Monday, December 15, 2014

Defining the Debate on Vaccines

Are Vaccines Necessary?

Let's Look at the Science

Vaccination DebateThere is certainly no shortage of opinions, books, websites, and heated controversies in our world over the necessity and safety of vaccines. I realize that there are already hundreds, if not thousands of websites and blogs fully dedicated to debating the vaccination topic. The idea behind starting my own blog on this topic resulted from a recent Facebook exchange between family and friends. Because this is a topic that stirs emotion and passion from all sides, I think we all agreed that it is unfair, inadequate, and inappropriate to continue such an exchange on a personal Facebook thread. Therefore, I have decided to re-create and rekindle the discussion with this blog. Before we begin, I would like to name a few ground rules as they pertain to this blog and how we should proceed:

Ground Rules of Debate Engagement

  • First Ground Rule: Feel free to skip my lengthy article below and go straight to the discussion at the bottom. You do not have to know my own history and opinions on vaccinations to participate in this blog. Comments from both sides are welcome and encouraged. 
  • Second Ground Rule: Personal attacks are not permitted. I will not approve comments that include nasty language or insults from either side.
  • Third Ground Rule: Graphics, charts, and data to support your position are fully permitted and recommended.
  • Fourth Ground Rule: Do not consider anything that anyone says on this blog to be valid medical advice. These are our opinions. I am neither a doctor, nor claim to take the place of a doctor. While doctors are welcome and encouraged to participate, it is with the understanding that we are held accountable for our own decisions on the vaccination choices that we make. 

Where I stand on Vaccinations

Before I begin the open discussions, I want to be completely honest about my own position on vaccines: Today, and as of very recently, I now believe that vaccinations are one of the biggest medical hoaxes in human history. By the same token, I really don't have any personal dog in this fight. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know of a close family member or friend who has ever been severely injured or damaged by a vaccine.  In fact, up until a few years ago, I was among the majority of the population who considered the anti-vaccination crowd a bunch of far-fringed lunatics who were endangering the well-being of our world health. I'd like to add that my opinion on vaccinations has more to do with their perceived usefulness and necessity than the risks of associated side effects, though both factors are extremely important in discussing and debating the topic and making a decision on whether or not one chooses to vaccinate. With that said, I will also openly admit that I have been skeptical of anything that has to do with preventative medicine for many years. My skepticism of preventative medicine began about 12 years ago when my doctor handed me a Lipitor prescription for 'high' cholesterol. Something didn't sit right with me about the idea of taking a drug every day for the rest of my life. When I got home, I spent the next couple of weeks reading about dietary fat and cholesterol. I verified everything I read with the CDC website and peer-reviewed medical journals before I ultimately threw my Lipitor prescription away. I also completely stopped worrying about how much saturated and animal fats I consumed each day. The cholesterol myths are a topic for another blog, but needless to say, what I learned would fuel my doubts over the necessity of vaccinations and other medical screening procedures in the coming years. But, I didn't always feel this way.

What I used to Believe about Vaccinations

Until recently, I was totally on board with the accepted mainstream opinions and medical advice on vaccinations. I believed that they helped save us from many dreadful diseases and were primarily responsible for increased life expectancy in America. Many years ago, I worked with a young man whose wife refused to have their new-born baby vaccinated. This was really frightening to me. I could not imagine how a parent could be so irresponsible, ignorant, and careless about the health of her own baby and those around her by refusing to protect her child from horribly deadly diseases such as Polio, Diphtheria, Small Pox, Measles, Rubella, and Whooping Cough. Didn't she know that vaccinations have protected us from these dreadful, fatal diseases? Didn't she realize that the only reason she hears so little about these diseases today is because vaccinations completely eliminated them from our memory? I remember meeting this guy's wife at our office one day. She once made the entire office a very "healthy" vegetarian lasagna dish for lunch. She was really into natural foods and homeopathic remedies for colds and ailments. I knew her as being one of those "homeopathic nature hippies", but seriously, isn't refusing to vaccinate the most evil and irresponsible idea one could possibly imagine in today's 'civilized' and 'advanced' world of modern medicine? To me, it seemed way over the top! That was years ago, but even up until quite recently, I assumed that anyone who refused vaccination was a tree-hugging extremist. I had never really understood any of the history behind vaccinations, but I accepted the status-quo with a blind, stubborn, and unwavering faith just like most of us still do today. I think my built-in feelings towards this woman are typical of the way most of us look at the anti-vaccine crowd. I will show later-on how nothing could be farther from the truth with my own stance on vaccines. Unfortunately, I believe it is this preconceived sentiment that makes most of us so unwilling to look at the other side and actually research the facts and history for ourselves. So what, specifically made me change my own mind and caused me to reconsider this whole idea that vaccinations actually saved the world?

