Vaccines: Good or Bad?
In case, you've missed the headlines, this year's flu vaccine is turning out to be especially ineffective. To truly understand what's going on, we need to talk about vaccines in general again--one of my favorite topics since I always get beaten up for it. Since I don't categorically support the medical POV that vaccines are the greatest thing since the invention of the hysterectomy, I've been attacked by those on that side of the debate--even for things I've never said. For example, I've been accused by the mainstream of saying that Thimerosal causes autism, but I've never actually said that. What I have said is that it makes no sense to use one of the most toxic, cumulative poisons found in nature, mercury, as a vaccine preservative--especially in children's vaccines--when perfectly viable alternatives exist. And I've been attacked from the alternative side of the debate since I don't categorically condemn all vaccines as ineffective and extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, that's the price you pay for trying to be rational in an irrational world. So here we go again.
What Are Vaccines?
I've actually covered these issues in detail in previous reports, but since that was four years ago, it's probably worth repeating.
The technical definition of a vaccine is a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases, prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products, or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease. In more layman's language, it is any preparation used as a preventive inoculation to confer immunity against a specific disease, usually employing an innocuous form of the disease agent--such as a killed or weakened bacteria or viruses--to stimulate antibody production.
Essentially we use vaccines to "pre-build memory" for our immune systems -- memories of significant diseases we have never had such as measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, smallpox, and the flu. Vaccines contain a weakened, sterilized version of microorganisms (or proteins from those microorganisms) that is capable of producing an immune response in the body without inducing a full-blown onset of the disease itself. Although vaccines have played a significant role in helping reduce the number of deaths among children, this benefit has not come without cost.
I understand that vaccines are an emotional issue for many people. As I mentioned above, whenever the Foundation has published anything that even hints that vaccines might be even slightly beneficial, the response from some of our members has been fast and furious. They don't like it and call me out as a traitor to the cause. For many of our readers, the only good vaccine is a dead vaccine--no pun intended. However, it is not the role of the Foundation to automatically support all positions prevalent in the alternative health community. Our role is to offer reasoned, balanced, health advice -- no matter where it leads. So that said, the truth about vaccines is that:
- They are not as effective as the medical community and the media promote.
- Nor are they as safe as promised.
- On the other hand, they are not as ineffective as many in the alternative health community believe.
- Nor quite as dangerous.
Let's examine these statements one at a time:
1. Vaccines are incredibly effective -- not necessarily
- Because the vaccination uses only a weakened version of the invader, or even a partial protein fragment, the memory of the disease left behind in your immune system might not be that strong (not enough memory cells) to initiate an effective response when the invader returns at a later date.
- Your immune system might be too compromised when you get the vaccination so that it is unable to fully respond to the antigen -- thus leaving a weakened defense in place. This is a particular problem for senior citizens.
- Then again, vaccines are only as effective as your immune system is when the invader returns. If your immune system isn't very strong, even if told by your "vaccinated memory" in plenty of time that an old enemy has returned, your immune system just might not be capable of ramping up a strong response in a short period of time. For example, if your immune system is preoccupied battling Circulating Immune Complexes, it might succumb to a new infection of measles. Or if it's been compromised by an HIV infection, it may not be able to muster a defense against tuberculosis, even if you've been vaccinated.
- A vaccine is only as good as the antigen included in it. That means that when it comes to flu vaccines, for example, they are all based on previous years' strains of flu -- because those are the only antigens available to use. If this year's strains are different, you're out of luck. And in fact, although the medical community bills flu vaccines as de rigueur, and 90% effective, they are not--not even close. (We'll explore this more in detail later.) Another example of the importance of the antigen being used would be the measles vaccine. The measles circulating today might have enough genetic differences from the one you were inoculated against that your original vaccination, or even having the disease as a child, might no longer offer any protection.1 What this means is that some vaccines trigger long term memory cell responses, but others much less so.
- Rabies vaccine is good for about two years.
- Tetanus, 10 years.
- Measles -- potentially life long, except for the fact that the virus is constantly evolving and what works today, may not offer protection 10 years from now.
