There is a special place in my soul for the Hepatitis B vaccine. It’s not the “rainbows and unicorns” part of my soul. It’s more like this part…
I was not born a warrior; actually, I was never much of a scrapper at all. But even my “non-confrontational” self did not see a purpose for a vaccination against Hepatitis B for my firstborn. But that — and the rest of my birth plan — was ridiculed by my second-string OB/GYN. So, because of the aforementioned personality trait, I caved.
Fast forward 11 years, and I’m stunned this vaccine is still on the schedule for newborns. Worldwide there is disdain for this vaccine. France suspended the use of this vaccine and this article in The Journal of Clinical Virology examines the ongoing skepticism held for this particular vaccination. Japan, a country that does not make vaccination mandatory, does not include the Hep B vaccination on its list of recommended vaccinations. But somehow, it is still given to all newborns in the U.S. –- regardless of health status. The fight against this vaccine has been herculean. So really, what the hell can I add to all of this? I mean seriously, Michael Belkin sits with his statistical models showing that the rate of Hep B infection the CDC is using to push the use of this vaccine is simply incorrect when compared with their own MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report). He’s crunching numbers like Thor, while crickets chirp in the background… and I think that I’m going to change something? Seriously, that is the thought that crossed my mind when starting this blog. But I feel compelled to go on. So I decided to issue a challenge to any Thinking Person that is up for it: get an expectant mom (and/or dad) to THINK about the Hep B vaccine. Really THINK. Really RESEARCH. Just one.
It means talking about it. It means taking that chance to look like the crazy cat lady. It means taking a chance that you and your ideas will be rejected. It means putting on some warrior paint and going for it. Not my strong suit, but if I can do it, I know you can.
Here are the facts that, if presented to me 12 years ago, would have had given me a different attitude and some strength when the eye rolls were directed my way regarding my wishes to defer the Hep B.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and semen according to the CDC. So, typically, you have to share needles or engage in multiple-partner risky sexual behavior. Some medical personnel are at risk due to their exposure to blood. Remember that exposure to blood or semen has to come through contact with an open wound or a mucus membrane. This is the same way HIV is spread. And yes, similarly to HIV, Hep B is present in saliva in detectable quantities, but that is not a viable transmission route because the viral concentration is low. So why are newborn infants receiving this vaccine? Even 80% of the docs in France that were willing to give this shot to older patients were not willing to give it to newborns, according in the Journal of Clinical Virology. Mainly the shot is designed to protect babies born to moms who are Hep B positive. Kissing, coughing, sneezing, holding hands, etc. are not transmission routes.
I suppose it would make sense if they were trying to get everyone vaccinated at birth, so that they would be protected when they were more likely to move on to more risky activities. But wait! According to the insert for Merck’s Recombivax Hep B vaccine less than half of the 3000 five to nine-year-olds they tested, who had received the three-shot series as infants, had titer levels suggesting immunity to Hepatitis B, which suggests that immunity does not hold. Interestingly, the Merck insert for the MMRII indicates that children given that vaccine at six months or younger show a much lower immune response to it. The insert suggests two possible reasons: Maternal immunity may interfere with the vaccine, and an immature immune system may not be able to respond to the vaccine. Apples and oranges, I realize, but the same reasons may factor into the lack of immunity achieved in this Brazilian study. This study looks at the seroconversion (measurable immunity after a vaccination) of 174 infants that received the Hep B vaccine. By age THREE over 50% had a seroconversion rate below the level that would protect them from the disease. Again, I’m having trouble seeing why a family with a low-to-no risk factor for Hep B would allow their newborn infant to receive this vaccine.
What are the risks associated with this vaccine? I turn to Michael Belkin to open the risks section as he has devoted his life to this issue. Mr. Michael Belkin is a statistician and a father who lost his five-week-old daughter to the Hep B vaccine in 1998. His fight to shed light on the dangers of the Hep B birth vaccination has been tireless. Watch him in action at the 2:44 minute mark. Shortly after his daughter’s death, Belkin attended a workshop given by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine entitled “Vaccine Safety Forum – Neonatal Deaths.” This session was scheduled to address the serious concern of the alarming number of deaths and injuries to babies from the birth Hep B shot. You can read more about it here. Belkin discusses how the CDC representative at the conference discussed that VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a voluntary government safety surveillance program) only shows 19 neonatal deaths related to the Hep B vaccination since the inception of the birth dose. Belkin’s analysis –- from raw data he obtained via a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request –- showed 54 deaths during a much shorter 18-month time frame and 17,000 adverse events! (The VAERS database is accessible to the general public here, or a much more user-friendly interface with the database here.
A review of the Merck Recombivax insert, lists adverse events that occurred following vaccination. They include: Guillain-Barré Syndrome; multiple sclerosis; exacerbation of multiple sclerosis; myelitis including transverse myelitis; seizure; febrile seizure; peripheral neuropathy including Bell’s Palsy; radiculopathy; herpes zoster; migraine; muscle weakness; hypesthesia; and encephalitis. Those are just the events that are listed under NEUROLOGICAL. Read the insert — if you’ve never read a vaccine insert, you need to read the insert — and keep in mind, that just like the Recombivax, most vaccines have not been tested for their carcinogenic, mutangenic properties or their effect on fertility. Just sayin’.
