My article on immunizations that appeared in The Informed Parent, October 1998 opened Pandora's Box of opposition to vaccinations. The Informed Parent received a plethora of comments on this always timely subject. It tends to generate strong feelings on both sides of the question. The vast majority of responses was in favor of protecting children against acquiring diseases needlessly.
Several years ago, while authoring a parenting column for a Southern California newspaper, my readers were stimulated to compose letters on this subject. Although nine years have passed these comments are as timely as if written today. A dramatic addition in 1998 is statistics of the effectiveness of the Hemophilus Influenza vaccine in preventing and almost eliminating H.flu meningitis from the pediatric wards of America.
Here is a reprint of two columns which succinctly discuss this topic:
FITNESS: Press-Telegram/Tuesday, January 31, 1989
Q: We have a 3-month-old daughter whom we have decided not to have immunized after doing a lot of research. We were first made aware of the unnecessary things done to children by doctors in the hospital when they wanted to put eyedrops in her eyes, just in case I had gonorrhea! I knew I didn't have this disease or any other, so we signed the release forms that were necessary to keep our daughter from having this unnecessary treatment.
After reading two books, one by Dr. Robert Mendelssohn and one by Walene James, on the dangers of ineffectiveness of immunizations, we decided against them. Both of these books had documented evidence that:
1. Vaccines were ineffective
2. Vaccines were dangerous.
3. Vaccines were related to SIDS.
4. Smallpox vaccine is related to AIDS.
My question is, why, with all the evidence, do pediatricians still insist these vaccines are necessary? Is it because, as these books tell us, vaccinations are the pediatrician's "bread and butter"?
Since we've decided against vaccines, I've never had to take our daughter to see her pediatrician and don't ever expect to, as Dr. Mendelssohn explains, most childhood disease (such as mumps, measles and chicken pox) can and should be treated at home by Mom, with rest, fluids and love! What have you got to say?
By the way, I don't expect to see this published as I know this subject is very controversial and a sore spot with pediatricians.
A: Fortunately for children in America, the vast majority of parents have not adopted your approach to preventive medicine. I realize you are trying to do the best you can with the information available. The last thing you want to do is put your new infant in jeopardy. Yet, you are, in fact, doing just that.
Because the vast majority of children are immunized, you might be able to get away with not immunizing your child. If our country's children were as unimmunized as some in the other countries, the risk of polio, diphtheria and pertussis would place your baby in grave jeopardy. In your situation, you should thank your relatives, friends and neighbors for having their children protected.
The two books are far from scientific studies and give a false impression to parents. Still, they are convincingly written and I can't blame you for being influenced.
Your statements reflect conclusions by the authors that are not supported by scientific studies conducted by epidemiologists and public health specialists. Specifically, to call vaccines ineffective is simply being uninformed. Serious reactions to vaccines properly administered are statistically infinitesimal. The myth of the relationship between SIDS and DPT has been debunked. The smallpox vaccination was discontinued in the early 1970's after the disease was essentially eradicated from the world by global immunization programs.
Why do physicians still feel vaccines are necessary? We have access to volumes of documented, unbiased, noncommercial and ethical research studies that unequivocally tell us these vaccines protect against serious infectious disease, enhance the child's quality of life and increase the chances that small infants will grow to adulthood without the aftereffects and complications of preventable disease.
At one time, there may have been significant profit generated from vaccine administrations, but any physician can tell you, the profit margin has become insignificant, as the cost of the vaccine has increased astronomically. I can assure you it is not the "bread and butter" of a pediatrician's practice.
As you realize, some infectious diseases, such as strep throat, ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis, etc., need antibiotic therapy to effect a cure.
The diseases mumps and measles have no direct treatment once they occur. Chicken pox does have an antiviral medication that can decrease the morbidity of the illness, but it must be given very early in the course. Many times the patient does not come for care until this period is exceeded and treatment is ineffective. It is for that reason that they must be prevented. The parents of a patient who contracts mumps because of lack of immunization, and then develops encephalitis as part of the disease, always wish they could turn the clock back and immunize the child. The countries that encouraged the avoidance of pertussis vaccine are regretting their decision as the rate of infant whooping cough soars. All the love, rest and fluids did not take the place of immunization in preventing the disease.
The management of viral infectious disease is primarily prevention. Immunizations are the cornerstone in controlling the occurrence of these diseases. All the commercial books will not displace the scientific data that tells us this.
I sympathize with parents caught in your dilemma but I worry for your children. We must not forget one thing, these small infants have no vote in a matter that affects their lives.
Don't look at your physician as an adversary. Approach him as an informed person who is working with you to provide the best care possible for your little one. Talk to him as you communicated with me in your letter. Don't place one author's opinion expressed in a commercial book over the volumes of scientific research. The decision you face is a weighty one that may affect your infant for the rest of her life.
