Taking Shots at Mandatory Immunizations

Hey kids! It's back to school time! Do you know where your immunization records are?

You're gonna need that little card if you want to be accepted into kindergarten. It's an ultra-influential piece of paper, with lots of letters and numbers that let people know you've had your shots. All of them.

You remember those? They started when you were a baby. Mom or dad held you on his or her lap while the doctor, wearing a white coat and Cheshire cat grin, pierced your poreless, silken skin with a needle full of weird stuff.

It hurt. You cried, but you got over it. Others weren't so fortunate. If your parents were smart, they made sure you had a little Tylenol in your system beforehand to minimize your fussiness (fussy is a garbage pail term grown-ups like to use when they don't know what's wrong).

Sometimes the fussiness lasted for a couple of days; sometimes it persisted for weeks. Occasionally, it was accompanied by fever, pain and high-pitched screaming.

Consider yourself lucky. Some babies suffer seizures or neurological damage, and a few develop autism. Those are some big words for you to understand. In fact, sometimes the doctors think they're too big for your parents to understand too.

With or without vaccines, most kids glide right through childhood unscathed by the usual diseases, like mumps, measles and chicken pox and without side effects from the vaccines meant to prevent them. But a lot of those kids who had all their shots, just like they were supposed to, who grew up to be healthy, strong, productive members of society, experience unexplained fatigue and muscle pain around the age of 30.

The same doctors who decades earlier convinced their parents that those syringes full of peculiar chemicals and live viruses were good for developing immune and nervous systems are dumbfounded today by the mysterious chronic "syndromes" that seem to be plaguing adults in countries where children are routinely vaccinated.

So, you see, even though the big grown-ups, the ones in charge, are still investigating safety and long-term health issues surrounding childhood vaccinations, you're still expected to get them.

And they keep coming up with new ones too, like hepatitis B.

A while back, to make it real easy for you and your parents, you could get your very first hepatitis B vaccine before your mom could offer you a single drop of immunity-building colostrum. Your brand-new body could be armed against the chronic but rarely life-threatening disease just in case intravenous drug use and unprotected sex (the most common risk factors for the disease) should become part of your toddler routine. You know, alongside sorting blocks and learning to talk.

What your parents might not know is that they have a choice. In most states, no child may be kept out of school because he has not been immunized. Your mom or dad can sign a waiver stating that they choose not to have you immunized for one of three reasons: religious, philosophical or medical. The trick is, they need to know their rights in advance, 'cause they're not being told by school officials.

So, before mom and dad happily march you into the pediatrician's office for your shots, convinced they're doing what's in your best interest, they'd better arm themselves against the propaganda mill that churns away pat answers to their questions.

New this year to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommended vaccination schedule is the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (pcv), but the craze, the vaccine that's getting the extra push, is the varicella or chicken pox vaccine, which as of last year is required for school and day care enrollment. Chicken pox, once considered a childhood rite of passage, is suddenly lethal. Or that's what the Merck pharmaceutical company would have you believe in its shamefully manipulative TV commercial for the vaccine.

The commercial shows a series of weeping plush toys with a background voiceover that warns against the perils of chicken pox. Worried parents hear "Children die from this disease; call your doctor now to discuss chicken pox." While conducting a search relating to this story at AskJeeves.com, this writer was shown a banner ad for the chicken pox vaccine. The ad showed the sobbing rubber duck from the commercial.

Above its head were the words "I never realized chicken pox could be so serious," followed by "Chicken pox can lead to hospitalization; chicken pox can even lead to death." In juxtaposition to the maudlin advertisement, an excerpt from the 1989 edition of the American Medical Association's Encyclopedia of Medicine states that chicken pox "is a common and mild infectious disease of childhood" and that "all healthy children should be exposed to chicken pox at an age when it is no more than an inconvenience." Clearly, manufacturers are resorting to scare tactics as public distrust of pharmaceutical companies and vaccines grows.

CDC statistics show that only about 50 children die annually in the United States of chicken pox complications and that frequently there are extenuating circumstances involved. The goal is not to quash the disease and save lives; it's to quash the disease and profit. When the same companies that manufacture the vaccines also fund risk and benefit trials, the need for checks and balances is undeniable.

In 1999, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suspended the hepatitis B vaccine for low-risk newborns. An independent analysis by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) showed that, of the raw data collected by the government-run Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, 872 serious reactions were reported in 1996 in children under age 14 injected with the hepatitis B vaccine. According to a NVIC statement, the children were either taken to a hospital emergency room, had life-threatening health problems or were hospitalized or left disabled following vaccination.

Of the 48 children who died after being vaccinated, 13 had received only the hepatitis B vaccine; the rest had received it in combination with other vaccines.