Three other papers on the Hepatitis B shot found double the chance of liver problems vs non-Hep B vaccinated infants, a threefold increase in autism over peers who did not receive the birth Hep B and hepatitis (yes, hepatitis) and gastrointestinal disease. Go to PubMed and look around for yourself.
The paper that nearly sent me over the edge was one that studied “infant” monkeys receiving a vaccine schedule similar to the one US infants received from 1994-1999 that showed several shocking revelations. The most devastating to me was the primates’ loss of survival reflexes after receiving the Hep B birth shot. This is exactly what we experienced with my son 30 hours after his birth. He was a champ in the nursing arena immediately after birth. I wondered why so many women had trouble nursing. Then, during our second day in the hospital, it all changed. We couldn’t get him to turn to the breast. He constantly fell asleep at the breast. He developed jaundice — And SCREAMED. We spent the next six weeks watching his weight, working on getting him to feed, pumping and syringing breast milk into his body, and being told that he had colic and that feeding issues were normal for new moms (it’s a wonder our species is not extinct, then). It was a nightmare. And every time I see an article online about the Hep B, I find that I am not alone in my experience. Dozens of moms post the same experience in the comments. This article from Age of Autism explains the findings more in depth, and addresses some of the controversy of the study.
Let’s hear from Michael Belkin one more time: “In 1996, only 54 cases of Hepatitis B were reported to the CDC in the 0-1 age group. There were 3.9 million births that year, so the observed incidence of hepatitis B in the 0-1 age group was just 0.001%. In the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), there were 1,080 total reports of adverse reactions from Hepatitis B vaccine in 1996 in the 0-1 age group, with 47 deaths reported. For 1996, total VAERS Hepatitis B reports for the 0-1 age group outnumber reported cases of the disease 20 to 1.”
So, um, yeah…there is some risk, other than swelling at the injection site, to receiving the Hep B vaccine. Keep in mind that if your child does experience a “bad reaction” to any vaccine, no one who manufactures or administers that shot has any liability. None. Read more about that by clicking here.
Let’s recap: The immunity to the shot bottoms out at about 50% after 3 to 9 years; the newborn population is at low risk for contracting the disease, and there is a pretty controversial safety record to this shot. But talking about this to an expectant mom, makes you about as popular as a turd in a punchbowl.
That pre-parenthood, pregnancy period of life is a time of fuzzy ducklings and boundless possibilities. Keep your Debbie Downer vibes to yourself! But I tell you what, I sure as shit wish someone had sat me down in 2001 and talked to me in a “scared straight” sorta way. I would have damn well done more research, and let the “Best Baby Names of the New Millennium” and “Car Seat Buyer’s Guide” wait another month.
Give them the gift of information. And really, there is NO END to the information on this subject. From both sides. Many folks argue that the average person is not equipped to make this “sophisticated” and “complicated” decision. I cry bullshit.
The REAL problem (or I should say, the NEXT problem) is what happens if a family decides to “pass” on the Hep B vaccination. This becomes a type of “lifestyle” decision. You step into a new realm or category as parents and people. You and I know that the decision to reject or delay vaccination is not always welcomed with open arms –- and new parents may not be prepared for this kind of negativity. There may be disdain for the choice to not provide the birth dose of Hep B, or the hospital may not care one way or the other, but they are so used to giving it that it might “just happen” as part of the standard operating procedure. Oopsie, so sorry! Communicating your wishes to your doctor(s) and nurses at the hospital is key. Many families print signs to place on the newborn’s bassinet at the hospital and make sure the child goes nowhere without a parent. Releases have to be signed and Vaccine Information Statements must be presented, but many times paperwork is assumed to have been completed. Most prenatal care includes a Hep B test for the expectant mother. But have your test results with you, as your status may be called into question as part of the reason to vaccinate. And if you are planning a home birth, plan for the unexpected and have some of the above items in your emergency “go bag.” Finally, know your state law; many states give you three months after the birth of a child to start the Hep B series.
Which brings us to vaccine exemptions and required vs. recommended vaccinations. And, unfortunately, sometimes the unthinkable happens and hospitals get very aggressive about a newborn receiving the Hep B.
So it’s really not enough to just ask an expectant family to THINK about the Hep B vaccine, you need to give them the tools needed to navigate the system they are entering. It is a system of profits, efficiencies, legal consul and the “greater good”. As new parents, they need to understand FROM DAY ONE that nobody has their child’s well-being in mind more than they do. Nobody. Then they need a support system to help them navigate an unsupportive system. You can do that. Or just send them the link to this blog. I don’t care if people think I’m wearing a tinfoil hat — especially if it gets expectant parents to think. Even just one!
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