What Changed my Mind on Vaccines?

When I was a little kid I remember overhearing a short television documentary clip of the announcement of the Salk Polio Vaccine Discovery from 1952. I was fascinated by this. I had always considered the cure for Polio to be one of the greatest scientific advancements in all of modern mankind. My Dad told me all of the horrible stories about how children were crippled, paralyzed, breathing from iron lungs, and even died from this horrendous disease back in his day. To this day, he and just about everybody else continue to staunchly believe in and support the use of the polio vaccine. Since the vaccination cure of the 50's my Dad's own children and grandchildren don't have to live with the same fears he did. I grew up believing this - that Salk, Saban and all of these other vaccination inventors were the reason we eradicated all of these horrendous diseases we heard about during my childhood days. I also believed it was only a matter of time before we cured cancer. But at least then, I considered myself lucky that I know longer had to live with the same fears as my ancestors. Little did I know that my own adoration of these supposed miracle cures of medicine would be the impetus that would eventually change my mind. The truth about Polio is that the disease was making a sharp decline a few years before the vaccine was introduced. The decline continued in America and in a similar fashion in other advanced, countries who were not vaccinated. There are a couple of other interesting things to know about the history of polio: For one thing, the increase and decrease in disease incidents from the 1942 to 1952 was closely correlated with the pervasive use of DDT. As DDT use when up, paralysis cases went up. As DDT use went down, cases of paralysis went down. While a relationship doesn't necessarily equal a cause, DDT use should be considered a pretty good suspect. The second fact is that the classification of polio changed significantly after the introduction of the Salk vaccine. After the vaccine was introduced,  a significant increase in the number of reported meningitis cases offset the declining number of polio incidents. From further research on the subject, it seems that much of what was identified as polio prior to the vaccine, was being called meningitis after it's initial introduction. We can discuss this later, but for now it really isn't necessary. The bigger picture of truth lies in the fact that by the time the vaccine was in widespread use by 1958, polio had already experienced its greatest decline. The vaccine inventors, Salk and Saban, were hailed as heroes when in reality, there is no reasonable evidence that their polio vaccination had much to do with the success of eradicating the disease at all. Sadly, there was even a steep rise in polio at one point due to a bad batch of vaccinations. In 1977 Salk testified that the majority of polio cases in the U.S were a result of the vaccine.  There is one other valuable piece of modern knowledge that should lead people to the overall truth on the worthiness of vaccinations.

The Flu Vaccine Scam

One day I found myself in a debate online over the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. I stopped taking the flu vaccine many years ago after reading the risks and benefits provided by the CDC website which recommends them as the most effective means for protection. I learned flu vaccines at best case scenario do not work as we all have been led to believe. In fact, even under the most favorable circumstances, the flu shot will reduce one's odds of catching the specific flu it is designed for by only 60%. That 60% is a relative percentage, however. Since the average odds of getting the specific type of flu the shot is designed for are anywhere between 1 in 5 to 1 in 20, a relative risk reduction of 60% means that the shot works far less than half the time. Look at it this way. If a typical person has a 5% chance of getting the flu, the vaccine will improve those chances to 2%. In other words, for most of us, it does not do much good. What's worse, is that the flu shot, according to the CDC website, is barely effective at all in the elderly, the one group that needs the most protection since they are at the highest risk of severe and/or fatal complications. In short, having a flu shot does not mean you won't get the flu. And of course, there are dozens of other flu-like viruses that can make you feel just as bad with or without a shot at all. As I am writing this, the school where I teach has 37 students out with Influenza Type A which does not have a vaccine for it. An interesting experiment might be to compare how many children actually got the flu vaccination prior to getting Influenza Type A. Obviously, the immune system is vulnerable for at least a short time after a vaccine shot as your body builds up its defenses against the vaccination bodies. This is evident by the fact most of us feel slight to severe flu symptoms shortly after a shot. It makes sense that our bodies are most vulnerable to any number of bacteria and viruses when our bodies are worn down. Does the flu shot increase our short term risks of getting other viruses and types of flu? I'd rather not find out. The shame in all of this is the way we have all been misled. Haven't the majority of us been led to belief that if we get a flu shot we can't get the flu? As you can see from the chart, the number of deadly cases of influenza dropped significantly prior to the first vaccination. Flu and Polio vaccinations were only the starting point for my vaccination skepticism.

