In my medical opinion, the truth about vaccines is this: there is sufficient data that enables any rational person to exercise their free will and decide not to be vaccinated or to refuse particular vaccinations for their children. My wife, who happens to be a pediatrician, vehemently disagrees with me, and that’s OK because everyone is entitled to decide as long as that decision is informed based on the facts. So if you do decide to opt out, you are not a deranged psychopath or a negligent parent—you are simply exercising your right as a knowledgeable adult and as a medical patient over someone inoculating you with a syringe (or nasal spray or whatever the delivery system).
I have already written about the myths and deceptions behind the seasonal flu vaccine in a prior post. There, I present the data that supports my strong stand against the flu vaccine as a uniform recommendation for everyone above the age of six months. In this post, I will discuss vaccines in general.
Here, my reservations about vaccines are rooted in the answers to three questions: (1) Should anyone (or any government institution) have the right to force someone to get vaccinated? (2) Is the science settled that all vaccines are proven to provide a greater benefit than harm? (3) Are all the recommended vaccines absolutely necessary?
There are many approaches to dismantle the perverse suggestion that anyone be forcibly subjected to an invasive medical procedure against their will even if it’s to the detriment of their own health. Nevertheless, the most persuasive argument is the simplest—in an allegedly free society, no one has the right to tell you what you can or cannot do to your own body, period. This means you can never be forced to have an abortion, a vasectomy, or an open heart surgery; this also means you are free to smoke a pack of cigarettes daily or run five miles or eat fast food five times a week or eat nothing but greens and fruits.
Brute force as a tactic has not been accepted as a national policy, but two states (Mississippi and West Virginia) do force schoolchildren into having vaccines, or else they are unable to attend. All the other states uphold vaccination as a recommendation, but parents are allowed to refuse for various reasons.
Some have suggested, however, that when one person refuses vaccination, then they are putting others at risk, and therefore, it is not an act whose effects are limited to the individual. Mandatory mass vaccinations defend the community at large and must be imposed, or so the argument goes. If not, the renegades will endanger the lives of innocent people.
The problem with this argument is that it assumes three things: (1) that every person who receives a vaccination would have gotten infected by the pathogen in question, would therefore be protected, and thus would protect the community, (2) that everyone who refused vaccination will become sick, (3) and that everyone who is vaccinated will develop immunity.
You may get a vaccine (e.g., the flu shot) but never be exposed to the pathogen, and thus the alleged benefit of the vaccine is void. Conversely, there are millions of people around the globe who are not vaccinated against a particular microbe and never become infected. Lastly, no vaccine has ever been 100% effective (and other than abstinence, I can think of nothing in medicine that is 100% effective) in preventing infection with a pathogen, and the flu vaccine, for example, uses the most prevalent strains of the virus from the prior year in the current vaccine, drastically hindering its acute usefulness. In fact, on the CDC’s website (and a fact not well-known) is a response to this question: “Can I get the seasonal flu even if I got the flu vaccine this year?” The answer given is this: “Yes. There is still a possibility you could get the flu even if you got vaccinated. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on various factors, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated, and also the similarity or ‘match’ between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in the community.”
Herd immunity means that in a large group of people, if a significant number of the population is immunized against something, then there is a good chance that there will be an outbreak of that something. So in theory, anyone who isn’t vaccinated can avoid illness by mooching off the immunity of “the herd,” analogous to you standing in the middle of an open field with your neighbors’ fences lined up all around you as dogs try to climb the fence to bite but can’t. The fact of the matter is one person mooching off another is an inescapable reality of life, and even if someone purposely seeks out to mooch off the herd, there is no cost to the vaccinated members of society since they’re already “protected.” It’s not like someone hacks into your home Wi-Fi network and slows down the speed of your streaming movies, nor are they in your backyard tapping into your electricity line, driving your utility bill up. The moochers may take a gamble by opting out, but they also assume responsibility for all adverse consequences on themselves.
Anyone who justifies mandating or coercing vaccinations by the herd immunity principle is using fuzzy logic based on a series of ifs and mays—if they are not vaccinated, they may become infected; and if they are infected, they may spread it to others. Realistically, I don’t believe any rational person chooses not to be vaccinated and then intentionally seeks out innocent victims to infect. Disease transmission is typically a silent and passive phenomenon that will happen without the carrier’s consent. There is a very large and distinct schism between a person who purposefully acts in order to harm someone else and someone who chooses not to act (or not to be acted upon) and as a result may harm someone else without malice.
