By Molly Dickinson
This year marks the 17th Annual National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW), a childhood vaccination awareness drive sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission, according to the CDC, is “to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrate the achievements of immunization programs and their partners in promoting healthy communities.” In 2010, hundreds of communities across the Western Hemisphere, along with the Pan American Health Organization’s Vaccination Week in the Americas, participated in NIIW.
But despite the CDC’s week-long campaign, it’s likely the number of U.S. infants aged 2 and younger (the target age range for NIIW) who will be inoculated with all 14 recommended vaccines—38 doses in all—will continue to decline. According to a 2010 report from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), vaccination rates for 2-year-olds under private health plans dropped in 2009 after seeing near-steady growth for more than a decade.
Why? It isn’t because the CDC is failing to get its message out. It’s because another message—born of respect for the body’s abilities, not fear of its limitations—is making itself heard now more than ever. And people are listening. An increasingly vocal counterculture of parents, alternative health professionals, scientists and even medical doctors are standing up, speaking out and otherwise needling the allopathic status quo in an effort to change what they consider an inherently flawed, even dangerous, medical practice.
Today’s Chiropractic LifeStyle is proud to add its voice to the rising call for rethinking the way the U.S. approaches disease prevention and care; starting with those who matter most—our children. This April 23-30, TCL won’t be participating in National Infant Immunization Week; it will be celebrating “Natural Infant Immunization Week” instead. In contrast to the CDC’s push for increased vaccination, natural infant immunization highlights the importance of preparing infants to protect themselves from disease by calling upon a partnership of parents and wellness providers to support the innate function of children’s developing immune systems. It’s a movement celebrating the achievements of chiropractic, nutrition and other vitalistic lifestyle choices in promoting healthy communities from the inside out.
Though they share an acronym, these two approaches to infant immunization differ at the deepest of levels. The two movements have
existed in stark opposition since Edward Jenner first shocked the world by injecting pus from a milkmaid’s cowpox lesion into an 8-year-old boy, creating the very first “vaccine” for smallpox in 1976.
In order to fully understand the heart of the pro- vs. anti-vaccination debate, it’s critical to understand the way vaccines do—and don’t—work, and how this differs from the natural way our bodies are designed to generate immunity.
Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center, a leading source of critical research on childhood vaccination in the U.S. for nearly 30 years, explains it this way, “The human immune system, in simple terms, has two arms: the innate (cellular) and learned (humoral). For optimal immune function and good health, a balance must be maintained between these two arms of the immune system. The immune system of a newborn matures and is strengthened after birth and throughout childhood by naturally responding to the challenges of viruses, bacteria and other antigens—like pollen—in the environment. These challenges stimulate both inflammation and anti-inflammatory responses involving the cellular and humoral arms of the immune system. This natural maturation of the immune system allows the newborn to live in harmony with his environment outside the womb.”
Most vaccines, she observes, bypass the innate immune response and primarily involve the humoral immune response. “This stimulates the production of antibodies in the blood,” explains Fisher. “This is why vaccines don’t confer the same kind of immunity that exposure to and recovery from the natural disease confers.”
This, she says, is also why the practice of administering booster shots developed; as an effort to extend the short-term immunity triggered by inoculation.
“[The natural immunity perspective] completely destroys the vaccine theory,” adds Mary Tocco, an international speaker and educator often referred to as the “Erin Brokovich” of the vaccine industry. “Vaccinology is based on an outdated medical paradigm called the ‘allopathic model,’ the mechanistic model of conventional medicine where everything is compartmentalized. Immunologists were taught the only thing responding to vaccines is the immune system—with no regard for how the adjuvants or other ingredients will affect the immune system or rest of the body. This would be like saying that when we eat, the only thing affected is the stomach.”
“The new understanding,” she continues, referring to the vitalistic and holistic perspective, “considers the whole individual, realizing that when we inject, the whole body is involved.”
When we consider vaccination from this viewpoint, the current practice of infant inoculation gives rise to a growing array of questions and concerns with which Fisher, Tocco and other leading voices in vaccinology criticism are all too familiar.
Beyond the fact that vaccines don’t provide the same type of superior immunity generated by a high-functioning immune system, they’ve been linked (the medical community insists inconclusively) to neurological disorders and increased disease susceptibility. Vaccine critics point not only to a lack of investigation into potential side-effects and how they may cause individuals to react differently to inoculation, but also to a long list of additives whose toxicity is either well-known or in debate.
“Vaccines are pharmaceutical products,” says Fisher, “like all pharmaceutical products, vaccines carry a risk of injury or death that can be greater for some than others. Every child, like every infectious disease and every vaccine, is different. Depending upon the vaccine, there are additives that may affect an individual child’s health, including aluminum, mercury, formaldehyde, MSG, antibiotics, Polysorbate 80, egg and other animal protein or DNA, in addition to lab-altered viruses and bacteria.”