The Decline in all Infectious Diseases Prior to Vaccination

Look at the charts for a real picture of the truth of vaccinations in general. Measles, diphtheria, small pox, whooping cough, rubella, are all diseases that were eradicated by advancements in hygiene and sanitation. These diseases were destined to go out on their own long before any vaccinations were designed. I will save all of the historical details, timelines, statistics and facts for later on in our blog discussions, but to sum it all up briefly: All of these diseases were dying out long before there were vaccinations for them. It wasn't the vaccines that saved us. There is far more to it than this, but that is it in a nutshell. The majority of us continue to support vaccinations under the mistaken assumption that they are responsible for eradicating infectious diseases. I've included only a couple of charts for the sake of brevity. If you're interested, you can find similar timelines for all diseases and verify them for accuracy. You will find that they are all pretty much the same. Genuinely honest vaccination proponents who still insist vaccines are important, have to at least admit that vaccines did not play the primary role in eradicating these diseases.

Decline in Mortality Rates had Nothing to do with Vaccination

Myths about Vaccination Opponents

Who are the Ones Actually Looking at the Science?

I think both sides would agree that opponents of the vaccine are viewed as reckless, unscientific rebels who are always looking for a good conspiracy theory. We are lumped together with the 09/11 Trade Center and JFK conspiracy theorists.  The assumption made about vaccine opponents is that their opinions are based on emotion and hyperbole rather than facts and scientific data. The opposite is true. Having looked into this topic with great interest, I am convinced that vaccination opponents have far more insight into the actual science and history of vaccination than their proponents. There are many books from authors of both sides on the vaccination debate, but I have learned far science from the anti-vaccination websites and books.

Pro Vaccine Books and Websites

The books and websites I've seen that are promoting vaccines and attempting to rebuke its critics are very light in actual data, history, references, and scientific facts. Instead they are filled with drama, scare-tactics and stereotypes about the vaccination opponents. Worse yet, most of these books that support vaccines, misrepresent the facts by offering an incomplete representation of the factual data. They do provide some facts, but it is what they leave out that results in a misleading representation of the truth.

Panic Virus

Science or Soap Opera?

I'll provide one such example which comes from the book, Panic Virus, which was recently recommended by a relative and supporter of vaccines. Author, Seth Mnookin, accurately states, "the death rates of the measles vaccine reached into the hundreds in the United States prior to the MMR vaccine." What Mnookin fails to tell us is that the death rate from the Measles in the U.S was in the tens of thousands prior to the vaccination and was falling steadily into the hundreds by 1960 prior to the licensing of the first measles vaccination. See the above chart. The vaccine had little, if anything to do with the decline of measles as other advanced, un-vaccinated countries were enjoying the same rate of decline. Author, Seth Mnookin's book reads more like a soap opera with tales of horror while unfairly characterizing vaccine critics and stereo-typing and grouping them together with 09/11 conspiracy theorists. Mnookin even gets into politics. He groups anti-vaccination foes in with Jenny McCarthy fans and Obama citizenship birth deniers. He even takes a jab at George Bush and WMDs. This is science? I will be honest.about my naivety. I didn't even know who Jenny McCarthy was before I was accused of being one of her followers. The content about vaccinations in the Panic Virus book are no better than his tactics. Mnookin reveals a few admittedly sad and true stories about the deaths and horrible illnesses of a few of the un-vaccinated. No doubt, a few un-vaccinated people have died of the diseases the vaccines are designed to prevent, but the reverse is also true: There are vaccinated people who die of the very same diseases. Mnooken doesn't provide any statistics on either for comparison. Of course he leaves out the casualties of those who really have been hurt by vaccines. What's more, he seems to be obsessed with trying to prove vaccines do not cause autism as if that is the only concern of vaccine opponents. No one can possibly prove this one way or the other, but it doesn't stop Mnookin from trying. Not once does the author even attempt to summarily refute the data, history, and timelines used by vaccination foes for all infectious diseases. This just proves that when you don't have facts and science on your side, you must use whatever else you can to change the issue. Seth Mnookin is not a doctor which migh explain why his book is so scarce of any medical facts and references.

Anti Vaccination Books

Dissolving Illusions

Fortunately, there are much better books on the side of the vaccine opponents. These are books by real doctors with real credentials, who use real science and historical facts to back up their claims. Perhaps the most complete book of them all is Dissolving Illusions, by Dr. Suzanne Humphries, This book covers the complete history of vaccines and all the diseases they are intended to cure, from start to finish. The book is exhaustively and meticulously referenced every step of the way.

Vaccination is not Immunization

Another great book is, Vaccination is not Immunization, by Tim O'Shea. While this book does not go quite into the same depth as Dissolving Illusions, I think it is my favorite for the sake of simplicity. Tim O'Shea, however, does not cut any corners when it comes to the science, facts, and medical references.