Sometimes, vaccination does not equal immunity, and even more, vaccination can lead to resistance. Back in 2011, pertussis (whooping cough) raised its head and caused outbreaks in many states, notably Vermont. An overwhelmingly majority (74%) of those who contracted the whooping cough were early teens and adolescents who had already been vaccinated against pertussis. In fact, at the time, Tracy Dolan, Vermont deputy commissioner of health, said, “We do not have any official explanation for the outbreak and have not linked it to the philosophical exemption.” In 2012, in response to the pertussis epidemic in Washington State, Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease said, “We know there are places around the country where large numbers of people are not vaccinated. However, we do not think those exemptors are driving this current wave. We think it is a bad thing that people aren’t getting vaccinated or exempting, but we cannot blame this wave on that phenomenon.” This incident should put into perspective the fact that 2013 had the largest number of cases of pertussis since 1955. The strain of bacteria causing this outbreak of whooping cough emerged with a resistance to the pertussis vaccine. It is also important to note that for recipients of the DTaP vaccine, immunity protection is known to wane after five years.
Consider also those who hold strong convictions against vaccination based on very specific beliefs (e.g., religion or the fear of adverse reactions). I once worked with a nurse who cared for a twentysomething quadriplegic in a nursing home. The patient lost function of all of his limbs because he received the seasonal flu vaccine and then developed Guillain-Barré (a rare and debilitating yet recognized complication of the shot that damages the nerves in the body). The nurse was so distraught by the experience that she vowed never, ever, to receive the seasonal flu vaccine. How can you blame her? The twentysomething patient, with his life now ruined, also has little recourse in the matter. He can’t blame his physician, the distributor of the flu vaccine, or the Big Pharma company who developed it.
Why? The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA).
This law was passed way back in 1986, and its goal was to reduce the financial liability of those involved in making or prescribing vaccines. In short, the federal government codified a “no-fault” system for those patients sustaining a vaccine-related injury or even death. Under this law then, if you are a healthy patient who develops some type of debilitating, life-altering injury from a vaccine, an arbitration process with potential financial compensation exists (the NCVIA established the federal vaccine injury court, which has thus far paid over $2.5 billion dollars in compensation); but neither the vaccine maker, distributer, or health-care professional involved in your care can be held liable for wrongdoing even if there is clear, irrefutable evidence that the vaccine caused your injury and that the vaccine was manufactured knowing that it could cause your injury. There is “no fault,” and sales may continue as normal. You can imagine what a tremendous boon this was to the pharmaceutical industry, and it’s no wonder no matter what your age, there’s a vaccine specifically marketed just for you. Fifty years ago, children only received vaccinations against four to five pathogens in a handful of injections. Now before your 18th birthday, it is recommended that you receive more than 50 injections. This probably explains why in 2012, sales of the top 15 vaccines generated just under $16 billion in sales. The message is clear: vaccines that are harmful to you, the patient, can be made, and no one will be held responsible.
So, folks, let’s stop mandating the injection of substances into others and calling it the “right thing to do.”
If you believe that the benefits of all vaccines overwhelmingly outweigh the risks and that vaccines in and of themselves have played a major role in the decrease in mortality from certain diseases, then consider the fact that the mortality from a myriad of infectious diseases was already on the decline prior to the introduction of mass vaccinations. Since the 19th century, water has played a major role in the decrease in mortality and better standards of living, which includes better food and improved sanitation.
In 2004, the Harvard economist David Cutler and the National Bureau of Economic Research economist Grant Miller conducted a study and concluded that the provision of clean water had been “responsible for nearly half of the total mortality reduction in major cities, three-quarters of the infant mortality reduction, and nearly two-thirds of the child mortality reduction.” In their analysis, they discovered that “mortality rates in the US fell more rapidly during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries than any other period in American history.” Clean water technology (filtrations and chlorination) and the pasteurization of milk led to a decrease in waterborne infections. Better nutrition also “reduced mortality rates, enabling infants, children, and adults to fight off diseases that would have more likely killed their malnourished ancestors.”