- The flu vaccine is a very different animal; it's only effective for one flu season and is only about 53% effective at that--optimistically speaking.
The bottom line is that although all vaccines will trigger some degree of immune response, in some cases, and in some people, that response may be notably less than promised. Correspondingly, exposure to the actual disease is likely to produce a stronger and more long lasting immune response than a vaccination, but it too offers no absolute guarantee. Or to put it another way: both having measles as a child or getting a vaccination will provide protection from later infection--but neither guarantees that you won't get measles later, although if you do, the intensity of the infection is likely to be reduced.
2. Vaccinations are perfectly safe -- again, not necessarily
I'm not going to dwell on this issue, because, as I have explained on different occasions, I have a strong emotional attachment to it, which makes it impossible for me to be objective. My youngest brother was one of those "small percentage" of children who responded badly to the series of three immunization shots he received back in the early 1960s. Each time he received one of the shots, he ran a high fever and cried all night, the last time literally screaming for several hours. Each time, my mother called the pediatrician, who reassured her that it was nothing to worry about. As it turns out, the doctor was wrong: my brother, along with thousands of other children, had an allergic reaction to the shots. Each shot caused a small brain hemorrhage, ultimately leaving him severely retarded. Although the manufacturer of the vaccine had indications that this was a possibility, they had not made it clear to the pediatricians who used it. Also, before 1990, doctors were not legally obligated to report adverse reactions to vaccines to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC); and even with the current legal obligation, it's estimated that only 10 percent of doctors report the damage they see to the CDC.
This sort of reaction to a vaccine and this sort of irresponsibility by a pharmaceutical company are not as anomalous as you might think. The polio vaccine given to children in the 1950s and 1960s was not as sterilized as originally thought. In fact, when better test equipment was later used, it was found that there were over 140 live viruses in early versions of the vaccine. One of those viruses, SV40, is strongly implicated in brain cancer. Jonas Salk testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee that, since 1961, except for a few importations from other countries, all cases of polio in the U.S. were caused by the oral polio vaccine. In fact, there is strong evidence that the original polio epidemic itself in the late 1940s was caused (or at least greatly exacerbated) by another vaccine. The early triple vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus was shown beyond doubt to cause paralytic polio in some children. The incidence of polio in children vaccinated with this shot was statistically greater than in unvaccinated children. This scandal broke in Britain during 1949, an epidemic year for polio; other reports soon followed from Australia.2, 3 (Note: current versions of the polio vaccine do not have this problem.)
And there is another problem. In the old days, pharmaceutical companies merely used the viral and bacterial antigens and DNA that nature provided as the basis of their vaccines. But that's so yesterday! Today, thanks to the science of genetic engineering, vaccine manufacturers can make their own viral DNA from scratch. Very simple. Very clean. Except if they get it wrong and accidentally introduce an active "unnatural" form of the viral DNA into the vaccine -- as appears to have happened with the HPV vaccine, Gardasil.4
The bottom line is that although vaccines may be relatively safe, they are not "perfectly" safe.
3. Vaccines are totally ineffective -- again, not necessarily
There are two arguments I hear from the alternative health community in this regard. First, people will tell me of their own experience: they were vaccinated and still came down with the disease later. Ipso facto: vaccinations don't work. But it's never a good idea to generalize from a single person's experience. As we've already discussed, there can be several reasons as to why the vaccination didn't work and why it still might have been beneficial -- including the fact that although it didn't stop you from getting the disease, it may have reduced its severity. Also, as we've already discussed, even getting the disease naturally doesn't "totally" guarantee protection.
The other argument is more interesting. And that is that infectious diseases have their own natural ebb and flow, which leads to the conclusion that mass vaccination did not help make a disease recede; it was merely the result of the disease's natural ebb, along with improvements in nutrition, better living standards, and public and personal sanitation.5, 6 And there is an element of truth to this argument. Both smallpox and polio, for example, were ebbing before vaccinations were introduced. On the other hand, there is a significant statistical correlation between the introduction of these vaccines and the countries where that ebbing was most pronounced. Also, ebb and flow do not explain the disappearance of smallpox as a disease from the face of the earth. And we're seeing the same with polio. Where the polio vaccine has been used, polio has been eradicated, but where its implementation has been thwarted by the killing of medical personnel offering the inoculations (Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan), it is actually on the rise again. When it comes to the effectiveness of the polio vaccine, it's hard to argue with the facts on the ground.
