A Healthy Dose?

082914_cover1As children return to school this week, some parents, physicians and scientists are engaged in an increasingly fierce debate over the safety and necessity of childhood vaccinations for diseases such as polio, hepatitis B, pertussis, diphtheria and chicken pox.

Emotions run high on both sides, with parents who choose not to vaccinate claiming that they face ostracism by their neighbors and worrying that, if found out, their children will be banned from schools, car pools and play groups. Those who do vaccinate their children claim that those who don’t are putting young babies and the immuno-compromised at risk and subjecting first-world societies to potential epidemics of diseases once thought eradicated. A small but growing number of today’s parents, most of whom are too young to remember when the vaccines for these diseases did not exist, are convinced that the diseases no longer pose serious risks to the public health.

Instead, these parents believe that it is the vaccines, rather than the diseases they inoculate against, that pose dangers to their children.

“I think we have lost the fear of these diseases,” said Baltimore pediatrician Rona Stein. “It’s wonderful that we’ve forgotten them, because they are now so rare [in the U.S.]; but the downside of that is that we don’t remember how serious they are.

“If you go to an underdeveloped country you will see them and realize they are not just minor illnesses,” she continued. “Anyone who’s been through a polio epidemic would gladly stand in line for the vaccine to get their children protected.”

R.B., a 32-year-old mother of four who, like others interviewed for this article, would not allow her name to be published for fear of being exposed as a non-vaccinator, is not convinced by the overwhelming scientific and governmental consensus that says vaccinating children is necessary for public health.

She maintains that most people who contract polio today have no symptoms at all, while M.D., a local 29-year-old non-practicing nurse and mother of three, says that epidemics of yesteryear — the American Academy of Pediatrics points out that polio killed 6,000 people in 1916 and left another 27,000 paralyzed — had more to do with lack of hygiene.

“The world today is completely different than it was during the polio epidemic,” said M.D. “It was dirty. An average healthy person couldn’t get a disease like polio today. Polio in a healthy person today is usually asymptomatic or it has minor symptoms and comes and goes. Then the person develops immunity forever.”

Views such as that have many doctors and health policymakers concerned about the risk of diseases reappearing. Although there have been parents who chose not to vaccinate their children as far back as the late 18th century when the smallpox vaccine was developed, in the past 15 years, the number of parents in the U.S. refusing, delaying or selectively vaccinating their children has increased.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parental refusal or deferral of childhood vaccinations has led to an increase in diseases such as measles, which was “officially eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000. The federal agency reports that between Jan. 1 and Aug. 8 of this year, 18 outbreaks and 593 confirmed measles cases occurred in the United States.

Pertussis, a bacterial disease that causes violent fits of coughing and is known as whooping cough, has experienced a record increase this year, according to the CDC, with 9,964 cases being reported between Jan. 1 and June 16. That represents a 24 percent increase over the same period the year before.

Mumps and chicken pox as well have made comebacks in recent years, and for the most part, the CDC attributes the increase in all of these formerly “eliminated” diseases to low vaccination coverage in certain communities.

“When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak,” Vaccines.gov, a website maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, explains. “Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines — such as infants, pregnant women or immuno-compromised individuals — get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as community or [herd] immunity.”

Conversely, when relatively high numbers of people in a community are not vaccinated, that protection is diminished. That may explain, say scientists, why close-knit communities such as the Amish and others who refuse vaccination because of their religious beliefs have been among the hardest hit by these outbreaks. In recent years, there have been several outbreaks in Haredi Jewish communities as well, most notably in the spring of 2013 when at least 58 people in Orthodox Jewish enclaves in the Borough Park and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn, N.Y., developed measles. This was reportedly the largest outbreak in the United States since the endemic spread of measles was eliminated.

Dissenting views
Despite these outbreaks, authorities maintain that most religious Jews are vaccinated and believe in the safety of vaccinations.

“Judaism traditionally expects certain actions of its believers to maintain health,” wrote John D. Grabenstein in a 2013 article in the journal Vaccine. “Pikuach nefesh, acting to save one’s ownor another’s life, is a primary value, a positive commandment. Judaic principles emphasize the community benefits of disease prevention in a manner superior to individual preference, based on scriptures such as Leviticus 19:16.”

Generally speaking, Jews who have chosen not to vaccinate have done so for medical, not religious, reasons.