Lastly, you stated, "By the way, I don't expect to see this published as I know this subject is very controversial and a sore spot with pediatricians." This is such an important topic, I would be derelict in not including it in my column. I would hate to say it is only controversial in your eyes. This is not a sore spot, but a sad spot, for physicians who care for children.
In the wake of the first column came this marvelously touching letter that clearly illuminates the issue:
Dear Dr. Samson,
I read with much interest the letter in your column from the mother who felt vaccinations were unnecessary. I have two sons who were born prior to the availability of the vaccine for H-flu meningitis.
When our youngest child was 19 months old, he became very ill after an ear infection and was diagnosed as having H-flu meningitis. No one can know the terror of living through that time unless they've been there as a parent. The first few days, it wasn't certain that he'd live. He was in the hospital 14 days. I lost count of the times he had to be poked to restart an infiltrated IV. At one point, he showed signs of brain swelling and a new crisis was begun.
While hospitalized, he was stuck daily for blood tests to check for a rare, and often fatal type of anemia caused by the very drug that would hopefully save his life.
After his hospitalization there were tests for hearing loss, a common side effect of the disease. Thankfully, his hearing is unimpaired.
As he started school he had difficulty keeping up with his peers in reading. He's an extremely bright and verbal child, who was diagnosed as having a learning disability. He spent 2 1/2 years in a special reading program to help him overcome his difficulties. The school feels his learning disability is a result of the meningitis. We'll never know for certain.
He was lucky. He had an excellent pediatrician. fantastic hospital care, and a lot of love and prayers from family and friends. But if that vaccine had been available, he may not have had to go through what he did.
I'm a nurse and am aware of the very small number of children who experience an adverse reaction to vaccines. However, all one needs to do is read of the large number of deaths and disabilities such as polio, prior to the availability of the vaccine and risks become all too apparent.
In closing, let me share some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control which appeared in the Vaccine Bulletin of January 1989. This data reflects the results of the United States Public Health Service immunization campaign for infants and children. The number of reported cases of various infectious diseases were tabulated for the years 1979 and 1987. The following trends were noted:
1. Diphtheria decreased from 59 to 3.
2. Polio dropped from 26 to 0.
3. Rubella plummeted from 11,795 to 306.
4. The incidence of tetanus was reduced by 40 percent.
5. Measles saw a 74 percent decrease in reported cases.
6. Mumps only experienced a 10 percent reduction. (These cases were seen in older adolescents and young adults who received their primary vaccinations before the mumps vaccine was given routinely in a single injection with measles and rubella.)
7. The incidence of congenital rubella syndrome for 1987 was only 5 percent of that for 1979.
8. Unfortunately, the number of cases of pertussis (whooping cough) increased from 1,623 in 1979 to 2,823 in 1987.
Could this increase in the incidence of whooping cough reflect the impact of the media blitz against the pertussis part of DPT? The number of parents who were frightened into refusing the pertussis vaccine is hard, if not impossible, to document. From personal practice experience, more parents than ever expressed concern about the greatly publicized and overdramatized dire side effect of the DPT shot. This has been the experience of almost all pediatricians. We can only wonder. Yet, it is interesting to note that the only disease to show an increase was the one whose vaccine received the greatest onslaught by the media.
As parents, we must be informed consumers, not frightened ones. To this end, the media must constantly be vigilant that they educate, not terrify.
Although a near decade has passed, there remains a small number of misinformed parents who have not been influenced in their dangerous views of denying their offspring immunizations. The same arguments heard in 1989 flare again in 1998! Facts are ignored despite a greater mass of evidence showing that vaccines save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of seriously damaging sequelae of disease.
Let's think clearly and unemotionally. Your infants are depending on you. Evaluate the statistics. Protect your children from needless suffering. The vaccines of today are essentially reaction free.
One final example: Making rounds in a Pediatric Intensive Care ward in Southern California, I came across a woman sobbing at the bedside of her small child. Multiple tubes protruded from the baby's body supporting his life with fluids, medications and oxygen.
"Can I help you?" I queried.
"No," she responded. "My baby has whooping cough (pertussis) and he doesn't seem to be getting better." I assured her that a modern PICU would give the best results possible and survival was expected.
A few days later I was gratified to learn the baby had indeed made improvements. Curiously I asked the Mom, "Wasn't your child immunized?"
"No, I didn't let him have his baby shots." She quickly added, "But, it isn't my fault! His pediatrician didn't force me to get them!....He should have forced me! He should have forced me!!!"
He should have forced me???A physician can only inform, but never force. He can advise and try to convince, but never force. He can not report you to the police or protective services for refusing immunizations. It is a parent's right to refuse vaccines on the ground of religion or personal belief. But then the parent must bear the responsibility. Ask yourself if you want this heavy burden. Make an informed decision. Help your friends and relatives become cognizant of preventing needless suffering and death. Hopefully, in the year 2007, nine years from now, there will be no need to publish these columns again.