Immunization-Related Problems

An immunization, or vaccination, is an injection of weakened or killed bacteria, viruses, or, in some cases, deactivated toxins that is given to protect against or reduce the effects of certain infectious diseases. When your child receives an injection of, for example, a small amount of tetanus toxoid, her immune system produces antibodies to fight this foreign substance. Should your child later be exposed to tetanus, her body’s defense system will remember and rapidly form antibodies against the bacteria, thus preventing the disease from gaining a hold within the body.

The following vaccinations are among those most commonly recommended for children.

  • DPT, or diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus, is designed to protect against three different diseases: diphtheria, a rare but potentially fatal disease that affects the upper respiratory tract, the heart, and kidneys; pertussis, or whooping cough, a disease that is particularly dangerous for children under one year of age and can lead to pneumonia, seizures, and other complications; and tetanus, a potentially deadly infection of the central nervous system.
  • DT, or diphtheria/tetanus, is an alternative to DPT, without the pertussis vaccine. It is designed to protect against diphtheria and tetanus only.
  • Hemophilus influenzae (H. flu.) meningitis type B vaccine, or Hib vaccine, protects against a common bacterial infection that can lead to meningitis, a potentially fatal brain disease. Complications of H. flu. meningitis include pneumonia, hearing loss, and possible learning disabilities. There is now a combination DPT and Hib vaccine available that reduces the number of injections a child must receive to be immunized against all of these diseases.
  • The hepatitis B vaccine, the most recent addition to the list of routinely administered vaccines, protects against one of the more serious forms of hepatitis, hepatitis B. This is an infection of the liver that, while not highly contagious, can lead to chronic liver disease or even liver cancer. This vaccine is now being recommended for all children, starting a day or two after birth. Parents are also being encouraged to arrange for the vaccination of unimmunized older children and adolescents.
  • MMR-or measles/mumps/rubella also works to prevent three different diseases: measles, a highly contagious viral disease characterized by fever and rash, whose danger lies in the possibility of such serious complications as pneumonia, strep infections, and encephalitis; mumps, a contagious viral disease that causes fever and swollen glands around the neck and throat (and, rarely, the testicles); and rubella, or German measles, a viral disease involving fever and a mild rash that causes relatively little discomfort to the affected child, but that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth defects if a woman is exposed to the virus during pregnancy. Because there have been outbreaks of measles among previously vaccinated college students in the past few years, it is now recommended that children receive a total of two MMR injections, the first at fifteen months and the second either before entering school or at the age of eleven or twelve years.
  • The polio vaccine is designed to protect against poliomyelitis, an acute viral infection that can lead to paralysis and death. Vaccination against polio involves a more complicated set of decisions than other vaccinations do. Immunization against polio may be accomplished either by an injection of inactivated, dead vaccine, or by live vaccine, which is taken by mouth. The live vaccine present in the oral form appears to give somewhat better immunity than the injectible form does, and has therefore been generally recommended in the United States. However, it also poses a higher risk of complications. An estimated six or seven children come down with polio every year as a result of receiving this vaccine. For this reason, this form of polio vaccine is specifically not recommended for a child with a compromised immune system. Also, it is possible for an unimmunized person to contract polio from a child who has been given the live vaccine, even if the child has no noticeable reaction to it. This poses a particular danger if a child has friends or family members who have not been vaccinated, or who have impaired immune function. In such cases, the injectible, inactivated form is recommended. A newer, more potent form of the injectible vaccine now appears to give better immunity than the original one did, while still avoiding the risk of a child (or others with whom she comes in contact) getting the disease as a result of the immunization. Some doctors who recommend the oral, live vaccine take other measures to reduce the chance of a child contracting the virus from it, such as giving the injectible version for the first dose, then switching to the oral form for the additional doses.
  • Immunization against rubella may be recommended if your child is a girl between thirteen and sixteen years old who has not received the MMR vaccine (see above) or had German measles.
  • The tetanus toxoid vaccine protects against tetanus, an infection of the central nervous system that can be fatal. It is usually given to children in the form of a DPT or DT immunization (see above), but it can be administered individually.

Other immunizations, or changes in the conventional immunization schedule may be recommended for special reasons, such as illness or travel.

Any immunization can produce an adverse reaction. Some of the more common reactions include irritability, malaise, low-grade fever, and soreness or irritation at the site of the injection. These discomforts can be treated simply, at home, with the natural remedies outlined in this entry. More rare, but more serious, reactions include allergic reactions, seizures, neurological problems, and “screaming syndrome,” persistent screaming that lasts for three or more hours. After your child receives a vaccination, keep a watchful eye out for any possible reaction. If your child develops a fever higher than 102°F, screams inconsolably, goes into shock, has a seizure, or becomes fretful and irritable after an immunization, call your doctor or seek emergency treatment immediately. These symptoms could indicate a dangerous reaction to a vaccine.

Conventional Treatment

After a vaccination, the site of the injection will probably be red and slightly swollen. A warm wash or compress may help relieve the discomfort, but do not rub the area.

If your child experiences pain after an immunization, you can give her acetaminophen (Tylenol or the equivalent).

Note: In excessive doses, this drug can cause liver damage. Read package directions carefully so as not to exceed the proper dosage for your child’s age and size.

Nutritional Supplements

For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.

Begin giving your child vitamin C with bioflavonoids prior to the administration of any vaccine, to help strengthen her immune system. Give a child two years or older one dose daily for one week before and one week after the vaccine. For a nursing infant, a mother can take 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C with bioflavonoids a day, starting one week before the injection.

Lactobacillus bifidus helps to reestablish healthy flora in the bowel and clear the body of the aftereffects of an immunization. Give your child the bifidus either one hour before or one hour after a meal, following the dosage directions on the product label.

