Please don't take this as medical advice. Not that this article would imbue anyone with the confidence to do so. If you have questions about the suitability of vaccines or the standard vaccination schedules, please find a sympathetic physician who will discuss this with you.
Every few years, I slip up and get myself into a debate about vaccines online. I offer some evidence that perhaps this shot or that shot should be considered critically in certain circumstances, and I get bowled over by demands for proof and an avalanche of links to data I'm already familiar with.
The striking thing about these discussions is that both sides use the same data to make their point. Where I'm saying, Look, this shot was only 60 percent effective in its best year ever!, others are saying, This shot can be 60 percent effective, how can you argue with that?
Really, with the exception of one, I don't question the efficacy of vaccines. Having three or four shots that confer decades of immunity to a potentially lethal disease is a pretty good thing, especially when we're talking about diseases that are actually lethal (unlike the targets of some more recently introduced vaccines).
But as a practitioner, the aspect of this discussion that matters to me are the complications. Working with many people who have had severe and long-term reactions to vaccines, the hardest thing for me to stomach is the oft-repeated claim that vaccines almost never hurt anyone. What I hear when someone says that is, "Well, I don't know anybody who's been hurt by vaccines," and it's usually the same people who scream when anyone introduces anecdotal evidence. Working from the knowledge that some people die from vaccines and others find themselves permanently ill, I find this a fairly heartless statement.
Essentially, either people are saying they don't believe the vaccine makers' published complication rates, or they simply don't care that some children are being sacrificed to the disease gods to save others. Yes, kids are saved. But how, exactly, did the ones who got sacrificed get chosen for that role?
So, this is the question that I keep coming back to. If you know that some people are irreparably injured by vaccines, how can you require people to undergo that procedure? How can you, as a state legislator or a healthy adult who never suffered from either vaccine damage or childhood diseases, argue about the comparative complication rates when someone out there will have to pay a price for our society's pursuit of collective immunity?
I understand offering people vaccine treatment. That makes perfect sense, especially when your medical paradigm has no other treatment for these diseases. But requiring otherwise healthy people to engage in invasive medical procedures? I think Hippocrates would agree that it's questionable medical practice. And yet, medical societies everywhere agree that nearly every vaccine should be given to nearly every citizen.
Worse, every time someone like me suggests that we should tailor individual vaccine schedules to the medical histories of the individuals being vaccinated, that person gets labeled a "vaccine skeptic," as if they didn't know vaccines existed.
To be fair, I think the people I'm arguing with truly believe that vaccines don't cause any harm, almost ever. I think they have convinced themselves that those who die from vaccines, unhealthy as they certainly must have been, were probably going to die of something else anyway. And those who suffer permanent brain damage, seizures, etc.? Who knows? Maybe they just believe it's all lies.
But I've seen too many of those injured people in my office to so easily dismiss the risks of vaccination. (And I'm talking about people diagnosed with vaccine damage by licensed medical professionals before they ever entered my office.)
Five years ago, I sat down with the existing data and assessed the chances of the flu vaccine preventing me from getting the flu in its most effective year. Then, I compared that probability to the manufacturer's reported "serious neurological complication" rate, which was in that year several times higher.
I would like to quote those numbers here, but they seem to have been erased from the internet. Literally, I cannot find the disease incidence number that I previously found for that year (it's now reported 2.5 times higher). And I cannot find any old vaccine package inserts that still use the "serious neurological complication" category. The reporting has been revamped, and the complication rates are being reported much lower.
(This *might* be because the shots are safer now, but even the old vaccine package inserts seem to have changed format. This *might* be because I was looking at manufacturer's drug-trial complication rates, where complication rates now are reported from clinical trials, where complications are only tallied if submitted voluntarily. I'm not sure, because I can't find the old data to compare the methodologies.)
The whole thing is enough to make me question my sanity. I did that research, right? I looked up those numbers at authoritative sites like the CDC. I used the most generous interpretations I could, so as to not to bias my results.
The conclusion I came to at the time was that getting the flu vaccine year after year was akin to playing Russian Roulette, that the complication rate was just too high compared to disease incidence and vaccine efficacy. Now, I can't tell what's true anymore. The data reported by manufacturers has been fragmented in such a way that it's difficult to tell what are serious complications and what aren't.
