About Vaccine Choices

Vaccine Choices

What options are available to parents in their choice about vaccines? First, parents may decide they want less than the total range of recommended vaccines. It comes as a surprise to some parents that they can choose to have one or some vaccines and refuse others. You are responsible for your child’s health. You are in control. If a child suffers a dramatic and tragic reaction to a vaccine, it is the parents who must cope with it. The doctors may be sympathetic, but they are personally uninvolved. They view it merely as a casualty in the war against disease, if they admit any culpability at all.

When would a parent choose to give some vaccines and not others? Simply stated, some vaccines apparently represent a more dangerous threat to the body than others. This is inferred from the types of immediate, short-term reactions that we can observe. We assume that those vaccines with the most dramatic short-term toxicity also pose a more dangerous risk for long-term reactions, though this has not been proven because no one has studied the long-term effects of vaccines.

Given that the long-term risks are unknown, parents usually make choices about individual vaccines based on the history of short-term reactions they have caused. The pertussis, measles, and rubella vaccines tend to cause more significant observable reactions than others, though hepatitis and polio vaccines can also cause serious illness. The most commonly avoided vaccine is pertussis because by now, after more than sixty years of medical reports of horrific reactions (deaths, epilepsy, and retardation) from the whole-cell pertussis vaccine, public fear of the vaccine has mounted. The fact that many other countries have abandoned the pertussis vaccine has strengthened the resolve of many parents to also refuse the vaccine. These parents have held their ground, and many physicians, though they may not take the same position, admit that a parent’s concern about possible reactions may be justified, despite the consistent denial of the American vaccine industry.

Parents can pick and choose from the list of vaccines based on their own individual family’s needs and their own research. They may decide that some diseases pose enough danger to their child to risk the adverse effects of the vaccine. Even a parent who has rejected most vaccines because of their potential adverse effects may choose to give one or a few individual vaccines. Typically, tetanus is a disease that concerns many parents. Since the vaccine causes less immediate severe reactions than others, because the vaccine always works to prevent tetanus, and because tetanus represents a life-threatening situation when it does occur, parents who refuse other vaccines sometimes opt to get the tetanus shots for their child. A parent’s concern may be greater for a very active child, especially around horses, since both these factors increase the risk of wounds and exposure to tetanus. Other families may be considering travel to areas of the world (Asia or Africa) where polio still exists, and they will consider giving that vaccine even if they realize that polio does not occur in their own part of the world.

Typically, parents will avoid and refuse specific vaccines for two reasons. Either they fear serious vaccine reactions because of a vaccine’s history, or the disease causes so little concern that the vaccine does not seem necessary to them. Other diseases represent a greater threat, and parents may feel more secure giving the vaccine than risking the disease in their child.
When parents make an informed choice, they will be taking responsibility for their own child’s health care, doing their best to ensure that child’s safety and future. An informed choice requires information.

Adverse Effects of Vaccines

All of the vaccines have significant adverse effects. These can be separated into two groups: (a) immediate or short-term reactions that occur soon after giving a vaccine, and (b) delayed or long-term reactions. Immediate reactions include fevers, allergic responses, deafness, convulsions, paralysis, central nervous system disease resulting in temporary or permanent disabilities, and death. Delayed reactions may be more insidious and less obvious. They can also result in persistent conditions that include epilepsy, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and immune system dysfunction.

Adverse events resulting from vaccines may be due to the bacterial toxin or virus component of the vaccine, or to the chemicals used in the preparation and preserving of the solution. These chemicals include mercury, formaldehyde, aluminum, and a variety of other known toxic materials.

Vaccine reactions are notoriously under-reported. Many factors contribute to the reluctance of physicians to report a vaccine reaction, not the least of which is outright denial. Self-protection and self-reassurance are other psychological motives. Physicians do not want to admit that they have caused a problem. They like to think that their interventions are helpful, not harmful. They have also been assured and instructed by the vaccine industry that certain reactions that parents regularly observe, such as brain damage and death, cannot be attributed to the vaccines. A whole range of bizarre and pathological behaviors that infants display after they receive vaccines must have another cause, they argue. It would have occurred anyway, regardless of the shot.

Short-term reactions

Immediate or short-term reactions following vaccine administration have been consistently reported in the medical literature since vaccines have been in common use. Reports of these reactions have caused rebellion within the populations of various countries, and governments have responsed in various ways.

