Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vaccines and the Ultimate Controversy: Where Do You Stand?

Around the time my firstborn was two years old, I started researching vaccinations. Up until his second birthday, we had been vaccinating on schedule. Once I started delving into the heaps of information and controversy, however, we began vaccinating on a delayed schedule, and have done so with our other two children, as well.

Through the research that I've done, I've found some pretty incredible information criticizing vaccinations, tempered by plenty of unreliable and sensationalistic "literature," mostly on rogue websites filled with fear mongering and very little fact (unfortunately, it's usually on the side opposing vaccinations, which makes the anti-vaccination camp look uneducated indeed). It's important to remember that just because something is written on a website doesn't mean it's true, credible, or factual (including this one. I urge you to look up any and all information I provide here for yourself, and please come back and let me know if you find facts to the contrary of what I've posted). 

I don't claim to be any type of expert, but I'm sharing the information I've found in the hopes that someone may find it useful. I respect and understand both sides of the issue, and have no doubt that parents on either end of the spectrum are doing what they believe to be best.

So what are the issues with vaccines? Certainly the loudest and most well known controversy is that of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and autism. There is a barrage of constant misinformation being pumped out regarding this particular vaccine. When Andrew Wakefield was disgraced and his study discounted, the headlines screamed about "no links between vaccines and autism," and "no harm from mercury in vaccinated children."

In fact, there is no mercury in any current vaccine in the US other than the flu shot. Additionally, there has never been mercury in the MMR vaccine--the issue was that of the measles illness itself being found in the guts of children studied, some of whom showed signs of autism, some of whom went on to develop autism later in their young lives, and some who didn't. The evidence was inconclusive, but definitely warranted further investigation, which never happened. The controversy surrounding Wakefield is huge, but I invite you to read Callous Disregard, written by the man himself, which is eye opening.

The mercury in vaccines is a completely separate subject from Andrew Wakefield and his study, and I find it frustrating when they are clumped together. There was mercury (or thimerosal) in multiple vaccines in the 90s, and children were harmed by it, and there are mounds of proof--it's just not easy to find, and it's not found through Google. Did you know that the safety of thimerosal on humans was tested on 15 meningitis patients, all of whom died from their disease a few weeks after they received the chemical? "No adverse effects were reported" because there wasn't enough time to make a conclusion.

Autism is not the only issue--or even the most important one, in my opinion. There are hosts of autoimmune illnesses that are on the rise in young children, such as diabetes, asthma, and juvenile arthritis, and there is a school of thought that suggests the practice of giving so many vaccinations all at once is the culprit. The introduction of so many different viruses, toxins, allergens, and other agents at such a young age confuses the body, and it begins to attack itself. Something that should be investigated, but once again, has not been adequately addressed to date.

What toxins, you ask? Toxins like formaldehyde, phenol and aluminum (found in flu, Hib, Pneumococcal, and DTaP vaccines). Gelatin, a common allergen, is a flu vaccine ingredient, and the vaccine is cultured in chicken embryo (egg), useful to know for those with egg allergies. Hepatitis B is cultured in yeast or yeast extract. As for foreign agents, most MMR vaccines are produced in fetal bovine (cow) serum, and the rubella vaccine has been produced using cells from an aborted fetus infected with the disease. The Rotavirus vaccine is produced in
vero (monkey kidney) cell culture. It's naive to assume that none of these foreign agents don't have some effect on our bodies. An early polio vaccine (1950s) was contaminated with a monkey virus named SV40 that causes cancer in laboratory animals. It's been suggested that this virus was the cause for thousands of cases of cancers like mesothelioma, brain, and bone cancers. Is it true? We may never know, but it's certainly alarming.
Additionally, though most doctors will tell you that adverse vaccine reactions are rare, they are under reported to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) by as much as 85%, which makes them far more frequent than the average person realizes.

Part of the problem as I see it is that our medical care is very "one size fits all." Through my research I came to learn that when making the vaccine schedule, the lowest common denominator is taken, that being families with less access to good health care or families who are unable to afford frequent co-pays, and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) work up from there. One of the reasons babies and small children are given so many shots in one visit is because that takes away the need for the parents to return the children for another doctor visit--statistically, many don't go back.

