The Vaccine Conundrum: The History
Vaccination is a highly controversial issue. Can a better understanding of the history and the science behind it help people reach a compromise?
It’s the most wonderful time of the year when millions of Americans celebrate the season with Christmas carols, trees, decorations, eggnogs and … flu shots. More than 150 million flu shots will be available in the U.S. this year. For many Americans, it’s a no-brainer to get flu shots – why not prevent it, if you can? For a minority, it’s simply “No thanks” or worse, “Over my dead body!” Of course, the same differences in attitudes extend to other types of vaccinations, if only with more intensity.
There are few topics in America that are so divisive and dogmatic as vaccination. Why? With infectious diseases, we are all socialists – we care about our neighbor’s health and we insist they don’t get sick! So, is there a way to discuss vaccination in an objective manner and understand the science as well as the concerns of both sides of this issue? Or even reach a compromise?
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Vaccination is a rather novel and a proactive way to combat diseases, having become widespread only in the last hundred years. Exposing people to weakened or dead virus/bacteria (or some fragments of those pathogens) helps people’s immune system figure out how to fight the same pathogens in the future. It’s like using training wheels on bicycles for kids, or like using Cliff’s Notes to read Shakespeare.
It sounds pretty nifty and foolproof. In the 1960s and ‘70s, medical experts thought that infectious diseases would be completely eradicated. As DuPont advertised in the 1960s, everyone believed in better living through better chemistry. With vaccines, antibiotics, improvement in sanitation, and better understanding of nutrition, people thought we had every trick in the bag to avoid or cure any disease. After all, it was just a matter of science – we had all the gadgets and the chemicals to figure out those pesky little germs.Show me a germ, I can make a vaccine or an antibiotic for it.
By the way, sanitation played an important historical role in reduction of infectious diseases. It’s hard for many people to realize that flush toilets were very uncommon in America before World War I. American soldiers returning from Europe talked about a “mighty slick invention called the crapper.” It took a while to catch on, and even in the 1950s, a quarter of all American homes had no flushing toilets. It’s harder to imagine that “splinter-free” toilet paperwas not widely available until the 1940s.
Stroll Through History
In the beginning of the 20th century, the only vaccine that was available was for smallpox, a disease that has been around for 3000 years. Then, like clockwork, one vaccine was added about every decade until the 1950s – pertussis (1914), diphtheria (1926), tetanus (1938) and polio (1955). The 1960s heralded three vaccines for mumps, measles and rubella which were combined as MMR in 1971.
By the 1970s, smallpox was deemed to have been eradicated throughout the world, and the vaccine was dropped. However, there are some concerns now about bioterrorism or just natural reemergence of the virus in the future.
The 1980s were relatively quiet, with just one more vaccine added to the list – Hib. But something new happened in the legal area. A “vaccine court” was established in 1986 that gave blanket immunity to vaccine manufacturers and became the only legal avenue for people to claim damages from vaccines. The federal government also established a vaccine compensation program funded by taxpayers in 1988 to compensate victims of severe side effects from vaccines. This program has awarded more than $2.8 billion for 3800+ claims since then. Those adverse reactions that do get reported are listed in the VAERS database that can be searched with a tool provided by the CDC. For example, in 2014, more than 2000 cases of adverse reactions to vaccines have been reported for children under the age of one. One can safely assume that only a small fraction of adverse reactions get reported.
Going back to the historical development, Hepatitis B was added in the 1990s to the recommended list for all children. The first shot was administered right after birth, although previously it was given only to high-risk adults such as intravenous drug users. Then, between 1994 and 2014, the sheer number of children’s vaccines added to CDC’s list just exploded.
If you do the math, we added 9 vaccines in 90 years – about one every ten years. However, in the last 20 years – between 1994 and 2014 – we have added chickenpox, Hepatitis A, Rotavirus (1 or 5 vaccines in one shot), Influenza, and Pneumococcal (7 or 13 or 23 vaccines in one shot) vaccines. So that’s anywhere from 11 to 31 new vaccines added in the last 20 years. Taking into account multiple booster shots of the same vaccines, a child can potentially get about 100 vaccines (or, to be more precise, “antigens”) within the first year.
So, what’s the problem? More is better, right?