The reader may then ask, “But, Dr. Sadaphal, the New England Journal of Medicine conducted a study in 2013 that claimed 100 million cases of contagious diseases were prevented because of vaccines since 1924!” Well, yes, the NEJM did conduct that study using the University of Pittsburgh’s Tycho database, but the researchers in that analyses formulated their conclusions based on predictions from Big Data—they projected the number of cases of disease that would have occurred if vaccines had never been instituted and the population continued to grow. It is impossible to quantify how vaccines were uniquely responsible for mortality reduction since 1924 against the backdrop of already-decreasing mortality; continually improving standards of living; better medical diagnosis, treatment, and support; and the increasing accessibility of medical care of today versus the early 1900s. To highlight this point, consider that back in 1950, if you were having a heart attack, the mainstay of treatment was to give you an aspirin, prescribe bed rest, and basically wait until you (hopefully) got better. Relative to 1950, it isn’t solely because of aspirin that having a heart attack today overall fairs better for the patient. It’s because of the existence of more, and better hospitals, the existence of cardiac catheterization labs (for heart stents), more medications to treat the patient, and a greater understanding of the root causes of heart disease leading to better prevention, just to name a few changes in the past 64 years.
One of the most dramatic examples pertains to measles. The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, but prior to this event, mortality from the measles had already dropped by nearly 98% from its peak without the vaccine.
Consider also that immunity obtained artificially (vaccines) is inferior to the immunity acquired naturally (you get sick and recover). Natural immunity is far more protective (your wall of defense is taller), longer lasting, and a mother who has natural immunity to a pathogen can transfer her antibodies to her susceptible child when breast-feeding. This concept echoes back to the concept of herd immunity—a community filled with those who have natural immunity is much better protected than one with artificially induced immunity.
By categorizing skeptics with people who wear tinfoil hats and sit naked in the desert is a feeble attempt to avoid answering the hard questions.
One of those hard questions is, why would some institutions require a tetanus vaccination for its attendants cognizant that tetanus is not communicable?
The vaccination (Cervarix or Gardasil) for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is recommended by the CDC to be given to boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12, but it can also be given to children as young as 9 years old. More than 100 different strains of HPV are known to cause warts in humans (in all areas of the body), but particularly strains 16 and 18 are the major risks for developing cancer of the cervix (these two strains cause 70% of cases). In fact, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, and at one point in their lives, more than half of all sexually active adults will have HPV. The CDC states that just under 12,000 new cases of HPV-associated cervical cancer are diagnosed each year or about 7 new cases for every 100,000 women. So if you fill a football stadium with 100,000 women, each year, 7 of them will contract HPV-related cervical cancer. That represents 0.007% of everyone in that stadium.
HPV strains 16 and 18 are associated with cervical dysplasia (funny-looking, immature cells) that may lead to cancer, but the overwhelming majority of women who contract HPV get better without any specific treatment. Vaccines do decrease the rate of infection with HPV-16 and HPV-18, but the women remain at risk for developing cervical cancer and infection from other strains of HPV.
Notably, most men who contract HPV will have no symptoms whatsoever. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine even suggests that the treatment of HPV warts “should be tempered by observation that a majority of warts in normal individuals resolve spontaneously in 1 to 2 years.” In fact, within one year, 70% of HPV infections are resolved, and within two years, more than 95% of cases are resolved without treatment.
In a minority of the women who contract HPV and then fail to clear the infection, the HPV integrates itself into the cells of a woman’s cervix, starts making some changes, and then months to years later, presents as dysplasia. Typically, the time it takes for her cells to go from having dysplasia to having full-blown cancer is around 10 years. If the woman’s dysplasia is picked up by a routine Pap smear and then treated during that decade, do you know what the five-year survival rate is? 100%.
The risk factors for contracting HPV are smoking, a history of a sexually transmitted infection, a large number of sexual contacts, and the age of your first intercourse. If these put a person at risk for HPV, why would an innocent, nonsmoking, nine-year-old female virgin need to be vaccinated against something she has almost no risk of contracting?
Dr. Diane Harper, one of the physicians involved in the development of the HPV vaccines, “came clean” at the Fourth International Public Conference on Vaccination, where she explained that because rates of cervical cancer are already so low, HPV vaccinations are not likely to decrease the rates of cervical cancer. She further posited that the serious risk of adverse side effects (Guillain-Barré, swelling of the brain, lupus, blood clots, and seizures) are significant enough that the Gardasil vaccine may outweigh its benefits, cognizant that the cancer is typically curable with early detection.
The bottom line is this: HPV can lead to cervical cancer, but the risk is very low. This does not mean that HPV will lead to cervical cancer. Would you pay a premium for flood insurance if you lived in the Rocky Mountains?