In my recent re-research, I did find two newer studies comparing disease rates in vaccinated and unvaccinated kids. One finds a higher rate of chronic disease in vaccinated children, the other finds a higher rate of acute disease in unvaccinated children. (Both of these findings are consistent with the homeopathic understanding of disease so, yay, homeopathy!) The study critical of vaccination has been "debunked" extensively on Snopes and elsewhere. The one supportive of vaccination, despite using similar methods and a smaller sample size, has not received the same treatment.
I even found one study showing that vaccinated kids are smarter than unvaccinated kids. Which, true or not, could only be a piece of propaganda. Why even do such a study? Please, God, let us not start shooting people up with pathogens to enhance their intelligence!
I hope you didn't start reading this post expecting some sort of resolution to this debate. I'm just as confused and conflicted as anyone when it comes to vaccines. However, I can offer some general observations:
- Vaccination is complicated. Every disease is different. Every shot is different.
- Neither side of this debate is evil. Or stupid. But some parties on both sides operate out of a certain level of fear.
- Some parties do have a profit motive, which should always get our attention.
- The vast majority of vaccines are highly effective.
- All vaccines carry a certain level of risk, and certain populations are more at risk for having strong reactions to vaccines.
- The risk of complications from a vaccine is usually lower than the risk of complications from the disease the vaccine prevents. Otherwise, that vaccine would (theoretically) not be approved for use.
- However, combining the disease incidence with the complication rate of a vaccine, especially a vaccine that must be repeated periodically, may yield a higher overall chance of complications from the vaccine relative to complications from the disease.
- Remember, vaccines are literally all the medical establishment has to treat these diseases. (Homeopathy, on the other hand, has great remedies for epidemic disease so, yay again, homeopathy!)
And, some opinions about vaccines, specific to general:
- The biggest thing that separates one side from the other is personal experience, i.e., people who have watched a child be very ill after a shot tend to be critical of vaccines. Selfishly and rightly so.
- In my work with allergic conditions, I have seen many people who have suffered severe short-term as well as long-term illness from vaccines. If it wasn't a thing, there wouldn't be reported complication rates and a government program to reimburse those who are injured. So, you advocates, please stop minimizing people's personal medical experiences.
- We could do a much better job of identifying the medical and family histories of those who are at risk of serious complications and minimizing their risk.
- I'm still not a fan of the chicken pox vaccine, because the disease is not dangerous enough to risk an invasive procedure.
- In fact, I think the bald money grab that is the chicken pox vaccine has done more public-relations harm to vaccinations in general than nearly any other factor in this debate. When states pass laws requiring people to undergo an invasive medical procedure to prevent the chicken pox, of all things (complication rate, 40 cases in 10,000) people start to doubt the necessity of other shots, too.
- I'm still not a huge fan of the flu vaccine for everyone, because of the fairly low disease incidence and shot efficacy, combined with the difficulty of guessing the right strains each year. For certain at-risk populations and for hospital workers, the shot makes sense. (It is, of course, still voluntary, so my opinion is fairly meaningless here, but the shot is *heavily* pushed.)
- I have serious but uninformed reservations about the HPV vaccine. This pathogen represents one of homeopathy's broad categories of chronic disease (sycosis). The body reacts in specific ways to HPV, and I don't know (and I don't think anyone else does) how the body reacts to the killed pathogen in the long run. There are already strange things going on with the incidence of different strains of HPV, strains that have been stable for thousands of years. I think this one needs longer study.
- The vaccine schedule these days is completely ridiculous. Literally no one should ever be injected with 12 different pathogens in a single day, especially someone with an immature immune system. That's just asking for it. Throw a million studies at me, and I'm not budging on that.
- If there is even the slightest possibility that long-term medical exposures affecting the immune system -- including vaccinations, antibiotics, steroids, etc. -- are implicated in the rise of autoimmune conditions in the population, then we should strive to minimize the number of such interventions. I suspect that our current approach is exactly the opposite.
- The practice of risking harm first is questionable. I understand the risk-benefit calculation, and I understand that it favors vaccination almost always, but it's still questionable to ask otherwise healthy people who may never get a disease to risk permanent ill health. Every fiber of my being rebels against it. Which I guess makes me a poor team player.
Bottom line, all medicine is personal. No one wants to be treated like a herd. And, if we weren't afraid of having this discussion in public, we could be doing a much better job of protecting those whose medical histories would suggest that they might be sensitive to vaccination.