Can Unvaccinated Children Stay Healthy?

Posted by on Feb 20, 2014

unvaccinated children

Run for it?

Want to clear a room fast? Tell people your kids aren’t vaccinated. Then say, “Not only is that why they’re so healthy – it helps your kids stay healthier too.” Wait. What? Unvaccinated kids, healthier? Aren’t they walking cesspools of infection, recklessly spreading disease in their wake? Aren’t they leeches, getting a free ride away from infections, on the backs of all those good parents who vaccinate their kids?

The CDC maintains that they can’t solve this question for us. Their posture is that it’s unethical to study vaccinated versus unvaccinated kids, presumably because it isn’t safe to not vaccinate anybody. But ongoing survey data show that unvaccinated kids are healthier. They have fewer allergies and asthma, less autism, fewer chronic conditions  and are sick less often. Even though these data come from an uncontrolled voluntary survey (over 13,000 participants worldwide and growing), the differences are enough to give anyone pause – and plenty big to warrant formal investigation. By factors of double, triple, or tens of times, vaccinated kids show a higher illness burden than their unvaccinated peers, for conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, thyroid disorders, autoimmune conditions, autism, allergy, asthma, and more.

Meanwhile, the argument that a pool of vaccinated kids is needed to quash a return of infections is starting to crumble (bolstering the position held by some that vaccines can’t confer herd immunity): Even with compliance for most immunizations at over 90% across the US –  above the level considered necessary for successful herd immunity – we still have outbreaks of pertussis, measles, mumps, chickenpox, polio, and flu in  vaccinated groups. The global level of pertussis coverage was 83% in 2012 – pretty darn good – but, still: Outbreaks. In fact, vaccinated people may spread infections they are recently inoculated against, as they shed viral and bacterial material from vaccines – just as occurs with wild type, naturally acquired infection. This has been documented for those recently vaccinated against pertussis, polio, flu, chickenpox, rotavirus, and measles.

If vaccines are working less and making kids more sick, do we keep using them? How? Tough questions. Since we began using vaccination some two hundred years ago, we have fiddled more deeply than we know with how immunity travels from generation to generation. For an example, dive into this blog series on polio, which describes how this once mostly benign virus morphed into deadly and debilitating with sanitation, less breastfeeding, and the introduction of vaccines. Long short: Immunizing our way out of infection hasn’t worked. The magic bullet idea of it is alluring (not to mention profitable beyond belief), but, perhaps the bill has come due. Vaccination as a one-size-fits-all path to disease eradication is undeniably a pipe dream now: There is not a single disease on the planet that vaccines have wiped out, as was still being promised when I was a public health graduate student in the 1980s. Some infectious diseases (flu, pertussis, varicella) persist at same or even higher levels now than before vaccines were introduced for them. Not only that, it appears we have traded exposures to routine childhood infections for chronic disability and illness, thanks to comprehensive scrambling of the immune system early in life with routine vaccinations, generation after generation.

When a debate gets this heated, typically, more fear than fact starts flying. No exception here. There are pertinent facts from the realm of infant and child nutrition, as well as public health nutrition and basic epidemiology, that usually go missing from this conversation. Can we afford to omit that stuff any longer? I don’t think so. It’s time to get solutions oriented, and consider kicking Pharma out of the conference room. Profitability  is the driver of the vaccine pipeline, and as long as people think only vaccines can save them, they’ll keep wanting them. We don’t need scare mongering, half truths, or bigger profits for already-bursting-with-cash Big Pharma. We need  a paradigm shift. We need to drop the belief  that all infections are bad, and more vaccines are better. We need effective, safe tools that do not leave kids disabled or saddled with chronic illness.

Toward that end, here are some pearls from maternal and child nutrition, plus some nutritional epidemiology, that we can put in the mix. These aren’t the only factors in play. Environmental toxins, sanitation, living conditions, and even the vagaries of climate change are exerting their influence on our global microbiome. But for sure, host immune response is dependent on nutrition – which is a factor we can directly leverage.

