About a week ago I made the mistake of jovially posting a link about flu shots from one of my favorite websites, Mind Body Green, to my personal Facebook page. I quickly received a lot of negative attention, mostly from the med-school types that pointed out that MBG is in no way a reputable scientific source. My bad. I didn't mean to ignite a debate and was honestly quite surprised anyone would notice my post at all ... after all, my caption had a smiley face in it. What the hell people!
This made me realize that vaccinations--of any sort--are actually a hot topic (anyone remember Jenny McCarthy, The Advocate?), more so than I'd realized. I was shocked to find that I'm actually in the age group that cares (as opposed to about 5 years ago when the topic was of no importance to me or my peers and a post like this would have gone unnoticed ...). I removed the post, ashamed that I had offended someone, and decided to keep my hippie tendencies to myself until further research was completed. So I began pouring over research articles and news reports to find out exactly what the big deal was.
While I agree with my very strange nay-sayer on Facebook that MBG is, in fact, not a reputable scientific source of information, I do find that many of its contributors are reputable professionals. So I began my research there (withhold your judgement for about two minutes, please) to get a clear, layman's terms understanding of what the two sides of the argument were. From there I then researched the science behind it and the ingredients within vaccines that are causing concern among parents.
So here are two (very simplified) sides, according to my understanding:
Vaccines: The Pros
The CDC has made a nice little pamphlet that quickly outlines why it is important to vaccinate your children. I appreciated the effort to communicate, simply, why we should make this a priority. I am disappointed, however, at the simplicity of it. I would have really appreciated hard statistics that relay the significance of the diseases and the likelihood of contracting the diseases if we come in contact. "Highly likely" and "dangerous" are scary terms, but I'd like the opportunity to see it in objective terms, like "98% of people that came into contact with the Polio disease then died" ... if that were real, then I'd certainly be concerned.
After further digging I came up with quite a few diseases of concern. The first one being Hepatitis B (Hib). Before the Hib vaccine, it was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis for children younger than 5 in the US. If you are unfamiliar with meningitis, it is essentially a brain infection that can lead to serious brain damage and ultimately death. Those that contract Hib don't necessarily advance to meningitis, but those with meningitis don't necessarily survive. By receiving the vaccine, you are much less likely to contract the disease, thus saving yourself from potential death.
MMR (Measles, Mump, Rubella)
Measles is the leading cause of death in children worldwide.The death rate for measles dropped 71% between 2000 and 2011 as a result of the MMR vaccine. The children at most risk are those in underdeveloped countries and malnourished. With a healthy immune system (and adequate nutrition) the symptoms will likely be a high fever that lasts 4-7 days, along with a cough and runny nose. If it progresses, then white spots can occur on the inside of the cheeks and a rash can spread all over the body. This will eventually pass after a few days if the body is able to fight it off. Those with compromised immune systems and poor nutrition are most likely to suffer severe symptoms.
Rubella has a similar pattern in that it is a virus that spreads throughout the body over the course of a few days. The symptoms are low fever, rash, and some nausea that lasts for a few days to a week. According to the World Health Organization fact sheet, there is no indication of how serious the disease is, other than its severity with pregnant women. If a pregnant woman contracts Rubella while pregnant it can cause serious birth defects and even stillbirth.
Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection of the brain and can spread pretty quickly among those that are not vaccinated and/or have weakened immune systems. There have been mini-epidemics in recent years, the last one being in 2009. About 5-10% of those infected die and others still can get serious side effects as a result, such a mental retardation, learning disabilities, loss of use of certain limbs and/or function of certain senses (and this is all with treatment). Without any treatment about 50% of cases die and many have severe brain damage as a result. By becoming vaccinated you are protecting the body from a severe infection, better allowing your body to fight off any contamination.
Vaccines: The Cons
The concerns that most anti-vaccine parents have are with all the fillers that come along with the vaccination. In addition to the strain of the disease being injected, there are quite a few other ingredients that I will go over, here.