Whatever the flaws in the effectiveness of vaccines, they are not "totally" ineffective. Even the flu vaccine, which may have only a marginal ability to prevent the flu in any given year, probably plays a significant role in lessening the intensity of the flu if you do get it. If you are very old or have a compromised immune system, this may be enough of a difference to save your life. (More on the flu vaccine later.)
4. Vaccines cause widespread harm -- sort of yes, sort of no
It all depends on how you define widespread. In fact, the incidence of serious side effects is low, at least officially. According to the CDC, only about one in 10,000 children have a serious reaction to the standard childhood vaccines, such as lowered consciousness, coma, swelling inside the mouth, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, central nervous system conditions including encephalitis and encephalopathy, and anaphylactic shock. About 20%, however, have so-called "minor" reactions, which can include extensive rashes and fevers of greater than 103 F (39.4 C).7
So what do these numbers mean?
First, let's pretend that governments have never lied to us to promote a given agenda (can you say Gulf of Tonkin, weapons of mass destruction, and swine flu vaccine) and that these numbers are accurate. What do they mean? When you consider how many children are vaccinated each year, year after year, that comes out to tens of millions of children in the US alone who have been vaccinated. One in 10,000 when applied to 50,000,000 children works out to some 5,000 children who have suffered life-compromising side effects over the past few decades and 10,000,000 who have suffered severe rashes, profound body ache, high fevers, and whatnot -- in the United States alone.
So do vaccines cause widespread harm? Statistically no, but mathematically yes! And if you happen to be the parent of a child like my little brother who suffered massive brain damage as the result of vaccination, then statistics and mathematics really don't matter, do they? It's been 28 years since my little brother passed away, and like Mr. Bojangles, I still grieve.
In 1986, the U.S. government set up a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to compensate those harmed by vaccines. As of March, 2014, the program had awarded $2.67 billion in 3,535 separate claims, not including attorneys' fees.8
But if vaccines really do prevent epidemics of whooping cough, diphtheria, smallpox, and polio --or lessen their severity -- are the "statistically" rare victims like my brother too high a price to pay?
The Flu Vaccine
As I mentioned above, the flu vaccine is a different animal in a number of ways. First, it's only effective for one flu season, and its effectiveness in that year ranges from 10-60% at best according to studies the CDC has been conducting since 2004.9 Yes, under laboratory conditions that number can be pushed to 86%,10 but nobody gets the flu under laboratory conditions.
I have talked many times before about the ineffectiveness of flu shots. In fact, the vast majority of support for flu vaccines in the medical community is based on one single set of studies, the Cohort Studies on the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine. These studies found a 50-90% effectiveness rate for the vaccine and are cited as gospel by doctors all over the world and by medical experts on television. However, even a casual examination of these studies reveals their absurdity. (It should be noted that probably over 90% of the doctors who cite these studies have never actually read them. They merely parrot the results they have heard second, third, and fourth hand.) The Atlantic Monthly11 wrote a great article eviscerating them. Their conclusion was that the flu vaccine Cohort Studies are rendered irrelevant by the bias of the cohort selection. Consider:
- Because it's virtually impossible to identify who has the flu and who doesn't, the researchers identified their cohort as those who died from all causes (flu, coronary events, lightning strikes, accidents, whatever) and then broke that into two: those who had received the flu vaccine and those who hadn't. These studies showed a "dramatic difference" between the death rates (again, from all causes) of those who got the vaccine VS those who didn't (50-90% less depending on the study cited).
- But according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, deaths from influenza account for -- at most -- 10 percent of total deaths during the flu season. And yet the studies found that receiving a flu vaccine reduced total deaths by 50 percent -- five times the total number of flu deaths. (Can you see the problem here?)
