To many people, I hold “extreme” views on vaccines. Unlike many who question the safety of the current vaccine program, I cannot say that I am aggressively, or even mildly, “pro-vaccine.” I have pored through what seems like mountains of scientific and historical data, and my overall conclusion is that, while vaccines looked and seemed like a great idea, they have been undermining the overall health of the population from the start. It’s quite possible that individual vaccines may have prevented significant numbers of acute infections in the short-term, but at what cost?
You see, each vaccine carries a cost that’s paid by the immune system. Many, many people can handle a vaccine, or a few vaccines, without apparent damage. However, as you add more and more vaccines to the pile, your immune system pays a greater and greater price, until it reaches a tipping point. For some, that tipping point comes very soon, and a child dies or is severely injured with his or her first vaccine, like Lorrin Kain or Lyla Rose Belkin. For others, the tipping point may not be reached until after many years of annual flu shots. But, eventually, if given enough vaccines, anyone’s immune system can be damaged beyond repair. (This is my opinion, based on the synthesis of a great deal of investigation, which I’m not even going to begin to try and piece it together for you in this post.)
That’s at least one of the mechanisms behind the skyrocketing rates of chronic illness in this generation’s children. This generation is the most asthmatic, the most anaphylactic, and the most neurologically dysfunctional in the history of the world. (If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read up on the history of allergy and anaphylaxis. Heather Fraser does a fabulous rundown in The Peanut Allergy Epidemic.) As many people would point out, at least they’re alive. (Well, mostly; not the Lorrin Kains and Lyla Belkins of the world, obviously.)
But is “alive” all that we ask for our children? I spent my life from the age of 11 being chronically ill with allergies and asthma. It has been no picnic, I assure you. Most of the time I can get by without medication of any kind because I made it my business to learn as much as I could about my conditions (and there have been more autoimmune issues added to the list as I got older); however, I still, more than 40 years later, cannot go to the home of anyone who has a cat or dog — or vacuum or dust without specialized equipment — without being ill, no matter how much medication I take. I have spent virtually all the holidays of my adult life sick. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? The medications all carry risks (sound familiar?) and side effects that are varying degrees of nasty. If I could prevent this for my children, would I? You damned well better believe I would. What’s the use of experience if it can’t be used to spare your loved ones pain? How much more would I do what I could to avoid inflicting the kind of permanent neurological damage that results in severe autism? Does that mean I’d rather my children were dead than autistic or anaphylactic, as so many people imply? Of course not. It simply means that, like any parent worth their salt, I want my children to have the opportunity to be the best possible versions of themselves — which, in our case, would be highly unlikely if they were vaccinated.
To imply that the choice to vaccinate or not is a choice between autism and death from vaccine-preventable illnesses is absurd, and I think more and more people are seeing the absurdity of that argument. Autism is common in the United States (the CDC’s best estimate is 1 in 68 of today’s 12-year-olds, which corresponds to a likely 1 in 29 of today’s 2-year-olds; that’s more than 3%), deaths from vaccine-preventable illnesses are not. In 1962, the year before the measles vaccine was introduced, there were a mere 408 deaths from measles in this country, out of approximately three to four million cases (the insert shows only 481,530, but that’s reported cases. Measles is generally a mild illness, and the vast majority of cases were never reported. It is generally estimated by the CDC that the true number is between three and four million.) Would it be great if none of those 408 people died? Absolutely. But the “greatness” level of saving those 408 lives drops if the means of bringing it about sentences half of the population to lifelong chronic illness, doesn’t it? (I’m not even going to go into how those chronic illnesses raise the probability of early death for many of the sufferers.) For a large part of the population, the choice boils down to being miserable for a week with measles or mumps or potentially being miserable for a lifetime.
In other words, “unvaccinated” is far more likely to equal “healthy” than “dead.” And it’s far more likely to equal “healthy” than “vaccinated” is.
Similarly, the rate of hepatitis B in young children (ages 0-4) was less than 2 in 100,000, with the death rate being far, far lower than that, before the development of the vaccine (see figure 1 in the link). And the risk dropped for older children and didn’t rise significantly until children were 15 years old. Would it be great if those few children who died from hepatitis B did not do so? Certainly! And mothers who are hepatitis B carriers might consider it worthwhile to vaccinate their newborns. But risking damage to the immune systems of low-risk infants would do nothing to change that. Those children were never at risk of encountering hepatitis B before puberty in the first place. Vaccinating your low-risk child is not going to have any effect whatsoever on the risk that a child of a mother with hepatitis B will develop the disease or not.