In 1975, Japanese parents refused to give their children the pertussis vaccine after widespread publication of two deaths following vaccination. The Japanese government changed its policy in response to this protest, and delayed the recommended age for vaccination until two years. During the late nineteenth century, individuals in the United States protested that mandatory smallpox vaccination infringed upon their constitutional right of personal liberty. The issue was brought to trial and, in 1905, the Supreme Court upheld the rule that state police power included the need to protect its citizens from diseases. All cases since then have resulted in the same conclusion based on this precedent. When European countries began suspecting that the pertussis vaccine was dangerous, they eliminated it from the recommended schedule of childhood vaccinations. When parents in the United States have refused to administer this vaccine to their children, however, their children have been taken into protective custody by the state.

The Vaccine Safety Committee, established by the Institutes of Medicine, has ruled that the evidence proves, or favors, a causal relation between vaccines and the following adverse effects:

  • anaphylaxis (a sudden, potentially life-threatening systemic allergic response) caused by several vaccines
  • polio and death caused by the polio vaccine
  • thrombocytopenia (a decrease in the number of platelets, the cells involved in blood clotting) caused by the measles vaccine
  • death caused by the measles vaccine
  • acute arthritis caused by the rubella vaccine
  • acute encephalopathy after DTP
  • shock and unusual shock-like states after DTP
  • chronic arthritis after rubella vaccine
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome after DT and polio vaccines.

Despite the other thousands of reports from countries around the world – from distraught parents whose children died within hours of a shot, to physicians convinced that a vaccine resulted in meningitis, or deafness, or sudden onset of central nervous system disorders – the committee refused to recognize a causal relation between these events and the recently administered vaccines. Most types of adverse reactions reported in the medical literature and through the adverse event reporting systems were not recognized by the Vaccine Safety Committee as having a causal relationship to the vaccines. The list of conditions that have a suspected link to vaccines includes 44 different types of reactions—conditions with literally hundreds of reported cases, conditions such as meningitis and diabetes following mumps vaccine, and subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) after measles vaccine. Other types of reactions, such as deaths from the pertussis vaccines, are denied. Despite the controversies, the conclusions of the Vaccine Safety Committee are now used as guidelines in the award of compensations for vaccine-injured children.

Long-Term Reactions

Deep controversy also surrounds the issue of delayed or long-term reactions, because these do not have a clear causal link to vaccines. In vaccine-industry jargon, they are not “temporally related” – that is the definition of a delayed reaction. For example, how do we know that the increased number of ear infections in a population of vaccinated children, or in any individual child, was caused by the vaccine? No one has studied this question. How do we know that the rise in attention disorders in school-age children has a relationship to vaccines? It would seem to be a logical conclusion, but no one has studied vaccinated versus unvaccinated children. Parents must make judgments in this area based on the experience of other parents and practitioners whose children and patients have not been vaccinated.

In general, such parents and practitioners agree that their children are healthier, and suffer fewer recurrent infections, than their vaccinated counterparts. This may help reassure parents who choose not to vaccinate, but it obviously carries no scientific weight.

Critics of vaccinations have asserted that vaccines are capable of causing recurrent infections in children because they weaken the immune system. They say that the dramatic rise in ear infections, allergies, and asthma in children can be attributed (at least in part) to the damaging effects of vaccines. The incidence of asthma, the most serious and life-threatening of these conditions, has steadily increased in the modern era since the introduction of vaccines. Just during the period 1980 through 1989 the prevalence rate of self-reported asthma in the United States increased 38 percent, and the death rate for asthma increased 46 percent (Centers for Disease Control, 1992). Just in the five years from 1985 through 1990, projected estimates for asthma’s medical costs increased 53 percent. The total estimated cost of asthma rose from $4.5 billion to $6.2 billion, or 1 percent of all US health-care costs (Weiss et al., 1992). This dramatic increase has been attributed to increased exposure to environmental pollutants, and to the toxic effect of asthma medications themselves, but the increasing burden on the immune system caused by vaccines could also be responsible.

One of the most compelling arguments that points to vaccines as a cause of immune system dysfunction is the dramatic improvement that occurs in these cases following homeopathic treatment of the vaccine adverse effects. When a homeopathic doctor sees a child with recurrent infections, respiratory symptoms, or nervous system disorders which began after a vaccine, a common treatment protocol includes the prescription of a homeopathic preparation of the vaccine itself. This serves to antidote the adverse effect of the vaccine. Dramatic recoveries have been recorded in the homeopathic literature, including cases of immediate febrile reactions after vaccines and long-term illness patterns that resolved subsequent to the homeopathic treatment (Smits, 1995; Schaffer, 1995; Moskowitz, 1991; Moskowitz 1983).