- According to Dr. Tom Jefferson of the Cochrane Collaboration, "For a vaccine to reduce mortality by 50 percent, and up to 90 percent in some studies, means it has to prevent deaths not just from influenza, but also from falls, fires, heart disease, strokes, and car accidents. That's not a vaccine, that's a miracle."
- And as icing on the cake, there was also no difference in mortality rates based on whether the deaths occurred in flu season or out of it. Truly, a miraculous vaccine!
And yet, it is this absurdly flawed set of studies and statistics that virtually every physician hangs their hat on when promoting the efficacy of flu vaccines -- even if they themselves have never read them.
Those doctors and media talking heads who claim that the flu vaccine is 90% effective are either:
- Deliberately lying for ulterior motives.
- Ignorant of the scientific reality.
- Deliberately exaggerating the reality to encourage people to do something that they, as the "expert," believe is good for the general public.
I think you have almost none of number 1, a lot of number 2, but mostly number 3.
This year's vaccine, according to the CDC is only about 23% effective.12 But that number doesn't tell the whole story as its real effectiveness is largely determined by age and underlying health. In general, the flu vaccine works best in young, healthy people and is less effective in people 65 and older. This pattern is reflected in the current season's early estimates for the vaccine against H3N2 viruses. It is most effective for children age 6 months through 17 years. But it is only 12 percent effective for ages 18 to 49 years and a not much better 14 percent for people age 50 and older. 12-14% is not very effective.
With the vaccine being so largely ineffective this year, the CDC and the medical community are pushing Tamiflu as the option of choice when you do get the flu. (More on that in a bit.)
So Why Is the Flu so Different when it Comes to Vaccines?
There are four primary reasons:
- There isn't just one flu.
- The flu virus mutates rapidly.
- It crosses species easily.
- Vaccines take time to design and produce in quantity.
There isn't just one flu.
In one important sense, the flu is like cancer: it isn't a single disease like measles or smallpox, but rather a group of similar viruses. In other words, we're talking about needing a vaccine that works against multiple diseases. How many are we talking about?
The flu virus occurs in three types: A, B, and C. The type is designated by the host the virus infects and the type of mutations its genome undergoes. Type C tends to be very mild and is not associated with epidemics. Type B is less mild than C, but because type B viruses don't mutate rapidly, any immunity you have carries over from one year to the next; you don't need a yearly vaccination.
Type A viruses are the more virulent strains and are the ones vaccinations are geared towards. Type A strains tend to infect many birds and mammals such as swine, and bats. These strains easily and rapidly undergo both antigenic drift and shift. From a genetic and host standpoint, type A flu viruses are highly versatile. They are capable of sharing genes with strains that infect other species, making the circulating type A virus variable from year to year and by geography.
Now things get interesting as the type A virus exists in a number of different strains.
Two proteins that are encoded in the viral genome are hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). These surface proteins aid in the infection of respiratory cells by the flu virus. The infection of a particular host requires a particular H and N combination as the expression of surface proteins by respiratory cells can differ between species. However, numerous strains can cross the species barrier, allowing for antigenic shift. In other words, some strains of type A flu can jump between humans, bats, birds, pigs, etc. The several subtypes are labeled according to an H number (for the type of hemagglutinin) and an N number (for the type of neuraminidase). There are 18 different H antigens (H1 to H18) and 11 different N antigens (N1 to N11).13 Once you start working through the permutations involved, the numbers of flu viruses start to get very large indeed. For example:
- Influenza A H5
Nine potential subtypes of H5 viruses are known (H5N1 through N9). Most H5 viruses are low pathogenic and found only in wild birds and poultry. On occasion, an H5 virus jumps species and infects humans, such as the H5N1 bird flu, which has a 60% mortality rate.
- Influenza A H7
Nine potential subtypes of H7 viruses are known (H7N1 through N9). As with H5 subtypes, most H7 viruses are low pathogenic and found in wild birds and poultry. H7 virus infection in humans is uncommon, but has been documented in persons who have direct contact with infected birds, especially during outbreaks of H7 virus among poultry. Illness in humans may include conjunctivitis and/or upper respiratory tract symptoms.