The CDC recommends vaccination against hepatitis A in a two-dose series starting at 18 months and hepatitis B in a three-dose series starting at birth. Both strains of hepatitis cause similar clinical symptoms (e.g., fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain). Type A is spread by the fecal-oral route (contaminated food or water), usually only causes mild symptoms (in 99.9% of cases), and you usually get better within a few days without any long-term consequences (like having a stomach virus). Overall, prognosis is excellent.
Why would you need to vaccinate any healthy child against the hepatitis A virus they are likely to get over anyway in a few days and mount a better, more protective natural immunity to?
Common risk factors for the contraction of hepatitis B (a blood-borne pathogen) includes inmates in prison, men who have sex with men, IV drug abusers, those with multiple sexual contacts, sexual contacts with people known to have hepatitis B, people with HIV, or people that are immunosuppressed. Why is it necessary to vaccinate all newborns en masse against a virus when they have none of these risk factors?
The varicella (chicken pox) vaccine is given in a two-dose regimen at one year and then another between four to six years. As we all probably know, chicken pox is highly infectious but typically only causes very mild symptoms—fever, malaise, and rash—that resolve after a few days. For healthy children, why would we continue to push vaccination, knowing that symptoms are typically subtle and very easily manageable with supportive measures and time?
The antivaccine lobby used to have an easy-to-go-to reference on their side—the infamous study performed by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the late ’80s that posited a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. However, that study was subsequently redacted because of fraudulence. Dr. Wakefield continued to stand behind his work and reported to CNN that he was the victim of “a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns.”
A recent article in the New York Times succinctly summarized a plethora of data from the last two decades in regard to what the scientific data says about the risks for developing autism. Not surprisingly, there is a discrepancy between the attention grabbed by variables that tend to pose a small increased risk for autism versus those variables that have in fact proven to significantly increase risk. For example, most laypeople are blatantly unaware that a sibling conceived within one year after an older sibling has a 240% increased risk for autism, while emigration during pregnancy increases the likelihood by 130%. Accordingly, the press disproportionately reports on the question of whether there is an alleged connection between autism and vaccines, although no statistically significant risk exists between autism and vaccines, and 10 studies found no such connection between autism and the MMR vaccine.
To date, there is no clear consensus on what causes autism, so I think that any rational mind should remain open to a multitude of possible explanations—this would apply both to factors that are thought to cause autism and to factors that are dismissed as not to cause autism. This must be so because unless a clear, direct, causal link is established, to brush aside one theory as invalid is the same as to chastise those who will remain adamant that a vaccine-autism causal relationship exists. I say this because, unfortunately, in the world of medicine, there are more factors at play than just the medicine. Vaccines are a big business, and the industry is poised to grow exponentially. Aware of this fact, there is a very significant interest for the vaccine industry to eliminate all possible barriers to their growth and also to thwart any dissenters against the pharmaceutical behemoth.
A key idea to remember is that even though vaccines are designed to accomplish something good, essentially, you are being injected with “toned-down” versions of pathogens into your body that are meant to induce an inflammatory reaction. A vaccine is a stressor, and different people will respond to that stressor differently depending on how healthy the patient is to begin with. This is why an 18-year-old Olympic athlete in peak physical condition will likely experience no adverse effects from an injection, but a 68-year-old smoker with diabetes has a much lower threshold for becoming ill.
My personal opinion is that a combination of a genetic predisposition and some form of traumatic stimulus in utero (while the baby is in the womb) and/or after birth leads to autism. This would explain why the risk increases by 8,300% for an identical twin and why both living within 0.19 miles of a freeway (90% increase) and being a pregnant mother living in a hurricane zone (200% increase) affect the likelihood of autism. Perhaps the environmental stimulus is on a sliding scale with some exposures being more “potent” than others. On the flip side, perhaps there is also a strong genetic predisposition protective from autism, so no matter what happens to a child’s twin, no matter where the twins’ pregnant mother emigrated, and no matter how old their father was when they were conceived, the likelihood of that particular child developing autism will remain low.
As a physician, I swore an oath to do no harm, which I firmly believe in. Of course, if someone is acutely ill, I will do everything in my medical power to save them. If, however, a child or a patient is healthy, and there is a small chance that they may become infected with a disease, and an even smaller chance that they could suffer any significant consequences from that disease, and instead will likely recover uneventfully, why would I advocate doing harm by exposing them to agents whose benefits are questionable and that are known to cause severe side effects?
In the end, whatever you choose to do, that’s your prerogative because any choice that affects you must involve you. I hope at the very least I have placed a small seed of dissent in your mind that will make you consider that what the mainstream tells you isn’t exactly true. Skepticism can be very enlightening.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal