Increasingly, more childhood vaccinations are introduced into pediatric health practices via the pharmaceutical industry. Parents must, for the health of their children, take a more proactive role in assessing the risks and benefits of naturally acquired diseases versus those of the vaccine administration. There are currently ten diseases which children under the age of two receive multiple vaccinations for in pediatric care clinics. Several more vaccines may soon be implemented into this schedule. Research on more than 2000 vaccines is currently underway and the list of childhood vaccines can only be expected to grow.
Routine vaccination may or may not have a contributory role in the steady decline of childhood diseases observed in the past century. While there has been a continual downward trend in the incidence of diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis and measles prior to mass inoculation campaigns, the rate of this decline has not been influenced by introduction of vaccines.
Documented adverse reactions to vaccines, some of which are disabling or fatal, can be obtained via reference to the "Adverse Reactions" section of each vaccine's listing in The Physician's Desk Reference (available in the public library reference section and at your pediatrician's office). Reported reactions are for greater than 1% of kids (without reference to the fewer than 1% who experience reactions, some of which may have been the least common but most severe). We have also seen an alarming increase in the incidence of behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, autism, autoimmune diseases and childhood cancers. It is not yet clear precisely how the routine administration of innoculation combinations to young children is affecting the immune and neurological systems of vaccinated populations.
The immune system works to clear bacteria and viruses from the body, creating antibodies that attach to these antigens to make them more apparent to the white blood cells. B-lymphocytes play a role in immunologic memory by continuing to produce low levels of antibodies often over the course of a lifetime. This enables individuals who develop naturally acquired cases of chickenpox, measles and mumps to maintain lifelong immunity to these diseases. If re-exposed to the diseases in the future, the immune system boosts production of related antibodies to prevent redevelopment of the disease. With vaccine acquired immunity, fragments of killed or live bacteria or virus are introduced via intramuscular injection and the immune system produces antibodies against the foreign antigen(s). Vaccine antibody levels and types may not be equivalent to those attained from a natural infection.
Most vaccines do not confer lifelong immunity nor are they 100% effective. Diseases that are usually mild when acquired during childhood (such as chickenpox/varicella, measles and mumps) are typically more severe when acquired as adults. "Temporary" immunity is why we often see outbreaks of measles in university settings. In these contagious situations, students with lapsed immunizations and no childhood history of the disease usually have crowded living/study conditions and less than ideal nutrition.
Rubella often escapes detection, but once the disease has run its course, one remains immune for life. While this disease is mild in children, it can have devastating consequences on a fetus if acquired by a pregnant woman during the first three months of gestation (i.e., neurological impairments in vision and hearing, limb defects and heart defects). Ideally, it would seem best to give kids the opportunity to develop the disease, check antibody levels in pre-pubescent girls (9-12 years old) and immunize at that time if there has been no previous exposure. Vaccinating after puberty increases the risk of developing acute and/or chronic arthritis. Rubella is available as a stand-alone vaccine.
Other diseases are not considered to be mild when acquired by the very young. Pertusses, for example, can be very serious or fatal if contracted by a baby younger than six months old. It may be advantageous to consider vaccinating young infants with acellular (rather than whole cell) pertussis and forego later vaccines. Another disease, tetanus (via a deep puncture wound), can be fatal in a person of any age.
Polio, while not a mild disease, is no longer a threat in the US if we consider the risk of acquiring a case of "wild" polio--last seen in the US in 1979. New cases of polio since then have occured, ironically, via the routine administration of a live polio virus (oral polio virus or OPV) in the vaccination series. In this case, the vaccine infects the child (and those in contact) it was designed to protect. Fortunately, OPV is no longer being manufactured for this very reason, but it is still being administered until pharmaceutical stock is depleted.
While there may be a place for prudent and miminal application of vaccines, it is important to consider the inherent mechanisms that exist within the human body to eliminate disease.
Vaccination options for parents to consider include:
1) Fully vaccinating on schedule.
2) Waiting until the child is older (>1 year old) to fully or selectively vaccinate (with consideration for pertussis in young infants).
3) Administering only one vaccine or combination at one time (i.e., ruebella without measles and mumps or DTaP (diptheria/tetanus/acellula pertussis) rather than combining it with other vaccines the same day).
4) Using preservative-free preparations when possible (many are preserved with mercury/thimersol and formaldehyde which may play a role in adverse reactions).
5) Not vaccinating using orthodox methods.
6) Incorporating supportive therapies such as homeopathy, botanicals, nutrition, acupuncture and osteopathic manipulation.
Dr. Keyena McKenzie is a naturopathic physician specializing in the wholistic health care of kids and adults. She has taught classes on "Vaccination Considerations" for parents. She practices in Madison, WI and can be reached at (608) 251-5100.
(Originally printed in Infused vol. 2 no. 4 8/00)