On April 1, 2013, the first known human cases of infection with avian influenza H7N9 viruses were reported. These were associated with severe respiratory illness and death. Since then it has demonstrated about a one-third mortality rate, but little ability to transmit from person to person.14 Infection pretty much requires direct exposure to infected birds.
- Influenza A H9
Nine potential subtypes of H9 are known (H9N1 through N9). Again, these subtypes tend to be low pathogenic and found in birds only. Rare, sporadic H9N2 virus infections of humans have been reported to cause generally mild upper respiratory tract illness.
- Influenza A H3
Nine potential subtypes of H3 are known (H3N1 through N9). H3N2 (found in birds, pigs, and humans) is the most prevalent strain this flu season. H3N2-predominant seasons are associated with more severe illness and mortality, especially in older people and young children, relative to seasons during which H1N1 or B viruses predominate. There are early indications that this season may be severe, especially for people aged 65 years and older and young children. In fact, H3N2 strains were dominant in the 2012-2013, 2007-2008, and 2003-2004 flu seasons, and these seasons had the highest numbers of flu deaths over the past decade. Around this time last year no one thought much of H3N2. In February 2014, the World Health Organization's annual Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine summit recommended not including it in this year's flu vaccine. In the end, some markers for H3N2 made it into the vaccine, but it was not a point of emphasis in the vaccine. That omission is one reason that America is in the midst of a particularly nasty flu season.
But it doesn't end there as you may have inferred from the descriptions of the different subtypes. Each virus subtype easily mutates into a variety of strains with differing pathogenic profiles; some are pathogenic to one species (birds, for example) but not others, some are pathogenic to multiple species (birds, swine, and humans). H1N1 and H3N2 are the common seasonal flu strains, but this year's H3N2 strain is different from the 2009 H1N1 strain. The seasonal strain contains genes known to be human influenza genes, i.e. infective mainly to humans. However, the 2009 strain also contained swine and avian influenza genes -- making it genetically different from the strain to which humans were previously exposed. However, these differences are usually noted when naming flu viruses beyond designation of the year, species of emergence, and geographic location of any emergence.
Many of the names given to influenza overlap, but they all designate some particular characteristic of its ability to infect.
And thus the problem with this year's vaccine. Small, naturally occurring changes in this year's H3N2 virus strain appear to be making this year's flu shot significantly less effective; however, health officials strongly recommend getting vaccinated, as it is, so they say, still the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu.
The flu Virus Mutates Rapidly
Unlike most viruses that we vaccinate against, a number of flu viruses are able to mutate rapidly--easily changing characteristics in a matter of weeks. By 2009, for example, there was already a 99% resistance rate to Tamiflu among all prevalent flu strains. Flu viruses are constantly changing and it's not unusual for new seasonal flu viruses to appear each year. These are viruses that have small antigenic or genetic changes but which have evolved from previously circulating human seasonal flu viruses. When viruses change in that way, they are said to be "drifted" viruses. Most of the influenza A (H3N2) viruses circulating so far this season are different (drifted) from last year's H3N2 virus. Whereas last year's H3N2 produced mild symptoms (the primary reason it wasn't included in this year's vaccine), this year's variant is decidedly more pernicious. Oh, and did I already mention that despite its marginal effectiveness, the CDC is recommending Tamiflu as the backup for this year's failed flu vaccine? Thank goodness there are effective natural alternatives. (See below.)
A Number of Flu Viruses Cross Species Easily
As we've already discussed, many viruses are exclusive to humans. For example, once the last case of smallpox in a human resolved, the smallpox virus ceased to exist on the earth--other than in government laboratories. (But that's a different story.) Contrast this with Ebola, where outbreaks in humans have completely resolved only for the virus to re-emerge several years later after hiding out in forest animals. The latest outbreak, for example, is believed to have started with a two-year old boy who got the virus from playing in a tree that was home to an infected bat.15 But the flu goes far beyond Ebola--beyond almost every other virus in fact--in its ability to bounce between species, picking up new traits, resistances, and increased virulence as it jumps from species to species. Think avian flu, swine flu, and the great flu pandemic of 1918.