Additionally, given the financial stake the medical and pharmaceutical industries have in vaccine proliferation, their role in conducting or funding the majority of studies dictates any findings be taken with a heavy dose of aluminum salt (a common vaccine adjuvant).
“Common vaccine ingredients aren’t tested for safety,” Tocco says. “Most pediatricians aren’t aware of how vaccines are produced or the toxic adjuvants that are in all vaccines. When you consider vaccines have been around for more than 60 years and there isn’t one long-term study showing efficacy and proving safety, it’s completely unacceptable. They’ve never compared the vaccinated population to the unvaccinated and I believe this is the most important study needing to be done.”
Whether or not to vaccinate isn’t just a question of science. The fact that both sides of the debate can take the exact same cannon of scientific literature and interpret it in their own favor indicates not only a need for further and better investigation, but a much deeper, more important contention.
Beyond the numbers, the way we approach vaccination is a question of philosophy.
According to critics, the philosophy espoused by the CDC and other medically based models upholds intervention over intuition, relying upon a continually shifting arsenal of external chemical and physical processes to change the way individual bodily structures and systems function. The vitalistic and naturalistic perspective honors the human body’s innate intelligence (no matter how tiny and new), trusting in nature’s superior wisdom and enabling that body to adapt to its environment and guide itself toward its own highest expression of function.
Because these philosophies are diametrically opposed, they cannot readily coexist within the same belief system (be it individual or socio-cultural). So the controversy rages on amidst a growing fog of fear and antagonism; and more and more parents are finding themselves torn between a seemingly impossible decision—to vaccinate, or not to vaccinate?
Jeanne Ohm, D.C., an internationally renowned expert in pediatric Chiropractic, recalls one patient in particular. “I had a case where a father came in and he was petrified to vaccinate and petrified not to vaccinate. Apparently, he’d been reading up on both sides of the issue. I told him, ‘never make a decision in fear; it’s usually the wrong decision.’ And then I said, ‘You’ve obviously done your research, you’ve read what both sides have to say. What you need to do now is that you and your wife need to go down into your core belief system and see what resonates with you: vitalism or mechanism? And from that core belief system is how you make your decision.”
According to Tocco, parents possess intuition about such things, but they’ve been taught to ignore it. “I tell parents to carefully examine all the information and follow their gut instincts,” Tocco adds. “With the Internet and the information explosion, there’s an abundance of information on both sides. Truth has a certain feel to it. Search for the truth and you’ll find it.”
And as one chiropractor puts it, “If you do choose to get your children vaccinated, you would, of course, still want to make sure they are checked and adjusted. Wouldn’t you also want to make sure they’re unsubluxated if you choose inoculation?”
So-called “anti-vaccine” proponents like Fisher, Tocco and Ohm aren’t fighting for an end to vaccination. They simply believe the decision to vaccinate children should be just that—a decision; one parents should make with the support of health care providers after weighing possible risks and benefits , while heeding that inner voice telling them what’s right for their families.
“It’s imperative we have the legal right in the U.S. to embrace our deeply held personal values, beliefs and philosophies and follow our conscience when making important decisions about our own health or that of our children,” Fisher says. “Making any such health care decision—including one involving use of a pharmaceutical product carrying a risk of injury or death—is a profoundly personal decision.”
“All Americans who believe vaccines are protective and safe and the best way to maintain their health or the health of their children have affordable access to all government-recommended vaccines in public health clinics, or they can get vaccinated in a private doctor’s office. Those holding a different view about the benefits and risks of vaccination, however, should be allowed to follow their own path to health and healing without suffering harassment or punishment at the hands of those who disagree with them.”
The right to refuse vaccination varies by state. The NVIC’s website contains detailed, state-by-state information many find helpful when discussing vaccinations with pediatricians and other health care professionals. Currently, provisions exist for medical, religious and philosophical exemptions to mandatory vaccination (though not always concurrently). All states honor signed exemptions from medical and osteopathic doctors, although federally approved guidelines often complicate matters. Religious exemption is supported in all states except West Virginia and Mississippi, and 18 states currently allow philosophical exemptions.
Regardless of whether or not you choose to vaccinate, supporting your child’s developing immune system as fully as possible should be never be a question.
Says Ohm, “Vaginal birthing; breastfeeding for at least 18 months; organic foods; minimal chemical stresses and drugs; a nerve supply free of interference; a good emotional lifestyle; and a happy home are the best things you can provide to support a strong immune system.”
“We now know the immune and nervous systems are considered by science to be one system,” she adds. “We as parents need to make choices supporting nervous system function and decreasing physical, emotional and chemical stresses on our children.”
Of course, whether or not that choice includes vaccination, ultimately, is up to you.