An increase in concerns about the safety of vaccinations was seen after the publication of a 1998 study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield of England in the medical journal “Lancet” that asserted a correlation between the vaccine given to prevent measles, mumps and rubella and digestive inflammation and autism. Initially, some believed that thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative contained in some vaccines, could be a culprit. In response, the U.S. Public Health Service, the American Academy of Pediatrics and vaccine manufacturers decided that all but trace amounts of thimerosal should be eliminated from vaccines. Yet, a 2010 CDC study published in the journal “Pediatrics” concluded that “exposure to ethyl mercury from thimerosal-containing immunizations during pregnancy … or as a young child” was not associated with any autism-spectrum disorders.

The same year, Wakefield’s study was discredited and his article was retracted by “Lancet” after journalist Brian Deere uncovered evidence of Wakefield’s medical misconduct, including the use of fraudulent data, unethical treatment of children and undisclosed conflicts of interest. In the aftermath of Deere’s reporting, Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom and was dismissed from his position as a gastroenterologist and researcher at the Royal Free Hospital.

Many subsequent studies reported that no relationship existed between MMR and autism.

“Over a million children have been studied and no link between vaccines and autism has been found,” said Stein, the Baltimore pediatrician. “The safety of vaccines has been proven over and over again.”

Still, the belief that vaccinations may cause autism, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes, asthma, allergies and other developmental disabilities rages on. R.B., who lives in Pikesville and is pregnant with her fifth child, says she vaccinated her first two children, now 6 and 7, but that doing so betrayed her intuition.

“At 2 months old, my baby received four shots at one time. He began to get high fevers. I brought him to the doctor, and they said this was normal,” she recalled.

“I said, ‘My baby was normal. You gave him his first fever!’ In between when my second and third children were born, I started paying more attention. More and more vaccinations were coming out every year.”

When she was pregnant with her third child, she had had enough.

“This is crazy!” R.B. remembered saying. “I can’t believe all of this is healthy. I will read about each one and decide which ones are necessary and which ones are not necessary.”

M.D. shares a similar story.

“I just assumed vaccinating was something you did, because vaccines saved humanity,” she said with a chuckle. “But then when my oldest was born she had a traumatic birth; she was small and bruised and weak, and we didn’t want to get the hepatitis B vaccine right away.”

Her pediatrician offered to inoculate her daughter at the first visit, but by the one month checkup, M.D. was still apprehensive. After pressure from her baby’s doctor, M.D. relented to having her daughter vaccinated at 6 weeks old.

“She kept having weird symptoms: bloody diapers and hysterical crying,” M.D. said. “I cut out all the stuff from her diet [that might have been causing the symptoms], and she was basically living off rice cakes and tuna, but nothing helped. At about 10 months, we went to our regular doctor’s visit and were told she was due for all these shots. I told him, ‘She has not been herself lately, and we are about to travel [to Israel]. Can we wait until we get back?”

Ultimately, M.D. and her husband decided not to continue vaccinating.

In retrospect, the mother has no regrets. She is unfazed by the possibility that her children might contract any of the diseases vaccines are meant to prevent, and she does not believe they are endangering others. She further believes the diseases that vaccines protect against are not that serious and, like R.B., accuses doctors and pharmaceutical companies of being in league together to make more money through vaccine deliveries.

“We would make a lot more money if we didn’t vaccinate,” remarked Stein. Both M.D and R.B. believe the concept of herd immunity is a myth.

082914_cover2If those who vaccinate their children “really believe vaccinations protect, why are they afraid we are putting them at risk?” wondered M.D. “Vaccine immunity wears off in a maximum of 10 years. That’s why people need boosters. My unvaccinated child is as unprotected as people whose vaccinations have worn out.

“In my world view, a child recently vaccinated is shedding a live virus whereas my unvaccinated kids aren’t,” she added. “People need to make their decisions based on fact and research. Most people don’t.”

Dr. Neal Halsey, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University, agrees that people should base their decisions on facts and research as well. But he differs significantly on the research and facts on which he relies.

“Vaccines don’t cause autism,” he said. “This has been firmly proven by excellent science. There should be no doubt any longer.”

His response to those who say vaccines aren’t effective: “Vaccines work extremely well, but they are not perfect,” he said. “Measles vaccines are about 95 percent effective, and pertussis is somewhat lower. Herd protection works, but it is dependent on the cooperation of the whole community. These diseases are transferred person to person. Only 1 percent of kids have a real medical reason not to be vaccinated.”