First on my list? The Cycle Of Nutrition And Infection has been well understood for decades, but it’s virtually absent from general pediatric practice today in the US. It goes like this: When a child is malnourished, they get sick more often; and, when they get sick, they get sicker than kids who are well nourished. The course of their infections is longer, more severe.  This is because they don’t have the nutrient and tissue stores to mount a good fight. Then, once they’ve battled an illness, they’re left even more malnourished, having exhausted whatever stores they have. In this weakened nutrition status, they get more sick, again. Then they deplete nutrition further. And so on it goes, in a vicious cycle that can quickly become deadly for infants and young children.

unvaccinated children

Malnutrition begets infection and vice versa

In poor countries and impoverished regions of the developed world, malnutrition starts in utero. Children who don’t have enough high value food to eat will get sick and die more often, whether they are vaccinated or not. Nutrition status is so intertwined with immune function that UNICEF priorities for global health don’t separate the two. This doesn’t just apply to severely malnourished kids with ribs poking out, stick-like limbs, sunken eyes, and pot bellies. This Cycle is active even when kids are only mildly to moderately malnourished. That is, like many kids I’ve encountered in my pediatric nutrition practice. A child who is below 90% of his ideal body weight is mildly malnourished. An example of this would be a four year old child with an expected weight of 40 pounds (based on birth weight, parents’ stature, and other factors), but weighs 36 pounds or less. Or, a thirteen year old whose body mass index is hovering around the sixth percentile. Or, an eight year old whose progress for stature has flattened from 40th percentile last year, to 15th this year. Or, a child with chronic loose wet stool, or chronic constipation. Is this your kid?

Next question: When was the last time your pediatrician asked you for a food diary, to show exactly what your child eats day in and day out? Has s/he ever assessed grams of high value protein taken in on most days? Weak protein intake means weak immune response. Anyone do testing to rule out food allergy and sensitivity? These can deplete nutrition status and immune reserves if not managed correctly. At your last office visit for your child’s colds, flu, or ear infections, did anyone check status for vitamins A or D, intake of varied healthy fats and oils, or look at zinc and iron? All critical for vigorous immune response, and for ideal responses to vaccines. Nutrition is a symphony, not a single note. All pieces need to be present at the same time, doing their jobs.

unvaccinated children

How much not-food do your kids eat?

These are first world examples. Kids can grow, more or less, and still be eating pretty horrible diets – especially with the bounty of processed, vacant, genetically modified food heavily marketed here to moms and kids. After fifteen years evaluating food intakes of kids across the US, I can tell you this: Most kids I’ve encountered have suboptimal food intakes, bad enough to impair growth, behavior, learning, sleep, focus, attention, and infection fighting. And, nobody noticed – not their pediatricians, gastroenterologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, biomed/DAN doctor, or most any other specialist they’ve been to. Nobody actually looked at the food.

Now, that’s just dumb. Because nutrients and food, not vaccines, provide the building material that we use to fabricate an immune system, regardless of vaccination status. The physical components of an immune system come from whatever nourishment a child got in utero or takes in himself. Eating well builds up the savings account for the rainy days when the immune system needs to make a big withdrawal. It takes a lot of energy, and unusual amounts of certain nutrients, to mount a fever and fight infection – especially when you are growing, a demanding daily metabolic task for every cell in the body of a child.

This is why unvaccinated children in strong nutrition status who eat healthy, well-rounded diets will fight infection better than vaccinated peers who are underweight, have failure to thrive, chronic diarrhea, or constipation, or who eat limited diets. The nutritionally sound child may get infections and get sick, but will have a more vigorous response, will be sick for a shorter period of time, and will then have stronger, longer-lasting immunity than vaccines give. This process of naturally developing immune competence may be crucial to averting allergies, asthma, or other chronic disease later in life.

Vaccines don’t alter the cycle of nutrition and infection. The only way to interrupt this cycle is with food (and supplements in some cases). Without it, malnourished children get sick and die more often, period.

