A friend of mine posted this article recently that at first glance looks like a pretty sound argument against the anti-vaccine proponents. The author claims that she grew up as “the 70's child of a health nut” who provided her with “an incredibly healthy diet:
“no sugar till I was 1, breastfed for over a year, organic homegrown vegetables, raw milk, no MSG, no additives, no aspartame. My mother used homeopathy, aromatherapy, osteopathy; we took daily supplements of vitamin C, echinacea, cod liver oil.”
Yet despite this seemingly perfect childhood experience the author was still subject to some of the worst acute diseases such as: measles, mumps, rubella, viral meningitis, chickenpox, tonsillitis, scarlatina and whooping cough. The author questions why she still had to deal with these illnesses when she had a perfect diet. Her conclusion seems to be that not being vaccinated was the key and so had her own children fully vaccinated along with a healthy diet. Her children, she claims, rarely get sick and are healthier than she ever was. So a healthy diet is not enough, vaccines are the only way to prevent these diseases. Case closed, right? But it's not that easy.
Let's look at the way we view disease. It is assumed that to be healthy means to never be sick. No one likes to cough, sneeze, have a fever and runny nose, or vomit and have diarrhea. The chickenpox, measles, and whooping cough are not fun illnesses to be sure. But one thing that they are is acute and self-limiting. Meaning you get them, they make you miserable for a little while, your immune system kicks it out (resulting in many of the unpleasant symptoms) and you end up a little bit stronger for having gone through the whole ordeal. Your immunity to many of these diseases is now life-long which is where the term “herd-immunity” was originally applied. If enough people naturally get the disease then the combined immunity of a population protects the few from ever getting it. You can't apply herd-immunity to vaccines, as much as people try, because vaccines provide immunity for only a few years, if at all. And in some cases, rates of diseases are higher in those that have been vaccinated, like in pertussis, indicating that vaccinating for this disease may be preventing its eradication and helping it to spread. When vaccines were first created we thought they provided life-long immunity and so the baby-boomer generation was not required to get booster shots. But in reality they only had immunity for a few years at most, which means over half of the population is no longer immune and so there is no herd-immunity for any of us.
Now, what we might be getting instead of acute, self-limiting diseases is chronic disease. Asthma is rarely a problem for children who had whooping cough yet might be increasing due to the pertussis vaccine. Shingles rates may be increasing because adults cannot maintain their immunity to varicella if they aren't exposed to children with chickenpox. But don't worry... we have a vaccine for that too. If we automatically assume that all illness is bad and that coughs, colds, fevers, and bumps should be avoided at all costs because they are inconvenient and no fun - then our immune system is never properly challenged, the Th2 arm of our immunity becomes dominant and we trade a week-long illness in our youth for lifelong eczema, allergies, asthma and autoimmune conditions.
While I am not entirely certain why the author had the unfortunate luck to experience nearly every communicable disease we have a name for, I do know that her own admission to heavy use of antibiotics for these illnesses may have been a contributing factor. Again, this is a problem with our philosophical view of disease. If we assume that bacteria is the cause of our symptoms and elimination of bacteria will promote health then it should make sense to treat inflammatory diseases like tonsillitis and otitis with antibiotics because then people will be healthy. Only bacteria doesn't cause the symptoms and elimination of bacteria does not mean you are healthy.
The symptoms we experience as disease are a manifestation of our immune response eliminating bacteria and waste. But not all bacteria are bad. In fact the majority of the bacteria found on and in the human body is a beneficial form that actually works in conjunction with our immune system to support the health of their host – us. It is said that 90% of our immunity lies in our digestive tract where we harbor up to 3 lbs. of beneficial organisms. When we use antibiotics frequently we risk impairing our own immune system by killing off these beneficial microbes and inviting more pathogenic forms to proliferate and replace them. I have seen many clients continue to get worse and worse infections after each round of antibiotics until they become (as the author stated happened to her) antibiotic-resistant.
Another comment from the article states “If you think your child’s immune system is strong enough to fight off vaccine-preventable diseases, then it’s strong enough to fight off the tiny amounts of dead or weakened pathogens present in any of the vaccines.” The problem with this argument is that vaccines are designed to impair our bodies ability to eliminate waste. Because if they didn't we would all get sick immediately after each vaccine and people would complain.
There are two parts to every illness. The first part is where white blood cells and antibodies attack and destroy foreign matter resulting in inflammation, mucus production, and all the symptoms we associate with being ill. The second part is where the specific plan of attack and the type of invader is “remembered” should the body be exposed to it in the future – resulting in what we call immunity. Vaccines are trying to skip the first part and go straight to immunity. Which means many of the toxic ingredients used to stabilize the “weakened” virus are not eliminated like formaldehyde, thimerosol and aluminum - ingredients that are known to be highly dangerous to the human body. Not to mention egg protein, MSG, and lactose that may be contributing to the rise in food sensitivities. Each vaccination presents another dose of toxic material that the body is expected to become immune to while it is discouraged from eliminating.
I do agree with the author, it is not fun to be sick and it is certainly not fun to watch your child be sick. However, I would argue that a child that never gets a cough or cold but instead suffers from chronic environmental allergies is not a healthy child. (Note: Admittedly the author never stated that her own children suffered from any chronic illnesses.)
Rather than coddling our children and fretting over every little cough and suppressing every fever it would be better to allow a child's body to struggle, to fight, and to overcome. Support them with good nutrition and healthy habits, support their immune system in its efforts, and enjoy the radiant health and natural immunity that results from such a challenge. We need to stop viewing health as the absence of being sick. We need to stop viewing illness as something to avoid at all costs but rather a stage in life that is no doubt challenging but brings greater rewards on the other side. Antibiotics and vaccines are amazing feats of modern medicine but when the paradigm is flawed and poorly understood, they cannot work miracles and may potentially be causing more harm than good.
To Your Health!
[Author's note: I have amended some of my statements above and provided links for accuracy and transparency. While I do not believe that our current understanding of how immunity works is complete, nevertheless it would be irresponsible of me to not include some research. It is a shame that so many people are willing to write off anecdotal and clinical evidence as worthless and claim that only scientific analysis is valid. Science is not infallible, it can only be assumed true when time and unbiased repetition cannot disprove it.]
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.