(This is the final episode of a four-part series. If you are just joining us, you might want to start with the introduction.)
Let’s start with what we know about delaying or refusing vaccines:
The bottom line and perhaps the most obvious consequence to alternative schedules is that they increase the amount of time an infant or young child is susceptible to a vaccine-preventable disease. This often (although not always) ends up being the time when a child is most at risk for severe infection. I’ve heard many parents say that because they raise healthy-eating and healthy-living children, they are safe. This is a falsehood.
Look, I’m a naturopath. Therapeutic lifestyle change (TLC!) is the foundation of my practice. Diet and lifestyle alone can create vibrant health (in some people). Certainly being healthy, without underlying chronic disease, makes it less likely you’ll fall ill and/or have terrible outcomes when you do. But measles is extremely contagious. A healthy lifestyle is no guarantee that you won’t catch it. Of course, immunization is not either, but the 95-99% reported by various reliable bodies is pretty darn good.
Are you ready to refuse?
From a civil liberties perspective, I believe that Americans should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies. But refusing vaccines is not a decision to be made lightly. It impacts you, your children, and your community. Please don’t unintentionally delay vaccination out of indecision or a lack of information. One additional question I encourage questioning parents to ask is whether their work and lifestyle would allow them to stay home with their sick children the entire time they are contagious (usually up to eight days).
Also keep in mind it is next to impossible to avoid exposing others in the event you or your child is infected with measles. The rash doesn’t appear for 2-4 days, and at the onset of symptoms, there are only general signs of illness like fever and runny nose. You are not likely to be thinking measles at this time but will be very contagious.
In addition to the immunization class I had offered, I teach workshops on practical ways to avoid toxic exposures in everyday life. I think this is probably the most important topic I speak about publically. But my vaccine class was the most popular. And here is the thing: while it is true that vaccines have toxic ingredients—mostly in miniscule amounts—they have very real public and personal health benefits. The arsenic in your water and the bisphenol A in your soup do not. If you are concerned with toxic exposure, why not start with the toxins you are exposed to in large quantities and afford you no benefit?
Before signing off, I want to take a moment to discuss this drug. I have many problems with acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), including its narrow therapeutic window. It is an analgesic and also used to lower a fever, a common side effect of MMR immunization. But when prophylactic, or preventative, acetaminophen (known as paracetamol in other parts of the world) was tested with a number of vaccines (although not MMR in this study) it seemed to interfere with the antibody response to immunization, meaning the vaccine doesn’t work as well. Additionally, there are preliminary suggestions that fever suppression (post vaccine or otherwise) or pre- and perinatal use of analgesics like acetaminophen may play a role in autism or other neurodevelopmental issues. (I’m NOT suggesting vaccines cause autism. If that is unclear, please read my previous posts. This evidence is very preliminary. It is too soon to tell whether fever suppression will be one of many contributing factors to the complex condition that is autism.) Fevers are not as dangerous as most people believe. In fact, a fever suggests that the immune system has been stimulated, and is mounting an antibody response to the measles antigen in the vaccine. As a naturopathic doctor, I prefer to let the body respond without suppression, as long as the fever stays within a safe range. This is not as ‘woo-woo” or out there as you might think. Seattle Children’s Hospital suggests that “fevers only need to be treated with medicine if they cause discomfort. That usually means fevers above 102°F (39°C).”
I must admit, when I first started considering these issues, I was much more skeptical of vaccine safety. I hadn’t done much research; I hadn’t taken my pediatrics courses yet, but like many parents out there, I had gotten the message that there was something to be scared of. When I started intensively researching the issue for my local lectures, I suspected my audience would be of a similar persuasion. I did my best to look at the evidence beyond the arguments on both sides. It wasn’t easy to find legitimate evidence of major harm from vaccines beyond known adverse events. And what was out there kept being debunked. After years of reading, writing, and teaching on the topic, I have gotten progressively more and more convinced that the risk-benefit analysis favors immunization with MMR. Does safe equal risk-free? Of course not. But it’s the best protection we have from a virus that is on the rise, and even better in conjunction with healthy habits that support the foundation for health.