Sad statistics, but it gets worse: In the same year, only 279 cases of hepatitis B were reported in American children under age 14, according to the NVIC. Clearly, the decision to market the vaccine was a grave one.

And it wasn't the first. To date, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent in excess of $80 million researching the link between vaccines and autism (a severe developmental disorder in which children seem to lose interest in interacting with the outside world). The most suspect of the vaccines were the DPaT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) and MMR (mumps, measles and rubella).

The United States Department of Education reported a 173 percent increase in autistic children between 1993 and 1998.

There are a number of hypotheses in circulation connecting the disease to vaccines. One theory blames highly toxic mercury, used as a preservative in vaccines. At a June 18, 2000, hearing on mercury and medicine held by the House Committee on Government Reform, physician Stephanie Cave said "mercury poisoning and autism have nearly identical symptoms: self-injurious behavior, social withdrawal, lack of eye contact, lack of facial expression, hypersensitivity to noise and touch and repetitive behaviors." The Environmental Protection Agency limit for mercury exposure, she explained, is .1 microgram per kilo of body weight per day. A child receiving four or five vaccines in one sitting -- a common practice -- could easily be exposed to 62.5 micrograms, or 41 times the amount at which damage can occur.

Which it did to the grandson of republican Congressman Daniel Burton of Indiana. A healthy child upon a routine visit to the doctor, he was soon after diagnosed with autism after having received nine vaccines.

One month after the hearings, the U.S. Public Health Service and the AAP issued a statement recommending the removal of mercury compounds from vaccines. The federal Food and Drug Administration concurred, yet mercury-containing vaccines remain on the market.

The more common scapegoat in the DPaT vaccine is the pertussis (whooping cough) part of the vaccine cocktail.

Pertussis is a highly contagious disease of the upper respiratory tract that yields a periodic spasmodic cough ending in a high pitched inspiration, or "whoop." The "whoop" is basically a gasp for air after repeated, exhausting coughing episodes. The disease strikes mainly infants and young children.

Not something you'd like to see your child go through -- yet when you immunize, you are injecting the child with a weakened version of the disease, thus exposing him.

It is true that in most kids, adverse reactions are limited to fever, soreness and overall fussiness, but what is not known is how often severe reactions are either misdiagnosed by well-meaning doctors or unnoticed by parents who simply refuse to acknowledge the vaccine's drawbacks.

In 1995, an Australian infant's death was blamed on shaken baby syndrome (SBS). Her father was convicted of killing her, an accusation he and his wife vehemently denied. Seventy-two hours prior to Rikki Lee Walters' death, she received the DPaT, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae), hepatitis B and oral polio vaccines. The child was already ill with chronic chest congestion, a fact that doesn't normally deter doctors from administering vaccines, although common sense would dictate otherwise. Rikki Lee's parents were not informed of any potential risk involved in routine vaccination.

Following her shots, the baby became quite ill with diarrhea and projectile vomiting and showed signs of excessive drowsiness. An autopsy revealed that she was suffering from viral pneumonia. Had the physician accurately diagnosed the cause of her congestion, he most certainly would have rescheduled the vaccinations.

What directed suspicion away from the vaccines and toward the child's father was the cause of death: subdural hemorrhage, or bleeding around the brain. Abuse was immediately suspected even though there were no other signs of trauma or neglect.

An almost identical situation played out in the United States two years later, when, again, a father was jailed. His baby had received the exact same course of vaccines as the Walters baby. Nearly every aspect of the case was identical to the Walters case, yet complications from the vaccinations were never explored.

In 1998, an Arizona woman was convicted of murdering her quadruplets by -- you guessed it -- shaking them to death. What wasn't widely reported was the fact that when the babies were 3 weeks old, they became violently ill following a hepatitis B vaccine. Hepatitis B is contraindicated in cases of prematurity; the quads were premature. When they all developed subdural hemorrhage, the parents were immediately blamed.

In the face of such startling evidence, one has to wonder why questioning the safety of these vaccines is taboo but accusing parents of abuse has become so standard. Vaccination is a sacred cow in traditional medicine, and to think otherwise is blasphemous.

There are those, however, who are not afraid. Those who have made the difficult choice not to vaccinate their children.

Sharon Seiders began reading about the dangers of immunizations after her first child was born. Her boy had already received some of his shots when Seiders decided to radically modify his vaccination schedule.

"I had read enough," Seiders said, "to not want to do pertussis with him, and I wasn't comfortable with the live polio."

Even the mild reaction her son experienced from a few early vaccines was enough to make her fidgety. "I didn't like what it did to him," Seiders said. "I really felt like I was compromising his immune system. I was making him sick."