The Hepatitis B vaccine became routine at birth due to the fact that so many mothers who were infected with Hepatitis B were passing it on to their babies. Over time, it went from being administered to only infected babies to everyone, regardless of the mother's medical history. You can refuse the shot for your newborn at birth. Hepatitis B is only transmitted through sexual contact or intravenous drug use, and so our family doesn't administer hepatitis B to our kids until they are 4, and then it's really just because it's the law in NY for public school attendance.

It trickles into prenatal care, too. Each time I became pregnant I had to have an HIV test despite testing negative with my prior pregnancy (NY law). Each of my children had to have erythromycin put on their eyes at birth despite my testing negative for gonorrhea and chlamydia (which can cause serious complications for the baby as it passes through the birth canal). In fact, even babies born by C-section are given erythromycin, which makes little sense since they are not passing through the birth canal and so have little chance, if any, of coming into contact with the mother's infection (especially if she's tested negative during pregnancy!). Meanwhile, we take just one Strep B test, and if it's negative, we do not get antibiotics during labor--never mind the fact that Strep B comes and goes and can be negative at 35 weeks and positive at birth.

Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Neither extreme is good, in my opinion--unless there is some medical or religious reason for children to remain unvaccinated. Personally, I'm not anti-vaccine; I'm anti-toxin and anti-schedule. We do vaccinate, but do so on a delayed schedule (and skip a couple altogether). I believe that certain vaccines given at certain times, and too many vaccines given at one time, can be harmful, but I won't skip vaccinations all together. I also don't believe that vaccine manufacturers and those making the vaccine schedule, like the CDC and the AAP, have our best interests at heart. I've come to believe that much of it has to do with corporations, stakeholders, government, liability, and money. Lots and lots of money.

I don't trust anyone as much as I trust myself and my instincts when it comes to what's best for my children. It doesn't matter how many experts tell me that the current vaccine schedule is safe, that the toxins in vaccines are given in such minuscule amounts it doesn't matter, etc., etc. At this point I'm confident enough to base my decisions on what I've learned as a layperson and my instincts as a mother, as well as my own common sense. I don't like when people cite studies because I've learned that unless the studies are conducted completely independently, they can be skewed to say pretty much anything (did you hear that
cloth diapers are as bad for the environment as disposables are? Do you know who conducted that study? Procter & Gamble. As in, the Pampers and Luvs manufacturer).

Most doctors I speak to on this subject give me the standard answers, or offer statistics which really mean nothing--because my children are not numbers on a page. But have these doctors actually done any research themselves? Doubtful. They are repeating what they have been told, which is insufficient at best.

There are those "experts" that will tell you that as an average parent, you know nothing and should trust scientists and those who have gone to medical school (as if that makes anyone smarter in and of itself). But did you know that parents, just regular old laypeople with no medical or scientific background, are responsible for ensuring that future generations are not harmed by vaccines as their children were? It was one such group of determined parents in the 90s that finally got the US to stop using mercury in new vaccines and phase it out of current ones.

What we know as DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and a-cellular pertussis, known as whooping cough) used to be DTP (which was the full pertussis virus as opposed to it being split), and children became ill and died as a result. It was the great and exhausting efforts put forth by parents decades ago that forced the hand of those in charge and made them look at the vaccine and realize it was harmful.

Not related to vaccines, the plight of Augusto and Michaela Odone, as portrayed in the film Lorenzo's Oil, again highlights what can happen when parents take advocating for their children to another level. These two parents took matters into their own hands and made medical advancements that were extraordinary, to say the least. Neither of them was a doctor or scientist.

Lastly, I avoid mainstream parenting sources for advice on vaccinating. Dr. Paul Offit and the AAP are quoted in publications like Parents Magazine, promoting the safety of vaccines. And then, a little digging finds the following:

"The vaccine industry gives millions to the Academy of Pediatrics for conferences, grants, medical education classes and even helped build their headquarters. The totals are kept secret, but public documents reveal bits and pieces.

A $342,000 payment from Wyeth, maker of the pneumococcal vaccine - which makes $2 billion a year in sales.

A $433,000 contribution from Merck, the same year the academy endorsed Merck's HPV vaccine - which made $1.5 billion a year in sales.

Another top donor: Sanofi Aventis, maker of 17 vaccines and a new five-in-one combo shot just added to the childhood vaccine schedule last month. Every Child By Two, a group that promotes early immunization for all children, admits the group takes money from the vaccine industry, too - but wouldn't tell us how much. A spokesman told CBS News: "There are simply no conflicts to be unearthed." But guess who's listed as the group's treasurers: Officials from Wyeth and a paid advisor to big pharmaceutical clients.