Life is inherently risky. There is just no way to eliminate all risk of death, even in childhood. Cannot be done. To live is to risk death. If we could eliminate all risk of “early” death, would we really want to? As Paolo Coelho notes, “A boat is safe in the harbor (well, usually; Pearl Harbor being a notable exception), but this is not the purpose of a boat.” The most “alive” people I have ever met are those who know deeply that life is full of inherent risk, but choose to live life on their terms anyway. As Paul Tillich says, they have the “courage to be.” They do things that interest and excite them, not things that minimize the risk of death. And the results are often breathtaking: fantastically creative art and inventions and/or adventures that, when shared, make everyone who hears them feel more alive. Rationality (not that I revere rationalism above all else; I don’t) necessitates assessing the real risks we face and choosing our actions based upon those rather than imaginary risks. Is it rational to attempt to shift the already ridiculously low probability of dying of a “vaccine-preventable illness” to an even more ridiculously low probability by deliberately inducing long-term, sometimes debilitating, illness in half the population? I can answer that one for you. No, it’s not. Not even remotely.
But as I said, rationality is not everything it’s cracked up to be. Fear is not rational. Fear that comes from an intuitive understanding of the particular challenges you or your loved ones will face is a powerful force (read security expert Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift, terrific books), and one that should not be ignored. If you have a strong intuition that measles would be devastating for your child, and you really want your child to have the vaccine for that reason, I would support you all the way.
But fear that is based on generalized anxiety within the culture should be faced down and seen for what it is. Examine your fears. What are you afraid of and why? Then find out whether or not those fears are actually supported by facts or statistics. Those who wish to profit by us (for power or money), are well schooled in the advantages of instilling fear. Rest assured that the billions of dollars that vaccines rake in make it very likely that vaccine manufacturers and promoters are among the very best practitioners of the art of fear mongering.
On the subject of rationality, people often have a strong irrational “belief” in the power of vaccines that is not based on evidence or facts. Many, including my ex-father-in-law, believe that vaccines can make you well when you are sick. That’s just a complete misunderstanding of what vaccines are intended to do. Vaccines do not cure anything. They are a preventive measure; that’s all. But that irrational belief (exactly the same as the belief behind the placebo effect) can be a powerful thing to harness, and I would not stand in the way of that. If you really believe that a flu vaccine will keep you well this winter, then have at it. In your case, it may actually do so. However, your children don’t automatically inherit or absorb your belief system, especially when they are very young. The placebo effect may have no effect on whether or not a vaccine will help or harm them. For the sake of others in your life, it may behoove you to get the facts.
So, as I said, my vaccine views are considered “extreme” by many, but, as Thursday was Thanksgiving, I felt a strong urge to express my personal gratitude for those whose vaccine views are far less extreme — middle of the roadish maybe, or even “aggressively pro-vaccine” as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. calls himself in his book Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak — but who still have the courage to buck the zeitgeist (and possibly their professional associations) and lend their spoken or written voices to questions of vaccine and vaccine-program safety. Each and every credible criticism made by well-known celebrities, doctors, lawyers, journalists and autism advocates, like Dr. Bernardine Healy, Katie Couric, Dr. Robert Sears, David Kirby, Dr. Martha Herbert, Dr. Kelly Brogan, Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D, William Thompson, Ph.D., and Rebecca Estepp, lends weight and credence to the idea that the extreme position promulgated by the CDC on vaccines is not rational or moral. By the way, each of them has drawn tremendous fire from pro-vaccine extremists, or vaxtremists as we call them, for their statements. I am extremely grateful for that, because nothing shows the world just how extreme the CDC stance is better than their harsh criticism of people who are obviously making reasonable and valid points.
I know that there are many who disagree with me and say that these people do not speak for them. To them, I say of course not. Only you speak for you. And I would ask that you continue doing so – loudly! But please don’t try to shut up or squelch the people who may have the very best chance of reaching that significant portion of the population that is currently on the fence about vaccines. As I said in a blog post last year that I called 50 Shades of Grey: Autism Style, if we see the world in black and white, we will have few advocates and many enemies. That’s not the world I care to live in. But if we recognize the many shades of grey for what they are, intersectionality and agreement – not on everything, never on everything – but on enough for us to realize that we have many, many allies in the struggle to get the vaccine program changed so that it really reflects the needs of the entire country as it is now. I am incredibly grateful for those allies, and I want to do what I can to boost their courage, not undermine it.
I want to leave you with a few thoughts . . .
If, as seems to be the case, we are winning, by that I mean that the weight of public opinion on vaccine safety has shifted significantly in recent years, what is likely to be the response of the “opposition”? Well, if it were me, I would seek to take us down in the obvious ways – discrediting leading voices, subverting real discussion on social media, outright written and video propaganda, etc. – but, if I saw a community as divided as the autism community is, my prime tactic would be to bring down that community from within, by sowing seeds of distrust and enmity between people who should be natural allies. Because as Margaret Mead advised, I do not doubt “that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” If I wanted to stop that small group of thoughtful citizens from changing the world, I would do my very best to make sure that same group never got the chance to work together to achieve their ends.
I ask that you consider this the next time you see a post that attacks or discredits someone whom the autism or vaccine-choice communities have been looking to for support or leadership. Ask yourself whether, by joining the attacking voices, you just might be aiding and abetting the “enemy” and undermining your own ends. Let’s not be scorpions stinging the turtles who are carrying us across the river. The turtles may not be doing it your way, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t helping you across the river.