So. Do malnourished kids need vaccines even more? I’ve met many families with frail underweight children or children with chronic conditions who are loyal to the vaccine schedule. Their children still get sick often, even for some of the diseases they are vaccinated against. They’ve been told at every turn that their child needs vaccines most because they are more vulnerable. True, those kids are. But do more vaccines help or harm in these cases? Even with shots, there is a demand  placed on the immune system to respond – that is the whole point of vaccinating, after all. This response will consume more nutrient stores. And of course, besides injecting antigens, vaccines also rely on toxins (like aluminum) to jump start the body’s immune response. An already weakened system may not be able to manage additional toxins. Immune response is impaired in children with compromised nutrition, and this will be true whether an antigen is injected or encountered through natural infection. Children may be more vulnerable to adverse vaccine events if they are vaccinated while sick – intuitively, because they are already moving available resources to manage the illness underway, and can’t respond properly to an injected antigen plus toxins as well. Instead of dosing weak children with multiple shots, it may be safer and more effective to resolve their poor progress for weight, height, and food intake.

Next on my list would be breastfeeding – a topic I’ve covered in an earlier blog. Spoiler: It may well trump vaccination for preventing infections in babies, depending on mom’s immune status. It is so potent an immune booster that it somewhat disables rotavirus vaccine, and possibly others. But now, thanks to vaccination, childbearing women in the industrialized world may have never experienced measles, mumps, chickenpox. If they breastfeed, they don’t pass the immunity to their babies that my mother would have – born in 1926, she had all of the above, including scarlet fever. At 87, she’s never had a flu shot, is sharp as a tack, still drives, and still works part time selling real estate.

unvaccinated children

These are sweet enough to substitute for candy if you grow your own or find locally

So let’s bring this piece to the table: Nutrition status, not vaccination, has the more profound impact on illness severity and frequency in infants and children. Meanwhile, we can adjust the focus on our lens for child health in the US. It’s not all about vaccines. Here are the top ten causes of death for US infants for 2010, according to the CDC (children up to 1 year old):

1. Congenital malformations, deformations and chromo­somal abnormalities (congenital malformations)

2. Disorders related to short gestation and low birth weight, not elsewhere classified (low birth weight)

3. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (accounted for 2,063 deaths in 2010, or 8.4% of all infant deaths in the US).

4. Newborn affected by maternal complications of pregnancy (maternal complications)

5. Accidents (unintentional injuries)

6. Newborn affected by complications of placenta, cord and membranes (cord and placental complications)

7. Bacterial sepsis of newborn

8. Respiratory distress of newborn

9. Diseases of the circulatory system

10. Necrotizing enterocolitis of newborn (the baby’s intestinal tissue dies, and the baby starves to death)

None of these are “vaccine preventable” conditions – ironically, with the exception of SIDS, which is an acknowledged side effect of a vaccine adverse event, reimbursable by the government’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Infectious diseases aren’t in the top ten. Is it because we vaccinate? Or is it because we are better-fed, have cleaner water, have access to antibiotics or other treatments, and cleaner living conditions than the developing world?

It likely is not either-or, but we clearly need a new vision for our children. US children face shorter life spans than their parents, and have more chronic disease and disability than any generation of children before them. Vaccines as we now use them have arguably created a stunning and costly burden of chronic disease and disability. As health insurers wise up, will they opt out of the usual carte-blanche coverage for every vaccine Pharma produces? Sooner rather than later, the cost burdens of over-vaccinating will come to light. And we can at the very least use the well pedigreed body of evidence in child nutrition to support robust immune function, any time you’re ready.

14 Comments

  1. In your first paragraph, there’s a typo: “What? Vaccinated kids, healthier?” I’m pretty sure you mean “UNvaccinated kids, healthier?” :)

    Also, when you’re talking about coverage, the numbers you link to for the pertussis vaccine are just coverage among children. Fewer than 30% of adults get their boosters.

    Overall, though, this is a very interesting and well written article. Thank you!