Vaccines Take Time to Design and Produce in Quantity.
Because of the time involved, the flu vaccine has to be designed and put into production before the flu season actually begins--before anyone really knows what flu strains are going to be prevalent. This presents the problem that we're seeing this year. H3N2 viruses have been the most common this season and although this year's vaccine includes markers for the H3N2 virus, about 70 percent of them have been different from the strains in the inoculation.
I know I've entered a hornets' nest by even suggesting that there might be any conceivable way that vaccination is anything less than the devil incarnate, but the simple truth is that once you understand the anatomy and physiology of the immune system, you realize that there has to be some benefit to the immune system from vaccination -- by the simple act of introducing an antigen into the bloodstream. But you also realize what the limitations of that benefit are and also what dangers come with it. So let's summarize.
- Vaccinations work on the same principles as natural immunity. If you introduce an antigen into the bloodstream, your immune system will mount a defense against it, and it will leave behind a memory of that defense. The strength of that response and the extent of that memory are variable, but on that simple principle alone, vaccinations must work -- at least to some degree.
- Any time you introduce an antigen into a human body -- either naturally or by vaccination -- it can have unexpected consequences. Some people have extreme reactions to the measles; some even die; most do not. Likewise, some people have extreme reactions to the measles vaccine; some even die; most do not. The problem is that it is much easier to focus blame when the harm is the result of a vaccination as opposed to an "act of God."
- Vaccinations are not foolproof, but then neither is getting a disease naturally. Depending on how strong a response and memory are left behind from either antigen source, you will have strong immunity to a future occurrence of the disease…or little. Then again, having no "memory" of a virus means that you're operating without a major component of your immune system in play. This is perfectly acceptable--as long as you are never exposed to that particular virus.
On the other hand! You are more likely, for several reasons, to have a stronger immune response if your immune system developed its memory of the virus by actually having the disease in question at some point:
- Your body is exposed to "all" antigens presented by the disease, not just those extracted by the vaccine manufacturer. To phrase that another way: sometimes, there is more than one protein on a virus or bacteria that triggers a response. If the protein fragment identified by researchers and used in a vaccine leaves out one or more of those components, the body's response will be reduced, as will the subsequent immunity.
- You are more likely to be sicker as a result of having had the actual disease (not necessarily a positive), thus your immune response and memory are likely to be stronger than that achieved through vaccination. There's a tradeoff here.
- The strain of disease you are exposed to if you get the disease naturally will most likely be the most current strain circulating about. Most vaccines, other than the flu vaccine, are based on antigens that are quite old. Even flu vaccines, as we've already discussed, are based on last year's viruses. The bottom line is that if your immunity comes from natural exposure to a current strain as opposed to an older strain in a vaccine, your immunity is more likely to be up to date and closer to that required as the disease continues to mutate over the years.
- Until recently, manufacturers had no option but to "grow" their vaccines in chicken eggs.16, 17 Eggs are one of the most allergenic foods around. This significantly increased the chances of an unwanted "extra" reaction to the vaccine as opposed to natural exposure.