Then there's Paul Offit, perhaps the most widely-quoted defender of vaccine safety. He's gone so far as to say babies can tolerate "10,000 vaccines at once." This is how Offit described himself in a previous interview: "I'm the chief of infectious disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at Penn's medical school," he said. Offit was not willing to be interviewed on this subject but like others in this CBS News investigation, he has strong industry ties. In fact, he's a vaccine industry insider. Offit holds in a $1.5 million dollar research chair at Children's Hospital, funded by Merck. He holds the patent on an anti-diarrhea vaccine he developed with Merck, Rotateq, which has prevented thousands of hospitalizations. And future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash. Dr. Offit's share of vaccine profits? Unknown.

There's nothing illegal about the financial relationships, but to critics, they pose a serious risk for conflicts of interest. As one member of Congress put it, money from the pharmaceutical industry can shape the practices of those who hold themselves out to be "independent." The American Academy of Pediatrics, Every Child By Two and Dr. Offit would not agree to interviews, but all told us they're up front about the money they receive, and it doesn't sway their opinions. Today's immunization schedule now calls for kids to get 55 doses of vaccines by age 6. Ideally, it makes for a healthier society. But critics worry that industry ties could impact the advice given to the public about all those vaccines."

Below are some of my sources.  

Dr. Sears' Vaccine Book has got useful, factual information, is constantly updated with the latest things you need to know, and has some alternate vaccine schedules for those who don't want to follow the AAP schedule.

Evidence of Harm is an excellent book to read. It goes into the fight parents led against mercury in vaccines in the 90s. Eye opening regarding our government and its agencies, and where their priorities lie.

This is a great site, established in part by the parents highlighted in the book above. 

Another good book is What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children's Vaccinations. It's been fairly recently (2010) updated and its got information on vaccine ingredients, etc., that I did not find anywhere else.

You can also pick up two books by Jenny McCarthy--Louder Than Words, and Mother Warriors. I know she seems like an unlikely author on the subject, and she's been made fun of quite a bit. She's not unintelligent, however, and I found her books extremely helpful and riveting.

The most important thing to remember is that the choice is, and should be, yours. Make your own decision, but make it an informed one, no matter which side of the coin you fall on. 


Anjali Kochhar Lipman said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you so much for writing this. I find that anti vaccine is so frequently difficult to validate and draw real conclusions from being based on anecdotal evidence that drives fear (and the reality of it IS scary) while pro vaccine info is unsubstantiated, untrustworthy, or really is just based on "well it hasn't been proven otherwise" even though the reason for that is it's not been properly studied. I'm left confused and untrusting of both sides, uncertain of where to go and frustrated that I can't discover truly adequate information. I feel like there's no one to trust. You're article echoes that sentiment and makes me feel that I am not alone. So many people I know follow one side or the other and it's so hard to have a discussion about delaying and selecting vaccinations. This is the route we too have chosen, and I will be approaching it even more carefully with my coming child and my son's continuing vaccinations. I always really feel like I'm going it alone. Thanks again for your info, it helped me clarify my own thoughts (which I've been struggling with lately) and gave me some great references to look more into!

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

@Anjali Kochhar Lipman Thank you so much for your comment! You definitely echoed my sentiments exactly--feeling confused, untrusting, and frustrated! I find that the middle-of-the-road approach has worked our family quite well when it comes to vaccinations.

The worst thing for me is reading pro-vaccine information where folks are condescending and imply that those parents who dare to question vaccines, the AAP, or worse, the entire industry's intentions are stupid, ill-informed, or ignorant. This entire situation came from parents simply wanting to do what's best for their children and protecting them from being harmed. I don't think there's anyone out there, on either side, who believes what they are doing is bad for their children.

Beth Henry said... [Reply to comment]

I thought this was a great post. This is also how I approach my decision making re: vaccines. We do a delayed schedule as well. My doctor seems offended that we choose to spread them out even though we come in without fail for them every month.

Anastasia said... [Reply to comment]

@Beth Henry Thank you so much for your comment! It took a while, but our doctors are respectful of our wishes and ask at each visit what shot we are doing that day. I never thought I would get to that point!

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