  2. Fantastic article. Thank you.

  3. Great article, thank you!
    Just a thought though, you mentioned near the top that “There is not a single disease on the planet that vaccines have wiped out”. I agree, but most people are under the impression that vaccines wiped out small pox. I know some people who would find one little point that they think is wrong in an article, and therefore dismiss the whole thing as rubbish!
    Could you maybe clarify your statement or provide a link explaining the real story behind small pox?
    Example link:
    http://www.vaccinationcouncil.org/2013/08/27/vaccination-a-mythical-history-by-roman-bystrianyk-and-suzanne-humphries-md/

    • Hi Rose, this is true! When I was in a public health graduate student we were actually told this was wiped out and were shown a film of the “last” smallpox case walking out of quarantine. But, we have re-introduced it by vaccinating military personnel. There have been cases of transmission to non-vaccinated persons from this.

  4. I wish you had footnotes or documentation of your facts. This article is worthless for the vaccinating parents. They will just say it’s your “opinion”.

    • Hi Nancy, if you click the links in the text, you are taken to the citations that support the statements in the blog. Best, J.

  5. This was the main precursor for us to begin questioning vaccines, mainly – A pharmaceutical product cannot bestow health.

    This is something that has been lost on our generation and we have seen the repercussions (in both adult health and now children’s).

    Everywhere I go, I see people not giving a damn with what they are putting in and on their bodies (and their children’s)…do they honestly think it doesn’t matter?

    Just today I dropped my daughter off at daycare and for breakfast kids were eating chocolate covered donuts, mcdonalds and crap cereal. This is the NORM.

    Eventually, over the next several decades, I *assume* the re-acceptance of the intrinsic relationship between nutrition and health will come back.

    I think the study of microbiomics is the platform for this…

    http://blindedbythelightt.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-science-behind-anti-antibacterial.html

  6. Thank you for this fascinating read. It’s no surprise to me that once we changed our diet along with stopping all vaccines for our family, our health improved tenfold. We largely eat whole foods, cook most of our meals at home, and treat minor illnesses with food, liquid, and rest, rather than pharmaceuticals like we did before.

    One thing I like to point out to people who want to argue that vaccines are for the greater good… When has big pharma ever stood to make money off of our health? Never. They want us sick so we have to take more of their “life saving” medications.

  7. Very interesting article. As a new mother to be I am struggling to find information about vaccinating my baby, I am against it but my husband feels some are needed. Which ones if any? I prefer going natural with everything. Such a scary thing to be a parent

  8. This is the message I’ve been putting out on as many comments sections as I can find, but your article is so well written I’ll be linking to it from now on. Kudos!

    For those with some understanding of cytokine storm, chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, epigenetic protein synthesis miscues, and mitochondrial dysfunction, arguments that vaccines cannot have a causal role in numerous non-infectious diseases and syndromes are either foolish or deliberate lies.

    *Of course* a number of factors are involved in such conditions (other than vaccines), but ruling out vaccines as causal factors based upon poorly conducted epidemiology, short-lived and deeply flawed vaccine safety trials, and personal bias has absolutely nothing to do with what happens in the real world when a child with a genetic predisposition toward mitochondrial dysfunction and/or poor eliminative capacity for metals develops massive inflammation of the brain and dies or regresses to a state later diagnosed as an ASD, full-blown autism, or serious autoimmune disease.

    No one who understands basic biochemistry would ever say that vaccines alone are responsible, but there is abundant evidence that cytokines and vaccine components cross the blood-brain barrier and induce measurable damage (even in those capable of masking dysfunction affecting large numbers of individual cells), all the while depleting nutrient stores necessary to deal with everyday pathogens. Smart parents can read the available peer-reviewed lab studies and piece together these facts of cellular metabolism, add your wisdom regarding nutrition, and do the math regarding risk/reward ratios with diligence that no pediatrician ever seems to encourage.

    Thanks again for adding some balance and wisdom to the vaccine debate.

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