The Institute of Medicine Vaccine Safety Committee identifies various autoimmune phenomena as well-documented adverse effects of vaccines. Many of these autoimmune responses to vaccines result in permanent, chronic disease conditions. The committee’s report acknowledges the repeated incidence of specific autoimmune diseases triggered by vaccines that attack nerves and cause destruction of the nerve sheath (myelin). These demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), have plagued the vaccine industry. Reports of their occurrence following vaccination continue to pour in from around the world. In their attempt to explain the repeated occurrence of demyelinating autoimmune diseases that occur as reactions to vaccines, the committee members admit that,

It is biologically plausible that injection of an inactivated virus, bacterium, or live attenuated virus might induce in the susceptible host an autoimmune response by deregulation of the immune response, by nonspecific activation of the T cells directed against myelin proteins, or by autoimmuniity triggered by sequence similarities of proteins in the vaccine to host proteins such as those of myelin (Institute of Medicine, 1994).

If autoimmune processes and immunosuppression caused by vaccines can destroy myelin (GBS) or joints (rheumatoid arthritis), then perhaps other destructive diseases also may have their origin in vaccination. This is the concern of various authors who identify cancer (Murphy, 1993) or AIDS (Curtis, 1992) as possible results of vaccination. Many critics have suggested taking a much more cautious approach to vaccine campaigns until we know more about these possible long-lasting devastating effects.

Several studies have examined the effect of vaccines on subsequent illness patterns in children to investigate whether vaccines can suppress immune system functions. One study examined the incidence of acute illnesses in the 30 day period following vaccine compared to the incidence in the same children for the 30 day period prior to a vaccine. This study showed a significant and dramatic increase in nonbacterial fevers, diarrhea and cough in the month following DTP vaccine (Jaber et al., 1988). Children had a higher incidence of illness after DTP compared to their health before the shot.

The ability of pertussis and DTP vaccines to stimulate the onset of paralytic polio provides further evidence that vaccines can promote serious disease processes and immune system dysfunction. Paralytic polio has occurred frequently following vaccination. This phenomenon was first reported in 1909. Scattered cases were reported over the next 40 years. Then, during the polio epidemics of the 1950s, series of cases of polio following pertussis-vaccine injections were reported around the world, in Australia (McCloskey, 1950; McCloskey, 1952), the United Kingdom (Hill & Knowelden, 1949; Medical Research Council, 1956), and the United States (Korn et al., 1952; Greenberg et al., 1952).

During a recent polio epidemic in Oman the problem of paralytic polio infection’s onset soon after DTP vaccination occurred again. In this epidemic, 70 children 5 to 24 months old contracted paralytic polio during the period 1988-1989. When compared to a control group of children without polio, it was found that a significantly higher percentage of these children had received a DTP shot within 30 days of the onset of polio (43 percent of polio victims compared to 28 percent of controls) (Sutter et al., 1992). The mechanism of this provoking effect of vaccination on polio onset has never been adequately explained, but it seems clear that an immune-suppressing effect of vaccines must be responsible.

Animal studies have also shown immune-suppressive effects of vaccines. For example, mice showed an increased susceptibility to infection following pertussis vaccine (Abernathy & Spink, 1956). Laboratory studies in humans have revealed evidence of immune system suppression as well. After measles vaccination certain lymphocyte functions essential in fighting pathogenic organisms are depressed (Hirsch et al., 1981), and the number of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights disease, decreases (Nicholson et al., 1992). Similarly, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine has been reported to have a temporary suppressive effect on the function of neutrophils, another white blood cell (Toraldo et al., 1992).

The possible long-term neurologic effects of the vaccines have been well-documented by Dr. Harris Coulter in his book Vaccination, Social Violence, and Criminality: The Assault on the American Brain. He delineates a hydra-headed syndrome of brain insult and injury possibly caused by vaccines. These effects include allergies, autism, dyslexia, learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and antisocial syndromes, all attributable to the assault of vaccines on the body. He postulates that vaccines have a damaging effect on the developing myelination process of the nervous system in children. This assault causes an allergic encephalitis (inflammation or infection of the brain) with widespread effects. That is, the allergic response initiated by a vaccine injected into the body is capable of causing encephalitis and brain damage, because the physical development of nerves is disrupted.

