has not been done. Each vaccine has its own set of risks and benefits, so the rational approach is to evaluate each individual vaccine with regards to risks and benefits. However, the full extent of the risks and benefits are not fully known. Those favoring a vaccine will tend to emphasize the benefits and minimize the risks, while opponents tend to minimize the benefits while emphasizing the risks. Intelligent people may disagree. Because this issue is far from black and white, I advise my patients to read both sides of the debate and make their own decisions. However, there is one vaccine that I strongly recommend against, which is the Hepatitis B vaccine for newborns. Newborns have virtually no risk of getting Hepatitis B and this vaccine has many serious adverse reactions. In a 1993 survey 87% of pediatricians and family practitioners felt this vaccine was unnecessary in newborns. I also have strong concerns about the safety of the HPV vaccine and about immunizing children for influenza. The polio vaccine no longer seems necessary, the chickenpox vaccine seems like a bad idea and there are significant questions about the safety of the MMR vaccine.
I will briefly summarize the main arguments pro and con vaccines: Vaccine advocates believe vaccinations are largely responsible for the tremendous decline of serious childhood infectious diseases such as smallpox and polio. Critics note that nearly 90% of the decline in childhood mortality from infectious disease occurred before 1940, before most current vaccines were available or widely used. This decline was primarily due to improved sanitation, hygiene and other public health measures. Vaccine advocates feel vaccines are effective in preventing disease. Critics point out that an overwhelming majority of those who have been infected with measles, mumps and pertussis in recent years were vaccinated. Mortality from influenza is just as high in years when the influenza vaccine is a perfect fit for the circulating strains as in the years when influenza vaccine does not at all match the circulating strains and is thus worthless, suggesting that influenza vaccine does not save lives. Vaccine advocates claim that vaccines are largely safe, with most adverse effects being mild and serious adverse effects rare. Critics point out that vaccines have been linked with anaphylaxis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, polyneuropathy, thrombocytopenia, encephalopathy and death. These are acute reactions known to occur within hours or days of vaccination. There is concern that vaccines may commonly cause more insidious long-term reactions that do not manifest immediately, like allergies, asthma, autism, arthritis, colitis, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases and may also cause cancer many years later. A study published in 2000 involving 14,000 children found those who had received the DPT or tetanus vaccine were twice as likely to develop asthma and 63% more likely to have other allergy symptoms than unvaccinated children.
Concerns about vaccine safety can be summarized as follows: 1) the toxicity of additives, preservatives and adjuvants including mercury (as thimerosal), aluminum and formaldehyde 2) the effects of vaccines on immune function. Natural immunity after infection is much more complex than the type of immunity conferred by vaccines. This is why many people will get infections they have been vaccinated against. Many vaccines have been shown to at least temporarily suppress immune function and some have been shown to trigger autoimmune disease. Giving vaccines by injection is an unnatural process that the immune system has not evolved to handle. 3) the unknown effects of giving multiple vaccines, often at the same time, and starting as early as the first day of life, when the immune system is still largely undeveloped. Even many vaccine advocates believe it is wiser to start vaccines when the child is older and to not give so many at once. Current CDC recommendations call for children to receive 33 vaccinations for 14 diseases in the first 18 months of life.
4) the hazards of waning immunity. Chickenpox is fatal in 1 out of 100,000 children, but 31 of 100,000 adults. A child who gets chickenpox is immune for life, whereas those who are vaccinated have imperfect short-lasting immunity (18-34% still get chickenpox 5-10 years after vaccination) and will be more prone to becoming infected later in life. This is one of many such examples, with other illnesses such as mumps also much more serious in older people.
5) the hazards of live virus vaccines. Vaccines such as measles, mumps and rubella use weakened live viruses that may create chronic low-grade infections and have been associated with increased risk of autoimmune diseases. According to a 1995 study, those who received measles vaccine were 2.5 times more likely to develop ulcerative colitis and 3 times more likely to develop Crohn’s disease than unvaccinated controls. 6) the contamination of vaccines with live viruses, prions and oncogenes. Vaccines are manufactured by culturing bacteria and viruses in live tissues, such as chicken eggs, cow serum and monkey kidneys. Many vaccines have been shown to be contaminated with live viruses including retroviruses and fragments of DNA from host cells and viruses. Polio vaccine was contaminated with the SV40 virus between 1955-1963, when 100 million Americans were vaccinated. This virus is known to cause cancer in animals and has integrated into the genetic code of those vaccinated. This virus is often detected in a wide variety of human cancer cells,including brain cancer, bone cancer and lymphoma.
One of the principle precepts of medical ethics is “primum non nocere,” first do no harm. No one denies that vaccines can and do cause serious harm to at least some of the recipients; what is in debate is whether this is a tiny fraction or very significant percentage. Vaccine proponents feel that this risk is counterbalanced by the benefits, but while many of the risks are well proven, the benefits are surprisingly unproven and questionable.
There are many good articles online exploring vaccine safety. Some worth looking at include:
Vaccine Safety Manual for Concerned Families and Health Practitioners,Guide to Immunization Risks and Protection by Neil Z. Miller, Russell Blaylock MD (the most comprehensive resource for the documented downsides of vaccines)
The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child By Robert W. Sears MD (a largely pro-vaccine book that does acknowledge some of the risks)