I've used the list of fillers that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided on its website for a quick breakdown of what these fillers are and the point of each of them being used:
There are several ingredients in this list that concern me, but the top of this list are Aluminum, Formaldehyde, MSG, and Thimerosal. For starters, Aluminum is a cause for concern because of the neuronal damage that can occur with high exposure, such as the form of vaccination. Many are attributing this to autism, along with other factors (such as poor cholesterol sulfate synthesis, prenatally, and low sun exposure). The autism link is still a hotly debated issue because research doesn't really provide overwhelming causal results, instead it just shows that there is indeed a connection. Aside from the autism link, consuming aluminum is still a risky issue. High amounts of aluminum exposure are already discouraged because of the neurological connection, and the most dangerous form being, notably, through injection. With the consumption and exposure of aluminum you are likely to develop serious central nervous system deficiencies and neurodegeneration. What does this mean? Decreased brain functioning in the way of motor skills, processing speeds, and memory. Ouch.
- Aluminum gels or salts of aluminum which are added as adjuvants to help the vaccine stimulate a better response. Adjuvants help promote an earlier, more potent response, and more persistent immune response to the vaccine.
- Antibiotics which are added to some vaccines to prevent the growth of germs (bacteria) during production and storage of the vaccine. No vaccine produced in the United States contains penicillin.
- Egg protein is found in influenza and yellow fever vaccines, which are prepared using chicken eggs. Ordinarily, persons who are able to eat eggs or egg products safely can receive these vaccines.
- Formaldehyde is used to inactivate bacterial products for toxoid vaccines, (these are vaccines that use an inactive bacterial toxin to produce immunity.) It is also used to kill unwanted viruses and bacteria that might contaminate the vaccine during production. Most formaldehyde is removed from the vaccine before it is packaged.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and 2-phenoxy-ethanol which are used as stabilizers in a few vaccines to help the vaccine remain unchanged when the vaccine is exposed to heat, light, acidity, or humidity.
- Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative that is added to vials of vaccine that contain more than one dose to prevent contamination and growth of potentially harmful bacteria.
The second major ingredient, Formaldehyde, is a known human carcinogen, meaning that there is extensive research on its effects on the human body and its links with cancer. More recent research indicates that it can impair learning and memory abilities in the form of neurodegenerative disorders. I understand that the standard protocol is to have most of the formaldehyde removed from the vaccine before it is packaged, but the fact that for much of the vaccine's life it is swimming with formaldehyde, in a way, that makes me incredibly nervous. In my simple mind, this sort of seems like "washing" pesticides off of your fruits and veggies ... the bulk of the toxins are removed but there is still a trace amount that we are exposed to in each and every vaccine.
As far as MSG goes, I've already written about it here and I will elaborate just a touch, now. MSG is a known neurotoxin/excitotoxin that affects the neuroendocrine system and results in serious neuronal damage after repeated exposure. It is a pretty serious irritant that can cause immediate symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and nausea but with prolonged exposure these symptoms not only get worse but the MSG continues to "excite" your brain to the point of damage. Not only is this stuff found in vaccines, but many foods as a "natural flavor enhancer" .. and we wonder why there is an ADHD epidemic?! (now that is another long post for another time)
Lastly, Thimerosal, aka Mercury (again, in layman's terms) is another neurotoxic chemical that can impact the healthy functioning of the central nervous system. To be clear, the FDA monitors the use of the substance so that it is kept within "safe limits" for humans ... I don't know about you but I feel like a known neurotoxin really isn't something I'd want at any level, FDA approved or not (and probably especially FDA approved).
The more you know, the more you realize you don't know.
I'm still unconvinced of either side of the argument because I think both sides warrant serious consideration. The possible diseases that exist move rapidly and are potentially fatal. They aren't always fatal and aren't always contracted upon exposure, but that is a scary risk to pose on your child. On the flipside, the fillers in vaccines are not only unsafe, but they directly affect the functioning of the brain and central nervous system ... which I tend to believe is a big deal. I think the driving factor in my ultimate decision is that I don't want my child to be an experiment (whether it be an experiment to see if he can survive a disease or an experiment to see if he can survive the neurotoxins) and so whatever decision my husband and I come to will be well-informed .. but mostly reached out of love.
A notable book full of information (more detailed and I'm sure more educated) is The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears**. Dr. Sears and his team break down all the different ingredients in each vaccine and explain why they are used and the potential harm of each. The book does not shun vaccines, nor does it promote them. It simply gathers all the information and puts it in one place so that way parents can make informed decisions when considering vaccines.