Legal Requirements and Exemptions

The United States government takes the vaccine campaign very seriously. Parents who make an informed choice about vaccines for their children must contend with compulsory vaccine laws. Conscientious objection to these laws is not handled liberally by the courts. In 1905 the Supreme Court ruled that an individual could not refuse the smallpox vaccine on constitutional grounds of infringement on personal liberty. The court found that an individual’s personal liberty must give way to the state’s protection of other citizens’ health (Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 US 11, 25; 1905).

Since that time, various state courts have ruled that compulsory immunization statutes cannot be stricken down on constitutional grounds. Every state has a compulsory vaccination law, though the specific requirements for individual vaccines vary from state to state. This means that parents or legal guardians who decide not to give the vaccines will need to seek a legal exemption from vaccines. These come in three varieties: medical, religious, and philosophical. Not all states have philosophical exemptions, so parents in those states must seek either a religious or medical exemption.

Usually the issue of a child’s unvaccinated status will arise upon registration for school or day care. Schools require an immunization record, and parents must have proof that their child has been vaccinated, signed by a health care provider. Schools become involved in the vaccination campaign because state and local governments receive federal funding for immunization programs. The federal Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. § 262 requires that participating governments must have a “… plan to assure that children begin and complete their immunizations on schedule …” and “a plan to systematically immunize susceptible children at school entry through vigorous enforcement of school immunization laws” (42 C.F.R. § 5lb.204). Specific exemption clauses are included within each state’s immunization law. When the exemption is accepted by the school or the health department, the issue is resolved. If a request for exemption is denied, then parents may appeal that decision. Parents who continue to have difficulty with school and governmental authorities may need to seek legal counsel.

Many attorneys and individuals are working to ensure freedom of choice in the area of child vaccination. One organization in particular, Dissatisfied Parents Together (DPT), has been instrumental in the passage of legislation that protects children and their parents (see Appendix B: Resources). If a parent makes the choice to avoid a required vaccine, then support for that decision is available.

Options for Legal Exemption from Vaccines

  1. Use the philosophical belief exemption, if available in your state.

    Nineteen states provide the option of personal or philosophical belief exemptions. This means that parents need not justify their preference for avoiding vaccines except to say that they are philosophically opposed to their children receiving them. Parents residing in states that provide a philosophical exemption must sign a form or write a letter that says immunization is contrary to their beliefs. Some states provide a waiver statement on the school district immunization record forms included with registration materials. Other states require a written statement from the parents. Parents need only request the immunization exemption form at their school district office when enrolling their child in school, or present the school district a simple letter.

  2. Find a doctor willing to write a medical exemption.

  3. Develop a personal legal case for religious exemption, with the help of an attorney.

Parents seeking a religious exemption need to submit a letter to the school stating their desire for a waiver of vaccines based on their religious belief. The wording of such a letter is important, and should conform to the wording of the statute governing exemptions. It should also state the parents’ sincere beliefs, related in such a way that they can be interpreted by the court as religious. The wording of the immunization law can be obtained from the state health-department’s immunization office.

Parents seeking such an exemption should contact an attorney who specializes in immunization law. They must construct a solid legal case based on their individual situation, their state law, and their own beliefs. Since religious belief can be interpreted broadly, a wide range of personal beliefs and philosophies will qualify parents for a religious exemption. The case that is constructed in the letter must conform to the legal arguments that will be used in litigation if the school and state government authorities reject the parents’ petition for exemption. A well-constructed case and an attorney’s arguments will usually prevent litigation. The small cost of involving an attorney early in this process will help prevent the major expense of going to court later.

Alternative Vaccines

Conventional vaccines prepared by modern vaccine manufacturers represent only one form of disease-specific prevention. Vaccines and preventive medicines are also available to parents in homeopathic form. There is a long history within homeopathic medicine of attempting to prevent specific diseases, especially during epidemics.

The medicines used in homeopathic form consist of two classes. One class includes those substances obtained from the natural world of plants, minerals, and animal products. The second class, called nosodes, includes substances derived from disease products, tissue samples, mucus, pus from discharges, or pure cultures of microorganisms. Nosodes correspond to the specific diseases associated with the individual bacteria or virus, or the infectious material sample taken from a patient. Both of these classes have been used to prevent disease. Examples of this include Lathyrus sativa (a plant) for polio and Pertussin (a preparation of the bacteria Bordetella pertussis) for whooping cough.

