Prepared from a draft by Dr. David Bayley
Public concern and press reports regarding vaccinations have become a much debated health issue. This issue has had an impact on parents, children and health professionals. Doctors tend to be divided between two camps—those for and those against childhood vaccinations. Some parents have taken steps to keep their children from receiving standard childhood vaccinations. Others are seeking “natural” alternatives to vaccinations. If there are general concerns regarding vaccinations they can perhaps be summarized as focusing on toxic preservatives (and their side effects), the “unnatural” route of entry and the possible contamination of vaccines. Naturopathic physicians (NDs) feel these are legitimate concerns. Given the contentious nature surrounding the subject of vaccinations, the NDs in this province support informed consent as a useful approach to dealing with vaccination protocols. The following paper addresses this controversial issue by dealing with both the concerns about as well as the merits of vaccinations.
Pros and Cons of the Vaccination Schedule
One of the philosophical tenets of naturopathic medicine is to treat each patient as an individual, not to standardize therapies or medical routines without due consideration of a patient’s current health status, health history and so forth. Vaccination regimes, however, are often administered without such consideration. Given this fundamental philosophical difference between naturopathic and allopathic medicine, there is neither uniform support nor acceptance amongst NDs in regard to vaccinations. However, there are many good reasons to support vaccination protocols, and the following attempts to outline the general acceptance of vaccination schedules.
The basic concept of a vaccine schedule is to artificially produce immunity to an infectious disease by introducing a small amount of the disease virus or bacteria antigen or toxin into the body. The immune system develops specific antibodies or antitoxins for that disease and in theory provides lasting, effective protection against that disease in the environment.
The current vaccine schedule immunizes children against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, hepatitis B virus, measles, mumps, rubella, and haemophilus influenza type B. All of these diseases can cause injury or death in a less than robustly healthy infant or child.
It’s of equal importance to note that all of the vaccines for these diseases can also cause injury or death in a less than robustly healthy infant or child. and this is where most of the parental concerns arise. [i] Nevertheless, the risk of injury or death from vaccines is much less than the risk from the real disease.
The advantage of vaccines over naturally acquired immunity is in the timing and quantity of exposure to the disease agent. Parents can choose to vaccinate their infants and children with an attenuated disease agent at a time when their child is healthy. Parents can take measures before and after vaccination to enhance their child’s immune system and remove stressors from their child’s environment. Without vaccines, parents run the risk of their child encountering a virile disease agent at a time when their child’s immune system may be compromised by stressors such as injury and poor nutrition.
Many parents and physicians have not seen cases of diphtheria, measles, paralytic polio and other once common childhood diseases—but they have seen or heard of cases of vaccine side effects. They assume that preventive medicine now means avoiding vaccines. In some cases that may be true. However, the truth is that vaccines are preventive medicine. The incidence of many childhood diseases has declined because of widespread use of vaccines. [ii] While the morbidity and mortality from childhood diseases had declined prior to the use of vaccines due to improved hygiene and nutrition, the total case numbers of illnesses have declined due to vaccines alone. [iii]
Nutrition and hygiene are still important primary components of preventive medicine. Severely ill, malnourished and immuno-compromised children have more side effects and less benefit from vaccines. [iv] For this reason naturopathic physicians use the vaccine schedule as a basic guideline. They sometimes recommend delaying or altogether avoiding immunization depending upon the child’s health and health history. For example, vaccines are usually delayed in ill and malnourished children and avoided in children with prior severe vaccine reactions.
Major Concerns Regarding Vaccines
1. Many Vaccinations Contain Potentially Toxic Preservatives such as Thimerosal
Most children in BC receive combination vaccines so their total exposure to preservatives is relatively low. However, in cases where infants receive individual vaccines preserved in thimerosal their total exposure to methyl mercury (thimerosal) can exceed safe limits. [v] Also, animal studies have demonstrated that thimerosal can induce hypersensitivity reactions and may augment many vaccine side effects. [vi]
2. The “Unnatural” Route of Entry of Most Vaccines
The unnatural route of entry of vaccines occurs where disease antigens are injected and the natural route of entry is either through the mucous membranes of the gut or respiratory tract. Parenteral injection bypasses secretory IgA, thereby skipping an important initiating component of the natural immune response. The long-term effects of bypassing secretory IgA are unknown. (The history of medical science is filled with examples where a lack of knowledge regarding the function of an immune component has translated to assuming that the component has no function; routine appendectomies and tonsillectomies being two recent examples.)
3. Possible Contamination of Vaccines Derived from Animal Cell Cultures
Animal cell cultures are derived from cells extracted from the blood and organs of research animals. Vaccines derived from monkey kidneys have been contaminated with simian virus 40 (SV40) and vaccines from chick embryos have been contaminated with avian leukosis virus (ALV). Cultures are now screened for these contaminants. The World Health Organization scientists contend “there is no evidence currently available that vaccines are contaminated with infectious agents that cause disease.” [vii] This statement is true now and was true prior to the discovery of SV40 and ALV. As science discovers previously unknown contaminants and screens for them, the statement becomes retrospectively false and then true again. The point is simply that animal cultures are a potential source of contaminants.
Given the pros and cons of the current vaccine schedule, the philosophical differences between primary care offered by NDs and MDs, and the concerns as outlined above, it is not possible to summarize a uniform position on vaccines shared by all naturopathic physicians. Even those NDs who support the vaccination schedule might be very concerned with the long-term impact of vaccinations on an immature immune system. In general, it can be stated that most if not all NDs support further research into the use of less toxic preservatives, orally or nasally administered vaccines, and vaccines derived from synthetic cultures. The decision a parent takes to proceed with or withdraw their children from the vaccination schedule is a personal one, which can be characterized as informed consent. Informed consent requires a full understanding of the pros and cons of vaccination, including the repercussions of either proceeding with or abstaining from the schedule. Naturopathic physicians support informed consent.
[i] L Baraff et al. “Immunization and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.” Pediatric Infectious Diseases, January 1983.
—. “Pertussis Vaccine Project: Rates, Nature and Etiology of Adverse Reactions Associated with DPT Vaccine.” Prepared for the Bureau of Biologics, FDA, March 18, 1980.
—. “Immunization and Acute Neurological Illnesses in Children.” British Medical Journal; 1993; 307:1171-6. NB: This study concluded that children who suffered an acute reaction from whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine suffered permanent neurological disability later in life.
R Toraldo, et al. “Effect of Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination on Polymorphonuclear Neutrophil Function in Children.” ACTA Pediatrics, 1992; 81:887-90.
Peter M Strebel, et al. “Intra-muscular Injections Within 30 Days of Immunization with Oral Poliovirus Vaccine—A Risk Factor for Vaccine-Associated Paralytic Poliomyelitis.” New England Journal of Medicine, February 23, 1995; 332:500-506.
[ii] World Health Organization. Estimated Deaths Occurring and Prevented by Immunization for Selected Diseases, 1997 at http://www.who.int
[iii] Neil Z Miller. Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective? Santa Fe: New Atlantean Press, 1993.
[iv] —. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, 17th ed, 1999, pp 2095, 2100.
[v] American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service. “Thimerosal in Vaccines: A Joint Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service.” MMWR 1999; 48(26):563-565.
[vi] T Uchida, S Naito, H Kato, I Hatano, et al. “Thimerosal Induces Toxic Reaction in Nonsensitized Animals.” International Archives of Allergy Immunology, 1994; 104(3):296-301.
[vii] World Health Organization. “Vaccines Are Not Contaminated” 1998, at http://www.who.int