Seiders followed suit with her next two children. Although she feels she knows enough about both sides of the issue, she doesn't advocate total termination of vaccinations.

"I personally," Seiders said, "would recommend only giving immunizations against a disease that you would not be comfortable with your child going through. So my second son I [allowed] to get the deactivated polio vaccine."

Seiders became interested in anthroposophy, a practice similar to homeopathy, created by Rudolph Steiner.

"An interesting thing that this anthroposophic doctor said," Seiders explained, "was that immunizations are compromising the immune system and they feel that the childhood diseases were [useful in that they] were burning off the child's heredity."

According to the anthroposophic model, if physicians subvert a natural process by preventing children from getting these diseases, they are preventing them from developing healthy immune systems, and the children will eventually contract even stronger diseases. In fact, there is a body of evidence to support the theory that AIDS was born when smallpox was eradicated through vaccination.

Seiders fully subscribes to this theory and has even gone so far as to purposely expose her children to disease. She explained that "I tried to expose them to measles just to let them go through it, and these illnesses aren't even around anymore."

To some, this may seem preposterous -- but if you're older than 35, chances are you had the mumps, measles and certainly chicken pox and received lifelong full immunity from future infection of those diseases, which vaccinations do not provide.

No one can deny that the desire to cure and prevent disease is a noble one. Most of us don't remember what it was like to fear infectious diseases. As frightening as AIDS is, unless you're in utero or receiving blood transfusions, it's essentially preventable. Not so when German measles, polio and even influenza devastated whole communities.

When France's Louis Pasteur discovered that microorganisms were responsible for disease in 1857, a new paradigm in medicine evolved. His "germ theory" gave birth to what is often referred to as "Western medicine." The ideas that our bodies are attacked by germs and that to become well we must kill those germs has been the predominant medical model ever since. That model, although revolutionary in its time, didn't take into account other factors, such as stress, poor eating habits and genetics.

In 1954, Jonas Salk, also known as "the man who saved the children," created a vaccine for polio. Later, his competitor, Albert Sabin, received licensing for his live virus polio vaccine. Both were tested on school kids and proven to be effective. The technology was never questioned because the need for protection from the crippling disease was so great. But like other vaccines, the one for polio, especially Sabin's, was not without its problems. Despite conspiracy theories and highly charged debates surrounding disease prevention, one fact holds true: Vaccinations are not entirely safe.

Richard Hiltner, a homeopathic medical doctor who's been practicing for 26 years, ceased administering conventional vaccinations in 1975 when he saw a child develop seizures and mental retardation following a DPaT vaccination. Said Hiltner: "I have a great deal of questions as to their safety, and I don't know if they're really totally effective."

He with the notion that the campaign for the chicken pox virus is nothing but hype. "I think it's blown way out of proportion," he said. "I've been a family doctor for 31 years, and I've never seen any real problems with chicken pox. I know it can happen, but these are very, very few [cases]."

What troubles Hiltner most about vaccination reactions are the moderate ones, the ones we might not be hearing about.

"It's not an all-or-none proposition," he said. "[It's not that] you don't have any reaction to it or you die from it. So there must be other things in between. It's only common sense. You wonder about all the autoimmune concerns. These more subtle things in between are what I worry about."

The 200-year-old principle behind homeopathy is not dissimilar to that behind immunizations: Like cures like.

When manufacturing homeopathic vaccines, the pathogen is isolated, diluted and shaken in a process known as potentizing. It is a totally safe practice, but its efficacy has not been formally proven. Of Dr. Hiltner's patients, other than one child who suffered a mild rash, none experienced any side effects from the vaccines; neither has any come down with the illnesses.

Hiltner is currently working on a paper about homeopathic immunization, which he will be presenting at a California Homeopathic Society meeting in San Francisco. In the last 15 years, he has given approximately 160 children the homeopathic vaccination for the seven major childhood diseases -- diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles) and polio.

One could argue that many of these diseases are virtually nonexistent to begin with and that accounts for Hiltner's apparent success, but this argument could just as well be applied to conventional vaccines, too. Additionally, the traditional school of thought maintains that the organisms in the homeopathic vaccines, when taken orally, are killed by stomach acids and are rendered useless. Said Hiltner: "The most important thing to remember is that these are safe. They may or may not have prevented the illness, but they're safe."

Hiltner is quick to point out the need for more studies. Although the safety of immunizations is challenged by the public at large as well as by alternative health practitioners, pediatricians favor them.

In advocating vaccinations, Steve Berman, president of the AAP, said in a statement that "We have to be sure to keep vaccinating our children against illnesses. The fact that you don't see those diseases anymore simply means the vaccines are working, and they will only continue to work if we continue to immunize our children."

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