A medicine that has proven effective for a specific epidemic of a disease in the community can be used as the preventive for other cases of that disease, though homeopaths tend to use those medicines that have proven themselves in the past. As a general rule, homeopaths utilize the nosode of the infectious organism to prevent disease. Nosodes are named with the Latin terms for the infection or organism, Morbillinum for measles, Diphtherinum for diphtheria.

This method of homeopathic prophylaxis has been formulated into strategies and rules of two types – short-term prevention during epidemics and long-term prevention.

Experience with the use of nosodes during epidemics has led to a level of confidence and optimism about the protective effect of this method. Since the mid-nineteenth century, homeopaths have attempted to prevent or limit the spread of disease during epidemics, with some success. Most of the experience with this approach occurred during the era preceding the availability of vaccines. Homeopaths reported a decrease in the severity and frequency of disease in those patients who received the nosode preventively.

The method of homeopathic prophylaxis has never been rigorously tested. Nonetheless, there is some evidence suggesting that homeopathic medicines do act to prevent diseases during epidemics. One study observed the occurrence of meningitis in a group of children who received a homeopathic preventive (Meningococcinum 10c in a single dose) during a 1974 epidemic in Brazil. Of the 18,640 children given the homeopathic nosode, 4 developed meningitis (0.02 percent), compared to 32 cases in the 6,340 unvaccinated children (0.5 percent). This represents a significant difference in a controlled study, although the control group was not randomized (Castro & Nogueira, 1975). Eisfelder reported an uncontrolled study of 50,000 children who received Lathyrus, a homeopathic preparation used to treat paralysis, in varying potencies during the polio epidemic of the 1950s. Only one of these children developed (non-paralytic) polio. The general population had a significantly higher rate of polio than 1 in 50,000 (Eisfelder, 1961).

These studies do not prove the effectiveness of homeopathic prophylaxis in epidemics, but many homeopathic practitioners have been convinced by their own experience with this form of disease prevention. The practice of using homeopathic preparations to prevent disease during epidemic exposure may be effective. The medicines cause no adverse effects, and, in the absence of any other form of prevention, there was no reason not to use them. In an epidemic of a serious disease their use is still warranted, though there are valid reasons to allow children to undergo the milder childhood occurrence of measles, mumps and chickenpox to acquire lifelong immunity.

Alternative vaccines in homeopathic form are also available for long-term prevention. Several protocols exist for the administration of homeopathic nosodes or the corresponding remedies for the prevention of whooping cough, meningitis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and other diseases during childhood. There exists significant controversy within the homeopathic profession about the appropriateness of using these preparations for long-term prevention. This controversy involves the areas of effectiveness, safety, and ethics.

No long-term studies have been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of this form of prevention. There is no reason to assume that these vaccines continue to act preventively years after administration, unless immunity is shown through an objective test or clinical studies.

Homeopathic preparations have not been shown to raise antibody levels. Smits tested the titre of antibodies to diphtheria, polio and tetanus in ten children before and one month after giving homeopathic preparations of these three vaccines (DTPol 30K and 200K). He found no rise in antibody levels (Smits, 1995). He speculates that protection afforded by a homeopathic remedy acts on a “deeper” level than that of antibodies. Other homeopaths have stated similar opinions. Golden says, “unlike conventional vaccines, the Homoeopathic alternative does not rely on antibody formation.” He postulates that “Homoeopathic remedies reduce the patient’s sensitivity to the dynamic stimulus of the virus or bacteria, thus lessening the patient’s predisposition to being overcome by this stimulus” (Golden, 1994).

If homeopathic remedies do not produce an increase in antibody levels, then the only way to measure the effectiveness of homeopathic prophylaxis is through clinical results. This is a formidable undertaking. The cost of long-term studies using homeopathic prophylaxis would be prohibitive, given the present resources available. Ethical problems could also prevent such studies from occurring; it is doubtful that ethics committees would allow children to be deprived of the commonly administered and approved allopathic vaccines. Moskowitz has suggested that the sizable population of unvaccinated children whose parents have refused vaccines, could provide a control group to assess the long-term negative effects of vaccines (Moskowitz, 1985). Perhaps this population could also serve as a test group for homeopathic prophylaxis.

Parents need to understand that there is no evidence to support the use of these homeopathic preparations for long-term prevention. There is nothing in the literature that shows homeopathic prophylaxis provides lasting immunity from specific diseases

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Written by Randall Neustaedter OMD

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