Comments

    • Jonathan Gewirtz says

      Dovit, that is probably one of the most offensive comments I’ve seen in a long time. I’m “Haredi,” and I come from here. I’m third-generation American, more than probably most of the country can say. I’m not weighing in on the vaccine issue because I haven’t one enough research to comment, but your comments is offensive and shows ignorance and more than a tad bit of racism.

  1. tammy martino says

    I’m vaccine injured with multiple sclerosis that developed within 19 days of my initial hepatitis b vaccine. I am a pharmacist and was in pursuit of additional medical training when the injury occurred. In my research of vaccine injury and manufacturers here’s what I’ve found:
    The vaccine manufacturers have no incentive to provide uncontaminated product because no liability exists within the USA, people in the USA are being “marketed to” for diseases that do not have epidemiological relevance such as meningococcal meningitis which is a problem in sub-Saharan Africa where antibiotics are not readily available, the statistical data being utilized by the CDC and vaccine manufacturers have small studies that would under normal circumstances be deemed statistically insignificant, studies are skewed to generate bias of safety for vaccines, little to no research is going into vaccine injury “mechanism of action” in the USA, and the wrong populations to receive vaccines are targeted by the CDC such as infants receiving the hepatitis b vaccine when the vast majority of infants have little to no risk of coming in contact with hepatitis b.
    I am Roman Catholic and have a religious exemption for my child to not receive the hepatitis b vaccine. My religious exemption shows that it is against my belief to cause harm to another. Knowing that the hepatitis b vaccine can cause blindness and paralysis like it did to me, I do not believe that this vaccine should be administered to human beings, including my child. You may do what you wish, however, any respectful religious person would respect a parents desire to prevent a readily preventable vaccine injury. Good luck and God Bless.

    • Elon Weintraub says

      I had a friend who had meningococcal meningitis, the disease you claim is only a problem in sub-Saharan Africa. She nearly lost her legs. Antibiotics do not solve everything. I will forward this article so you can see exactly why we vaccinate.

      As for no incentive to provide uncontaminated product, it is true that the US provides an insurance pool which pays for claims against vaccine makers. This is because the cost of the payout to the US government is much less than the cost of an epidemic. The cost of a lawsuit, groundless or no, is enough to erase a year’s profits from a vaccine. Nonetheless, the CDC and FDA monitor the contents of vaccines very closely, and the FDA shuts down any plants in non-compliance. There are no ingredients present in vaccines that should not be there by design. And every ingredient in the vaccine serves a purpose in making it effective and safe.

  2. Ska561 says

    Macia Angell, MD 
    “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgement of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over more than 2 decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”

    There is a huge tendency to flat out deny that vaccines could be responsible for causing any issue beyond a fever and irritability, which is ridiculous. Look at the package insert, they all say they can cause encephalitis – brain swelling- which can lead to death, yet when a baby dies shortly after being vaccinated it’s called SIDS. Let’s use our common sense, not buy the lines we are fed by our govt agencies – safe and effective, side effects are very rare. Vaccines are vastly oversimplified by those that push them on the public, do your research, open your eyes, the truth and the proof that vaccines cause harm is freely available for those willing to look beyond the well rehearsed jargon of the public health officials and the media. All the parents whose children have been damaged or died from vaccines KNOW what CAUSED the problems, they saw it happen, yet so many are told there was no relation, couldn’t have been the vaccine, what lies. Correlation doesn’t equal causation is a distraction to keep people from realizing the truth, because if people knew that truth that they were allowing their children to be poisoned, damaged, & killed it would spell disaster for the vaccine industry and program.

  3. Kirsten Maurer says

    Over and over and over we have to hear that Wakefield research has been discredited. Do you know that nearly every report that proves there isn’t a connection between autism and vaccines was in part authored by Paul Tornsen. He had been convicted of grand theft fraud by the federal government. He took millions from the cdc and never did the research. Why is this ok?

  4. Mindy says

    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Measles.
    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Mumps.
    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Rubella.
    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Flu.
    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Chicken Pox.
    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Shingles.
    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Pertussis.
    Your child has a CHANCE of getting over Tuberculosis.
    My child will NEVER get over Autism.

