It has almost become a rite of passage. Whether soon after birth, on beginning school, entering college, travelling to a foreign country, or after joining the ranks of senior citizens - immunizations have become a nearly automatic procedure repeated throughout the lives of most people in the modern world. They were devised as a method to protect us from many common epidemic diseases which spread through the population, leaving its victims weakened, crippled or dead. Today, perceived as an act of commonsense, good citizenship and intelligent parenting, they are close to a mandatory exercise, demanded by medical authorities, schools and government.
But there is another side to the issue. Doubts have been raised about the long and short term effects of immunizations. Some types are being associated with the possibility of negative reactions that vary from mild fevers to chronic seizure activity to death. There have been suggestions that perhaps some may have outlived their usefulness.
In the face of conventional medical beliefs and education, any discussion that might challenge conventional ideas concerning immunization no doubt will be controversial. It is precisely because this procedure has gained a widespread, non-discriminating acceptance that I dare to risk raising the ire of some. If one looks at the issue with open eyes, there indeed is much cause for concern.
Inevitably, the question arises as to just what is the effect of injecting a killed or weakened microorganism directly into the bloodstream. Modern medical science states that it stimulates the immune system to create a type of memory in the form of antibodies that will protect the organism when it is invaded by the infecting agent. Although serious side affects are recognized in some cases, it is claimed that the risks involved in contracting the disease are much greater than the risks of getting immunized itself.
Undoubtedly, many lives have been saved through vaccinations. I remember a conversation I had with a physician from China who practiced both western and chinese herbal medicine. I was curious about his attitude towards immunizations in light of his background in orthodox and natural healing. He responded by saying that when the measles came to his town, thousands of children died from it. He was adamant that given the hygenic conditions in China, immunizations were indeed necessary. Under those circumstances there was no leeway for him to contemplate unknown or theoretical long term effects that the shots might have.
While immunization programs have generally been credited with controlling or eradicating many such diseases, some researchers claim that other factors are more important in understanding why epidemics diminish in frequency and virulence. For one, when hygenic and nutritional standards are low in an impoverished nation, epidemics run rampant (as in Peru today). As the standard of living rises in a society, nutrition and hygiene also improve. Consequently, the resistance of individuals in the general population toward a bacteria or virus is greatly enhanced while the spread of the disease carrying agents is checked.
Another possibility is that diseases seem to have a "lifetime". Historically, contagions are particularly active over a certain period of time and then tend to disappear. At a later time, it is possible that another cycle of the same contagion will reappear. Or else, a different contagion will arise.
Long before the implementation of immunizations, whooping cough,TB, cholera, typhoid had diminished dramatically in the United States. For instance, statistics show that in the ninety years from 1850 to 1940, before compulsory immunizations were instituted, deaths of children under the age of 15 from scarlet fever, whooping cough, diptheria and measles had already declined by about 90% (1) On the other hand, "in Germany, where compulsory mass immunization was introduced in 1940, the number of cases (of diptheria) increased from 40,000 to 250,000 by 1945, virtually all among immunized children."(2)
The basic question is whether it benefits us as individuals or as a society to have immunization shots. Although it has been assumed that the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones, the answer is not as black and white as some would like to believe.
(1) James, Walene. "Immunization: The Reality Behind the Myth". (Bergin & Garvey, New York, 1988) pg.25 (2) Ibid. pg. 31
Everyone would like to to protect their children and themselves from the possibility of contracting a crippling or fatal disease. Immunization shots are commonly held out as our best bet to do so. But, contrary to the commonly held orthodox views of this procedure, there is evidence that such shots may not always be in the best interest of the recipient.
A thinking person will ask two basic questions: (1) Are vaccinations effective?, and (2) Are they safe ? Last week we touched on the possibility that the credit for eliminating many diseases which has been claimed for immunization programs might as well be given to improved living conditions and the natural "life-time" of diseases. That is, there is documented evidence that the virulence of epidemic diseases was reduced by improvement in nutrition and hygiene before the implementation of widespread immunizations in many cases. Moreover, these diseases seem to have a peak period of contagion which gradually reduces overtime without any medical, hygenic or nutritive intervention.
Another piece of research quoted in the book The Immunization Decision by Randall Neustaedter, OMD (North Atlantic Books, Berekely, 1990) suggests immunization might not be as effective for many current diseases as we might expect. For instance, it is possible that the result of vaccinating young children is to protect them from contracting a disease for a period after they are vaccinated but making them more susceptible when they are older. Statistics show that while twenty-five years ago, 23 % of the population over the age of fifteen contracted rubella (German measles), five years ago it was 40%. Richard Moskowitz, MD, in the article Immunizations: A Dissenting View published in various journals, sights a study of an outbreak of whooping cough in Britain where over 50% of the supposedly immunized children contracted the disease. Another study show that 75% of children immunized for measles nevertheless contracted it during an outbreak in New Mexico.
But even if we assume that vaccinations protect a majority of people from a certain disease, the more disturbing question concerns the safety of vaccinations. Is it possible that we are subjecting ourselves and our children to a dangerous procedure? Conventional wisdom maintains that the side-effects experienced by a minority does not outweigh the vast benefits to the great majority of immunized persons.
There are dissenting points of view. Janet Levitan, MD, a Boston area pediatrician, writes in a recently published article (Resonance, Sept-Oct. 1992)," As a pediatrician I have seen a number of children suffering from both the acute and chronic sequelae (i.e. results) of vaccinations....I do not believe that the immature immune systems of the two-month-old infant is capable of responding effectively to vaccines...In addition to the fact that the vaccines many not 'take' well in young infants, I also have concerns about the possible deleterious effects of exposing such tender, young, delicate organisms, our newborns, to such an onslaught of bacterial and viral particles, as well as the potentially toxic chemicals with which they are processed (including mercury and formaldehyde."
What are the possible acute side-effects? These would be fevers, allergic reactions and convulsions. Mostly, these subside without further complications. But sometimes they don't. Joanie Blaxter, a Brattleboro resident, writes of two sisters Laureli and Melissa who "were hospitalized as babies after their second DPT shot, for high fever and meningitis-like symptoms. When Melissa 's son Jamie was eight or nine weeks old he received his first pertussis immunization. His colicy symptoms worsened and within 48-72 hours he was found dead in his crib. The death certificate read "SIDS"." The side-effects of the pertussis vaccination is the most well documented and recognized.
Dr. Moskowitz writes of a three-year-old boy who began to suffer from appetite loss, swollen glands, stomachaches, indigestion and dairrhea two weeks after the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccination. The child also exhibited "wild" behavior and irregular sleep patterns along with the syndrome. The boy was seen one month after the shot, and Dr. Moskowitz antidoted the vaccination with a homeopathic remedy. His symptoms disappeared in 48 hours.
In my own practice, I have seen, among other cases, a healthy eighteen year old develop acute mononucleosis one week after vaccinations. In another case, extreme exhaustion with anxiety developed immediately after vaccination in a young man. It lasted for nearly half a year until being antidoted by homeopathic treatment. Both persons were forced to take the shots as a prerequisite to enter college.
Next week, chronic effects of immunizations.