Herbal Treatment

Echinacea can be helpful for a baby who has a relatively minor reaction to an immunization, such as a localized infection, low-grade fever, or mild irritability. These herbs boost the immune system. A breastfeeding mother should take 40 drops, twice daily, for three days after her child has been vaccinated.


Thuja will help prevent a fever or irritability, whether your baby or older child has a noticeable negative reaction after receiving a vaccine or not. If there is a complication, Thuja becomes even more important. Give your child a dose of Thuja 200x immediately after the injection.

Ledum is useful for all puncture-type wounds, and can help alleviate some of the reaction at the injection site. Give your child one dose of Ledum 12x or 6c immediately after the vaccination, and another dose four hours later.

Bach Flower Remedies

Give your child Bach Flower Rescue Remedy to
relieve emotional stress and fright after a vaccination. We recommend that you
bring Rescue Remedy to your doctor’s office, and give it to your child right
after she receives an injection. Mix 1 or 2 drops in a bottle or glass of water
and have her sip it over the next several hours, or put one or two drops of
the undiluted remedy under her tongue.
(See Bach Flower Remedies.)

The Controversy Over Immunization

Immunization is a controversial issue in pediatric medicine today. Deciding whether or not to have your child receive vaccinations is a complex and, ultimately, a personal matter. It is up to you, as a parent, to make informed, thoughtful decisions for your child.

Any vaccination has the potential to cause a reaction in some children. More than anything else, though, it was probably the serious and frightening side effects observed in some children who had been given the pertussis vaccine (the P in the DPT vaccine) that brought the question of the safety of immunizations to the public’s attention. Short-term complications of the standard DPT vaccine can include fever, irritability, screaming syndrome, excessive sleepiness, seizures, and localized inflammation. A newer version of the DPT that uses a more purified pertussis vaccine developed in Japan has become available and seems to cause fewer side effects. The controversy over immunization continues, however. For one thing, critics note, Japanese children are not usually given the vaccine until they are two years old, at which time their nervous and immune systems are more mature and perhaps better able to handle the challenge. And DPT is not the only vaccine that causes concern. Other common vaccines have also been associated with serious side effects, including neurological complications, seizures, fevers, encephalitis, retinopathy, blindness, joint pain, and death.

In addition to citing the risk of side effects, opponents of immunization question the efficacy of vaccines in the first place. For example, some studies have shown that as many as 5to 10 percent of children who have been vaccinated against pertussis go on to contract the disease anyway (although vaccination may lessen its severity). Measles outbreaks have been known to course through school populations despite the fact that 99 percent of the children had been immunized against it. Further, opponents remind us that the long-term effects of vaccinations are not known. Some propose that there may be a correlation between early immunization and later develop” mental problems, learning disabilities, autism, hyperactivity, and depression of the immune system.

Conventional medical opinion holds that, as a result of widespread immunization in the United States, many dangerous diseases have been eliminated or inhibited in this country. Consequently, universal immunization against a wide variety of diseases continues to be recommended by the medical establishment. Opponents argue, however, that the lower incidence of many illnesses might just as easily be related to improved sanitation, nutrition, and living conditions as to vaccination programs. They also observe that illnesses seem to follow a natural life cycle, becoming more prevalent at times, and seeming to die away at others. Indeed, there is research showing that the incidence of certain diseases, such as polio and diphtheria, were declining on their own before the vaccines designed to combat them were introduced.

The authors of this book believe that the decision to immunize or not to immunize involves risks that every parent should weigh carefully. There is probably no single answer that will feel right to all parents. It is your responsibility to become as informed as possible, so that you can consider both the risks and benefits, and decide whether or not you want to give your child a particular vaccine. Look into the potential side effects of different vaccines-both the short-term and any known long-term ones. Research the incidence, severity, and consequences of different illnesses. You should also call your state health department and ask for any recommendations and/or statistics they have on the subject, as well as school requirements. Once you have considered all of this information, you may choose not to have your child vaccinated, or to have your child receive only one or two of the vaccines, or you may choose to have them given when your child is one or two years old, rather than one or two months. If your child has a history of neurological disorders or seizures, you should definitely have a thorough discussion with your doctor before your child receives any vaccination.

Regardless of what decision you make, keep in mind that immunity is more than immunization. You can boost your child’s resistance to disease by supporting her immune system, first by breastfeeding (a mother’s immunities are temporarily transferred to her baby this way), and later by providing a nutritious diet. Creating a loving, nurturing, and (as much as possible) stress-free home environment will also help to promote overall health and well-being.

For further discussion of the immunization controversy, consult the following:

Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective? by N.Z. Miller (Santa Fe, NM: New Atlantean Press, 1993).

The Immunization Decision, A Guide for Parents by R. Neustaedter (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1990).

Immunizations, a collection of articles from Mothering magazine (contact them at P.O. Box 8410, Santa Fe, NM 87504; telephone 505-984-8116).

General Recommendations

Discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of any vaccine for your individual child before she receives it, to make sure it is right for her.

Give your child one dose of Bach Flower Rescue Remedy immediately after any vaccine is administered.

To minimize discomfort at the site of the injection, give your child a dose of homeopathic Thuja.


The only sure way to prevent your child from having a reaction to a vaccine is to not have your child receive it. If you have your child immunized, your best defense against reactions is to watch your child closely following all vaccinations, and if symptoms of a reaction develop, contact your doctor right away.

A child who has had an immediate, severe reaction to a previous immunization-such as a seizure, screaming syndrome, or a fever of 105°F or higher-should not be given that vaccine again. If your child’s doctor is unwilling to take this concern seriously, you may wish to consider seeking another doctor.

Dosage Guidelines
Bach Flowers

From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.

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Written by Janet Zand LAc OMD

Explore Wellness in 2021