- Manufacturers add many substances to their vaccines. Thimerosal, a 49 percent mercury compound, which is used as a preservative in some vaccines, is the one most in the news, but you will also find additives such as ethylene glycol (antifreeze), formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), and aluminum as standard vaccine additives. At best, they have no health benefit. At worst, they are exactly as they sound -- highly unhealthy. People in the natural health community accuse Thimerosal of causing autism. Scientists associated with governments, large pharmaceutical companies, and the mainstream medical community all cite a number of recent studies "proving" that there is no statistical correlation.18, 19 On the other hand, independent scientists tend to come to a different conclusion.20, 21 But in truth, there is very little real evidence connecting Thimerosal to autism beyond a single disputed study. The primary case against Thimerosal is that there has been an astounding spike in the incidence of autism during the decades since its introduction—far beyond what might be expected by improved diagnosis and an increasing population. But it must be noted that Thimerosal doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Thousands of toxic chemicals have been introduced into the environment during the same timeframe. Any one of them (or combination thereof) could just as easily be the culprit--or none of them. And maybe even more notably, the incidence of autism has increased even in those families that have refused to have their children immunized. How could Thimerosal be responsible for that? My position on this is actually quite simple: I think it's the wrong argument. The simple fact is that mercury is one of the most toxic substances in nature, and it is a cumulative poison; the more you are exposed to it, the more it builds up in your body. The higher the levels in your body, the more the damage -- and children are especially vulnerable.22 Anything that unnecessarily adds to that exposure is ipso facto unacceptable. There is simply no need, nor excuse, for its presence in vaccinations, amalgam fillings, or coal plant smokestacks. There! See how easy it is to sidestep the debate and cut to the heart of the matter. In any case, Thimerosal has been removed from virtually all children's vaccines since 2001.23 Unfortunately, it's still used in the one vaccine that children are likely to get more than any other: the flu vaccine. And it should be noted that the CDC and the medical community both strongly recommend that every child get a flu shot every year. In other words, although the medical community touts the fact that Thimerosal is no longer used in children's vaccines, it's still present in the one vaccine that you potentially get every year, year after year, for the rest of your life. Again considering that mercury is a highly toxic, cumulative poison, with an affinity for children's brain tissue,24 how healthy can that be? In the end, I think the Thimerosal debate is actually a distraction from the real debate we should be having about vaccines.
- And finally, some scientists have made the case that by not allowing children to get many of the non-fatal diseases of childhood such as mumps, measles, and chicken pox, we have weakened their immune systems and made them much more vulnerable to far more dangerous "adult" versions of those same diseases. Or to look at it another way, vaccinations are like working out with a ten pound barbell to train your immune system. Allowing your body to experience the full disease is like working out with a 100 pound barbell. There is actually much to be said for this argument.
As you can see, the story on vaccines is a mixed bag. I apologize to those of our readers who are upset that I did not categorically slam vaccines in this report; and I apologize to those on the other side of the debate who will be upset that I dismissed out of hand some of the shibboleths proclaimed by the media, governments, and the mainstream medical community in praise of the safety and efficacy of vaccinations.
I'm not saying vaccines should be eliminated, only that we should use more discrimination than we are at the moment. Eventually, it's possible that new techniques that totally isolate the offending antigen, may be able to offer a safer and more effective form of vaccine. But for now, we need to remember that whatever benefit vaccines provide comes at a cost, and we need to decide, on a case by case basis, whether we wish to pay that cost.
One other thing we need to factor into our discussion about vaccines is the concept of "herd immunity." The concept is simple. When a high enough percentage of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, then everyone in that community is protected against the disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak to take hold. The principle of herd immunity has been used to control a variety of contagious diseases, including measles, mumps, rotavirus, and pneumococcal disease. And even those who are not immunized are largely protected because the overall immunization of the community means that the spread of contagious disease is contained. In other words, people within the community are free to opt out of vaccination and still not come down with the disease. But that works both ways. Once a critical level of non-immunization is breached, the disease is free to spread. Keep in mind that in 2001, thanks to widespread vaccination, measles was essentially non-existent in the United States. Since then, because of a growing anti-vaccination movement, the percentage of people unvaccinated has more than doubled, and when you add in the children who have been "under-vaccinated," you can double that again. It's hard to claim that it's just a coincidence that during the same time period both the number of measles outbreaks and their severity has been climbing.25 However, that said, there is another side to the story. Whereas non-vaccination accounts for the children who have contracted measles in recent outbreaks, it does not explain the adult infections. In the recent Disneyland outbreak, a number of the infections are occurring in park workers. What explains that? Well, two things as it turns out. First, the measles vaccine in use between 1957 and 1991 is now considered to have been unreliable at best, and that's one reason we see adults coming down with measles in the U.S, not because mom and dad didn't vaccinate them. The other issue is that measles mutates--big time--continually evolving around whatever vaccines we've previously been inoculated with.26 The problem is that you never hear the government or the medical community mentioning these facts when blaming any new outbreak on the anti-vaccination movement. Then again, you never hear the anti-vaccination crowd acknowledging the fact that non-vaccinated children absolutely contract measles when there's an outbreak and then spread it to others. When enough people do not get vaccinated, it definitely weakens the "herds" immunity. It should also be mentioned that measles is one of the most infectious microbes known--with infection rates topping 90% after minimal exposure--if you do not have sufficient resistance. And no, just having a strong immune system does not qualify as sufficient resistance. Your immune system has to have a "memory" of the measles strain you are exposed to, or close to it. Unfortunately, although presenting only one side of the story may get you high-fives from the people already lined up on your side of the argument, it creates huge distrust in those on the other side of the argument and does nothing to advance a true understanding of what vaccines can and cannot do. And maybe even more importantly, it also probably should be noted that one in every thousand children who contracts measles dies.