Both books, not only cover the science and history of disease and vaccination, but also provide a great amount of information on the potential risks and side effects of vaccinations. Not unlike the Pro-Vaccination books, they do have some drama of their own, but they are centered squarely on solid history and science.

The Bottom Line: Should I Vaccinate?

To this point, I have not even brought up the other side of the argument: Vaccination Risks. Obviously, if there were no risks at all, we wouldn't need to have this discussion. Even the most staunch supporters, doctors and promoters of mass vaccination efforts have to admit that there are potential side effects to vaccinations and there have been serious injuries and even death, if even only to a very small population. It is impossible to know the exact effect vaccination has on the less serious, long term side effects. One who has already vaccinated can only wonder and accept with complete faith that vaccines are doing them more harm than good. The question is do the risks outweigh the perceived benefits of getting the vaccines?  That is something we all should want to find out for ourselves rather than simply and blindly accept what we are told to do. Patients and parents have every right to inform themselves about the benefits and risks of vaccinations without being ridiculed and stereo-typed as reckless conspiracy theorists. Which side is truly neglecting to seek the truth? Which side is exploring the science? Finally, which side is really doing the fear mongering? My money is on the multi-billion dollar vaccination business.

Vaccination Side Effects

Vaccines do have side effects and that is a fact that no vaccination proponent can possibly deny. Vaccines have been known to cause serious disease, paralysis, and even death. These are documented incidents that anyone can look up and verify for themselves. No matter how rare vaccine-related injuries may be, they are indisputable. Of course, proponents of inoculations claim that such a minuscule risk doesn't offset the benefits of life long protection from deadly diseases like Small Pox, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Measles, Polio, etc. Is this actually true for all vaccinations? You can be fairly certain it isn't. How many of us have actually looked at the package inserts of the vaccination the doctor is giving us to look at the statistics? The other fact that is indisputable is that vaccines do not offer lifelong protection, only the disease itself can provide that. If this weren't true, there would be no such thing as recommended boosters and updated shots every year.

Vaccination Risks versus Benefits

I recently read where a package insert from the Pertussis shot in the 1990's revealed that the chances of getting seriously sick from the shot is significantly higher than being harmed by the disease, itself. Unfortunately, thanks to the pharmaceutical-friendly laws of our government, drug companies no longer have to state the complete risks and benefits on their packaging. We are all supposed to just continue believing that we are all better off with these shots. In fact, the government has exempted these multi-billion dollar companies from any injuries that might result from the vaccine. To this point, I have only touched on the documented incidents of side effects. The vaccination generation today in America gets more shots by the age of 18 than any other country in the world. Meanwhile, our health continues to deteriorate with a multitude of new epidemics. Today, nearly 25% of U.S kids require asthma inhalers, childhood diabetes has been rising significantly, deadly peanut allergies make it unsafe for some children to even go to a public school. We are plagued with a multitude of other emotional disorders and autoimmune diseases that at one time were very uncommon or completely unheard of in our world and studies show that they correlate quite perfectly with the growing rates in vaccination schedules. An adult who is obedient to today's recommended vaccination schedule will have had 69 injections by the time he/she is an adult. While a relationship doesn't equal a cause, it is unreasonable to ignore and pass-off such relationships as mere coincidences. Something is causing these epidemics. To date, we have been unable to prove relationships between vaccinations and specific diseases, because no such studies have ever been done. Only a controlled, double-blind study of two groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated subjects could prove the relationship between side effects and specific types of innoculations. But because we live under the assumption that vaccination is absolutely necessary, it would be unethical to not vaccinate everybody. For that reason, no such study can ever be implemented. While neither side can prove the argument over side effects, there is another way to settle this debate once and for all.

Winning the Vaccination Debate 

Scare tactics from either side do not prove anything. The only way to settle the vaccination controversy is to debate the necessity of the vaccines. This takes me back to the historical data, timelines and charts above. Are the vaccines what saved us from all of these diseases? Based on the few examples above, the answer is a most definite, no. To date, I have not met a vaccination proponent who has even tried to refute the historical data when it is presented to them in its full context, much less succeed. I've seen many of them use incomplete history to make their own charts, but when confronted with the big picture, they inevitably go back to autism and accusations of fear mongering. It is time that vaccination skeptics play offense. Start hammering away with the facts and science that is already there. We will then see clearly how the fear mongering is on the side of those who refuse to accept the scientific history and persist in using scare tactics over diseases that offer virtually no threat to us today.