Side Effects and Concerns
Everything was fine – people were happy, pharmaceutical companies were happier – until chronic diseases started to increase at an alarming rate. Obesity, diabetes, asthma, eczema and other skin diseases, food and other allergies, child rheumatoid arthritis, neurological diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis and, most significantly, autism were everywhere. Many of these charts – such as for diabetes – show significant jump in the rates of autoimmune disorders starting from the 1990s, and one doesn’t have to be a math expert to look at the chart and figure out the inflexion point. More than 25 million Americans now have autoimmune disorders, and tens of millions more have diabetes, asthma, food allergies etc.
More than anything, autism has really shaken up families who find it emotionally and financially devastating to take care of severely autistic children. Although the medical professionals keep expanding the “spectrum” of autism, about 40% of autistic children don’t speak; a similar percentagehave IQ below 70; and many face extraordinary difficulties as adults. Currently, about 1 in 50 Americans are said to have autism which is a 600% increase over the last 20 years. Even accounting for increased diagnosis and new definitions which include people who grow up to be normal, there can be no doubt about the shocking rise in severe, debilitating autism. Americans are spending more than $200 billion every year dealing with autism; and a family with an autistic child can easily spend upwards of $60,000 a year taking care of the child. Scientists don’t have a cure or even medicines for the core symptoms; and they don’t really know why or how autism occurs, but they will tell you it’s not caused by vaccines.
We will never know for sure if vaccines cause autism. We can do statistical analyses ad infinitum, but they are not going to change many minds. Pharmaceutical companies don’t reveal all the clinical data either. Couple of weeks ago, a surprising article in Newsweek – a corporate, mainstream publication – illustrated how Big Pharma routinely hide negative results from clinical trials and fudge the data. The FDA cannot reveal how it analyzes adverse reactions to drugs and vaccines, because the analysis is done by a patented software. Trust us.
But people didn’t need scientific journals to know something had gone awry. Alarmed by the rising tide of new diseases, what many people focused on immediately was the list of ingredients in the vaccines, and mercury really stood out. Mercury, in the form of Thimerosal, has been used as a preservative since the 1930s. Of course, mercury is a neurotoxin, and when we constantly tell people (especially pregnant women) to avoid seafood that are high in mercury, it is reasonable to question the use of mercury in vaccines that get injected straight into an infant’s blood (when you eat fish, at least some of the mercury will be eliminated through the bowels).
After denying any and all possible damages from mercury, Big Pharma quietly phased out mercury from pretty much all the vaccines except the flu vaccine (some of the newer flu vaccines are also mercury-free). Many flu vaccines – given to infants as young as 6 months old – contain 25 micrograms of mercury which is very toxic even by the standards of World Health Organization (it recommends not more than 0.7 microgram of mercury per lb of adult body weight). A new book by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is a good read for people more interested in this subject.
Apart from mercury, the list of ingredients and components used in manufacturing vaccines makes you wonder if there cannot be a better way. The list includes formaldehyde, aluminum, genetically modified virus, cells from human fetus, proteins from human blood, cells from cow or chicken fetus, MSG, Polysorbate-80, sorbitol, latex, and even kidney cells of dogs. And the FDA recently approved the use of cancer cells from human tumors to manufacture vaccines. Really.
Would anybody feed their children a dose of these, however small, just for the fun of it? Absolutely, not. However, millions of people accept these because of several reasons: 1) They don’t know about these. 2) They assume these are in very minute quantities and hence are harmless. 3) They trust the doctors, government and the media. 4) Herd mentality – everybody else does it, so it can’t be bad. 5) Fear of their children getting horrible diseases. 6) It’s really forced upon the public – you have to jump through hoops to get exemption for your children. 7) There can be a social taboo (other parents may not want an unvaccinated child near their own children).
At the same time, parents whose children are irreparably harmed tend to have very little doubts in their minds about the dangers of vaccines. When your healthy child dies or becomes brain damaged within hours or a couple of days after vaccination, it doesn’t matter how many doctors tell you that vaccines are “safe and effective.” Documentaries such as “Silent Epidemic: The Untold Story of Vaccines”, “Vaccine Nation” and “The Greater Good” offer many stories of such affected families as well as arguments against the mainstream understanding of vaccines.
However, there are two major drawbacks to the current vaccination doctrine that have not been explored very well in the debates. They are about the evolution of vaccine-resistant microbes and about over-stimulation of the immune system.
Chris Kanthan is the author of the e-book Deconstructing Monsanto. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has traveled to more than 30 countries, and deeply cares about (and writes about) politics, finance and food. Follow him on Twitter: @GMOChannel