PBS has released a program they’ve called The Vaccine War.
I’m puzzled by that phrase. I am not “at war” with my colleagues in public health or with parents whose children managed the vaccine schedule unscathed. Why divide the concerned community? Because it gets ratings: Make a basic right a “war”, and watch the scrum ensue.
Any parent wants the same thing: Healthy, able, safe kids. We want clean water, safe food. Lately, corporate corruption in our food production system and agricultural policy has been much exposed. It’s not a “war” to point out that maybe Monsanto hasn’t had our children’s health and well being as a top priority when it comes to producing cheap food, or that ConAgra would rather we not hear about the dangers of genetically modified crops. So, why is it a “war” when parents expect safe, effective public health policy vis a vis vaccination, or to expose corruption in the industry that makes colossal profits from vaccines?
It’s a basic right to have water that’s potable, and food that’s safe to eat. The media doesn’t make those issues a “war” of parents versus scientists. It’s also a basic right to not be forcibly vaccinated, or harassed for the choice to defer. Risk/benefit on a population level is the balance to strike, while not sacrificing individuals’ health, to make effective vaccine policy. Scaring parents with horrific details of the clinical course of hepatitis B infection in a newborn is coercion more than science; babies in the US were never among the CDC’s notable risk groups for hepatitis B infection, and are literally more likely to be struck by lightening than they are to get hepatitis B infection in this country. So why are we vaccinating them all against it? If there were a vaccine that prevented deaths to infants from lightening strikes, but had serious potential adverse effects (seizures, death, developmental delays), would you give it to your baby? Or would you take your chances that your baby won’t be hit by lightening? I reviewed the policy and history on this in a book I released in 2002. What I learned was that for US newborns, hepatitis B vaccine is possibly causing more morbidity and mortality than it prevents – an assessment now borne out by a retrospective study that found it tripled the risk for autism in boys.
We could tick down the list of recommended vaccines, and may find that more than half of them trigger more trouble than benefit for infants and children, if we could compare them to an unvaccinated cohort – but this work has not been done. Prevnar, though, has been too great a failure, to remain unnoticed: Some data show it has a failure rate >90%, that it may not trigger adequate immunity, and that it causes more virulent ear infections than it prevents. Still, we cling to the hope that vaccines are the best way to prevent an infectious disease – despite data that tell us otherwise. Why does the cognitive dissonance endure? Is it “war” to wonder why?
Our infant mortality ranking in the world has worsened dramatically as we’ve added more vaccines to the infant schedule. My graduate public health training imbued me with the usual reasons for infant mortality: Poverty, poor nutrition, lack of access to clean water, low birth weight, birth defects. Not much was said about SIDS, the third leading cause of deaths for US infants, and a much scrutinized outcome of vaccine reactions. I was drilled in why vaccines are necessary too – but the US has the most highly vaccinated infant population in the world, plus ample access to food, clean water, and health care. Our infant mortality rate should be among the lowest in the world, if the not the lowest. But we lag behind 46 other countries in this regard. Ouch. Cuba, Croatia, Slovenia, South Korea, and the Northern Mariana Islands are just a few of the countries with better (lower) infant mortality rates than the US.
Strong nutrition status, not vaccination status, drives robust immune function in infants and children. Decades of data state this, and it may be time to emphasize this for families, instead of escalating another “war” for the US. I hope more attention can be placed on this in the media, instead of the climate of coercion and fear parents now encounter when asking about vaccine safety.