    So thanks, but no thanks. He has been a guinea pig for the CDC, FDA, big pharma, and our corrupt government for far too long. I do not wish for him to be injected with neurotoxins after doing 18+ years of research. I am tired of hearing about how SERIOUS these diseases are. What in the world do you think Autism and all the side effects that come along with it are? A walk in the park? We are talking life long devastation here…some which ALSO result in death. Hypocritical much?
    I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t put your child’s quality of life on the line to save mine, so don’t you dare ask me to do the same for you. Mine has already paid a high enough price. Wouldn’t you say?

    • Elon Weintraub says

      First off, there IS NO EVIDENCE vaccines cause autism. In fact, there is every shred of evidence there is no connection.

      Second, even if they did cause autism, your argument is pure lunacy. You want your child to have a possibility of dying from all those diseases, because there’s also a possibility they’ll recover? We’ll I’ll tell you, some children do not recover. And many that do recover do not recover unscathed. Your child who gets polio has a CHANCE to get over it, but also a CHANCE to spend her life in a iron lung or wheelchair. Your child who gets mumps has a CHANCE to recover and a CHANCE he will never be able to have children. Your child who gets measles has a CHANCE to recover and a CHANCE to be permanently blinded or have serious brain damage which she will NEVER get over. The CHANCE of serious complications from these diseases is 1%-10% per disease. Study after study has found no link between vaccines and autism, but whatever they do cause, it is far less than the permanent injury and death from your list.

  5. Tami Goldstein says

    I vaccinated my child and something happened, she got autism. There is ample documentation to she vaccines cause autism and the CDC recently admitted they lied and omitted research that shows that. Go to the greater good website and see all the medical research that shows the link between vaccines and autism. We spent, borrowed and charged everything we had to get our daughter to functioning recovery. Never again will I vaccinate.

    • Shoshanna says

      If vaccination is universal, them some kids who are vaccinated will also develop autism. The initial symptoms of autism generally manifest themselves at an age when children are getting a lot of vaccines. Correlation does not prove causality. My children also got vaccines and nothing happened; they didn’t develop autism.

      No, there is not ample documentation of any link between vaccines and autism. In fact there are ample studies showing no link.

      I hope your daughter is getting all the help she needs.

    • Elon Weintraub says

      I’m sorry about your daughter. But you are incorrect about the CDC. You can search their archives and see for yourself they admitted no such coverup. Because there wasn’t one. Research in the US and Europe continues to show the same increase in autism cases whether the parents vaccinated or not and regardless of the components in the vaccine. The only connection is that autism develops around the same age babies get vaccinated. 6 months to 2 years is when they begin to talk and respond to social cues and also happens to be when vaccines are first given. In fact, it is becoming clearer and clearer that this focus on vaccines to the exclusion of all else is detrimental to autism activism.

  6. Richard Daggett, President, Polio Suvivors Association says

    So, Rabbi Kamenetzky and his wife believe that vaccinations, not the diseases they prevent, are harmful. Rabbi Kamenetzky is quoted, “There is a doctor in Chicago who doesn’t vaccinate any of his patients and they have no problem at all. I see vaccinations as the problem. It’s a hoax. Even the Salk vaccine [against polio] is a hoax. It is just big business.”

    I won’t question the rabbi’s authority on rabbinical law, but his opinion on vaccines and illness is just his opinion. I give it no more weight than I would someone who believes the earth is flat. On the other hand, stating that vaccines are a hoax steps beyond his rabbinical authority. It is dangerous. I am president of the Polio Survivors Association. I survived polio … just barely …, and work with polio survivors every day. In 1952, nearly 60,000 people in the United States contracted polio, and polio killed more American children than any other communicable disease. Has the rabbi ever seen a hospital filled with children in iron lungs? Probably not. Why? Because we now have a vaccine!

    And, calling vaccines, “just big business” is an illustration of his lack of serious thought. Does the rabbi grow his own food? Does he weave his own cloth or make his own clothing? I hope he understands that these things are sold for profit and are, “just big business.”

    • Ben says

      Mr. Daggett, you have to understand that Rabinnic figures aren’t held accountable for anything they say or do so they can speak foolhardy and dangerous things at whim. In my community, all the big Rabbis came out with a letter to the community a few years back apologizing for the way they handled sexual abuse cases but rest assured, none of them resigned or took responsibility for the matter. 100’s of kids off the derech? Okay – sorry already…

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