In any case, herd immunity by itself is not justification for government mandated vaccination programs, but, at the very least, it is a major factor that needs to be considered in any discussion. Any discussion of mandatory vaccination also has to consider the effectiveness of the vaccine in question, how much harm the disease in question can actually cause, what harm the vaccination in question can cause--and what percentage of people are harmed in either case. And this discussion needs to be held not for vaccinations as a whole but for each individual vaccine. As we have seen in our discussion, each vaccine is unique.
So, does vaccination work? To some degree, yes, but the effectiveness varies from vaccine to vaccine--and it always comes at a cost. Most people probably believe it's worth it. But if you or one of yours happens to have a severe reaction to the vaccination and have to pay "the price," then probably not so much.
Ultimately, the decision to vaccinate or not is a personal one -- except where governments mandate the practice. And why do governments mandate vaccination? Yes, money and politics are involved, but in truth, most protectors of the establishment believe in Mr. Spock's dictum from Star Trek (or John Stuart Mill for those who know better), "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." This is another way of saying that if your decision only affects you and your family, it's your decision, but if your decision can provide a vehicle for a major "deadly" contagion to spread far and wide and cause serious harm to a neighbor's child, then it becomes a community issue. Unfortunately, that also can be used as an excuse for ambitious or ill-informed bureaucrats to force dangerous or ineffective health protocols on an unwilling community. It should not be forgotten that today's scientific fact can become tomorrow's public health horror story. (Remember the oral polio vaccine. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.)
The bottom line is that this discussion would be a lot more fruitful if people on both sides of the debate stopped exaggerating the facts to make their point. When medical authorities tell you that the flu vaccine is 90% effective and has no harmful side effects, or that all vaccinations are harmless, they are not helping their cause. Once you realize that both statements are patently untrue, why would you believe anything else that "authority" has to say on the subject? And when people in the alternative health community state that vaccines are a complete lie, totally ineffective, and harmful to everyone who uses them, that is equally untrue. Again, gross exaggeration on even one fact to make a point undermines everything else you have to say on the subject--even those things that are true. In truth, each vaccination should be debated on a case by case basis with a clear presentation of risk vs reward. Every vaccination has both. Ultimately, the question comes down to evaluation. Would you be willing to risk a one in 10,000 chance of having your child suffer from serious side effects from a vaccination? Doesn't that depend on what the disease is and what the odds of your child getting that disease (and possibly giving it to a neighbor's child) are without vaccination?
Once you begin to treat each vaccination on its own terms, it becomes clear that not all vaccinations are the same and that we may come to different conclusions when looking at them individually, for example when talking about polio vaccines vs flu vaccines.
So what are the alternatives? Well, let's just use this year's flu as an example. What if you didn't get vaccinated, or if you did, but you're not happy with a 12-14% effectiveness rate and you don't have much faith in Tamiflu? What can you do? As we've discussed before:
- Build up your immune system with natural immune boosters.
- Keep a supply of natural anti-pathogens on hand to take down any microbial invaders at the first possible sign of illness.
- Build your entire baseline of health. Remember, your immune system is only as strong as its weakest link.
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