With all these new vaccines designed to prevent so many childhood diseases, one might expect that the health of American children would improve significantly. But the evidence suggests otherwise. America has a higher infant mortality rate today than many countries that require fewer vaccines. Perhaps more seriously, vaccinations may be responsible for a significant rise in the incidence rates of many chronic diseases. Skepticism about the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations is illustrated by the fact that nearly 40% of nurses decline the annual flu shots. (Clark et al, Influenza vaccination attitudes and practices among U.S. registered nurses, Am J Infect Control 2009;37:551-6.)
Ideally, the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine should be fully established by the manufacturer of the vaccine before it is approved for public use. However, in the United States, vaccines are often approved without adequate safety studies. Moreover, a 1986 law, that exempted vaccine manufacturers from any liability for harm or injury caused by vaccines, has further undermined their motivation to improve vaccine safety.
According to CDC’s current vaccination schedule, a one-year old child may be given up to nine vaccines during a single office visit. Most parents are familiar with the immediate reactions to these injections which range from mild (redness and soreness at the injection site, mild fever, headache, crying, etc.) to severe (very high fever, severe allergic reaction, apnea, syncope, etc.). Based on reports of such adverse reactions submitted by parents, the CDC-sponsored Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) compiles a national database of such immediate vaccine reactions.
More seriously though, there is substantial evidence to suggest that over-vaccination may also be responsible for the sharply increasing rates of immune system and neurological disorders such as allergies, asthma, autism, Crohn’s disease, juvenile diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, seizure disorders, and so on. According to one study, Hep B vaccination of male neonates tripled their odds for autism diagnosis.
Besides safety, the effectiveness of some vaccines is also quite limited. For example, flu vaccine is, at best, 50-75%, and, at worst, 0% effective at preventing seasonal flu. Moreover, the immunity obtained from many vaccines is short-lived compared to the life-long immunity obtained from exposure to the real virus.
Parents concerned about risks of over-vaccination may use an alternative vaccination schedule that minimizes the risk of vaccine injury while protecting their children from the more serious childhood diseases. For example, parents can follow the more conservative pre-1989 schedule of vaccinations which requires fewer and older (more time-proven) vaccines. Or they can follow the current vaccination schedule of another country, such as Japan, that requires significantly fewer vaccines. Finally, they can choose to give their children only selected vaccines, e.g., the four “traditional” vaccines: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio.
As a further precaution, parents can spread out the vaccination schedule so that fewer vaccine doses are given during a single office visit. They can also request vaccines that are free from problematic ingredients such as mercury. And in some cases, they may be able to defer a particular vaccine until there is a local outbreak of the associated disease.
Note that some diseases such as flu, Hep B, and HPV can also be prevented by practicing good hygiene and safe sex. And many more diseases—including some for which vaccines don’t even exist—can be prevented by fostering natural immunity through breastfeeding, good nutrition, and a healthy lifestyle. Last but not least, some researchers claim that experiencing some childhood diseases, e.g., chickenpox, naturally may help stimulate the development of a mature immune system.
To fully appreciate the pros and cons of all these alternatives, parents may wish to read some good books on this topic, such as Vaccinations by Aviva Jill Romm. A good source of up-to-date information on all the vaccines is the National Vaccine Information Center web site (nvic.org).
Note that parents who skip any required vaccination will need to file a vaccination exemption form when enrolling their children in school. The exemption process varies by state, but is relatively simple in California.
The vaccination pendulum in the United States has swung from a situation where too many children suffered because of under-vaccination to a situation where too many children suffer because of over-vaccination. Moreover, this pendulum will likely swing even further as 300 new vaccines are currently under development. This vaccination juggernaut is being driven by strong economic forces, not unlike those driving the reckless overuse of antibiotics.
(Note that the global vaccine market is projected to grow from about $30 billion today to $100 billion by 2025.) However, millions of concerned parents are refusing to acquiesce in CDC’s aggressive one-size-fits-all approach to vaccination. They are educating themselves and making thoughtful vaccination choices to minimize serious risks to their children’s health.
Vijay Gupta researches and writes about health issues from a consumer’s perspective.