Two facts. Over the past 50 years, the number of cases of chronic illness among children in the West has risen sharply. During that same period, the vaccinations of babies and young children against infectious diseases have expanded enormously. Are these two developments related? A growing number of scientists think they are. One mother decided to investigate.
America is in the midst of an epidemic of chronic disease and disability among children.
Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that one American child in 166 has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In 1970, autism affected one in 2,500 children.
Today, nearly 3 million children in public schools are classified as learning disabled. In 1976, there were 800,000 learning-disabled children reported in public schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Asthma, diabetes, attention-deficit disorder, attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and arthritis are also rising steeply among children. These brain and immune-system disorders plague millions of children in a country noted for the advanced state of its medical treatments. In America, the cost of healthcare for chronic disease is estimated to be $425 billion a year, and rising, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Yet the current costs of dealing with chronic illness pale in comparison with what it will cost in the future, as these ill and disabled children grow up and we find that many of them cannot work and will instead require lifelong financial support. Some of these children, especially severely autistic children, will need full-time custodial care later in life as their parents age and can no longer cope with their adult children’s 24-hour-a-day needs. The minimum annual cost to provide full-time custodial care for an autistic adult is between $30,000 and $40,000, for a staggering total lifetime cost of between $2 and $5 million, depending on the severity of the autism.
What is happening to the health of our nation? Many people are wondering if this upsurge of chronic illness in children is linked to a corresponding rise in the same period of the number of vaccinations young children receive. We are now exposing our children to more and more bacterial and live virus vaccines in the first five years of life, when the brain and immune system develop most rapidly. And some even think we might be weakening the function of our children’s immune systems by eliminating all experience of natural infection.
For more than 100 years, doctors have been publishing articles in medical journals about the side effects of vaccines on our brains. The mother of all vaccines—the smallpox vaccine, created by Edward Jenner in 1796—was found to cause inflammation of the brain in one in 3,200 persons. After Louis Pasteur began to inject patients with rabies vaccine in the 1880s, it became obvious that brain inflammation was a side effect that affected as many as one in 400 vaccinated persons. And by the 1970s, the medical literature was full of reports that the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine was causing brain inflammation and death in babies.
I had complete trust in the safety of vaccinations when I took my newborn to the pediatrician for baby shots in the late 1970s. At the time, I considered myself very well-educated about science and medicine. My mother and grandmother had been nurses, and I had become a medical writer at a teaching hospital after graduating from college.
But I knew nothing about the risks of vaccines, which I assumed were 100 percent safe and effective. It never occurred to me that a medical intervention designed to keep a healthy child healthy could ever harm that child. The concept of risk associated with preventive treatments is quite different from the concept of risk associated with curing a sick child.
Like many women who had babies in the late 1970s, I was part of the natural childbirth movement. I attended Lamaze classes to prepare myself for birth without medication, and I made firm plans to breastfeed my baby. I took vitamins during pregnancy, and never drank alcohol. I ate all the right foods, and even endured the occasional headache without reaching for an aspirin. I was determined to do nothing that would harm the baby in my womb, and do everything once my baby was born to give him the best start he could get in life.
Except for a milk allergy that gave him colic his first few months, my son, Chris, was a lively, contented baby who loved to be around people and always seemed to be doing things ahead of schedule. He had begun saying words at seven months and speaking in full sentences at age two. At two and a half years, he could identify the upper- and lower-case alphabets and numbers up to 20. He could name every card in a deck of playing cards, and had created a card-identification game to entertain himself and our family. He was beginning to recognize words in the books we read together each day. One doctor told me he was cognitively gifted.
I remember that, for several weeks following Chris’s third DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) shot, when he was seven months old, there was a hard, red, hot lump at the site of the injection. I called my pediatrician’s office and was told by the nurse that it was “a bad lot of DPT vaccine,” and not to worry about it. I asked if I should bring Chris in for another shot, because I thought she meant the “bad vaccine” might not have been strong enough. I wanted my baby protected.
The day of his fourth DPT and polio shots, when he was two and a half, Chris was healthy except for slight diarrhea left over from a 48-hour bout with the stomach flu he had had three weeks earlier. He had just come off of a round of antibiotics because, back then, antibiotics were given for everything from flu to pneumonia. The pediatrician, as well as the nurse preparing to give Chris his shots, said he didn’t have a fever, and that a little diarrhea didn’t matter.
Several hours after we got home, I realized how quiet it was in the house, and went upstairs to look for Chris. I walked into his bedroom to find him sitting in a rocking chair staring straight ahead, as if he couldn’t see me standing in the doorway. His face was white and his lips were slightly blue. When I called out his name, his eyelids fluttered, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his head fell to his shoulder. It was as if he had suddenly fallen asleep sitting up.
This was unusual—I had never before seen him fall asleep this way. When I picked him up and carried him to his bed, he was like a dead weight in my arms. Chris slept in his bed without moving for more than six hours, through dinnertime, until I called my mother for advice. She told me to wake him.
I climbed into Chris’s bed, lifted his limp body, and cradled his back against my chest as I rocked us both from side to side, calling out his name. I could feel him struggling to awake. He began mumbling the word bathroom, but he couldn’t sit up on his own or walk. I picked him up and carried him to the bathroom, where he had severe diarrhea and then, again, fell asleep sitting up. He slept for 12 more hours.
This was 1980. I had been given no information by my doctor about how to recognize a vaccine reaction. In the following days and weeks, Chris deteriorated. He no longer knew his alphabet or numbers, and couldn’t identify the cards he once knew so well. He would not look at the books we had once read together every day. He couldn’t concentrate for more than a few seconds at a time. My little boy, once so happy-go-lucky, no longer smiled. He was now listless and emotionally fragile, crying or becoming angry at the slightest frustration.
Chris’s physical deterioration was just as profound. He had constant diarrhea, stopped eating, stopped growing, and was plagued with respiratory and ear infections for the first time in his life. The pediatrician told me it was just a stage he was going through and not to worry about it. After eight months of such deterioration, I took Chris to another pediatrician. He was tested for cystic fibrosis and celiac disease, but the tests came back negative. None of the doctors knew what was wrong with my son, who had become an entirely different child physically, mentally, and emotionally.
It would be another year before I watched the documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette. I called the television station and asked to see the medical research that had been used to document the show. There, I found clinical descriptions of reactions to the pertussis vaccine that exactly matched the symptoms I had witnessed in my son within four hours of his fourth DPT shot.
I learned that one year earlier the British National Childhood Encephalopathy Study had reported a statistically significant correlation between DPT vaccine and brain inflammation leading to chronic neurological damage, and that a joint study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the University of California-Los Angeles published in Pediatrics had found that one in 875 DPT shots is followed within 48 hours by a convulsion or collapse/shock reaction just like the one my son had suffered.
The day Chris had his vaccine reaction, he should have been in an emergency room, not unconscious in his bed. As his mother, I should have been given the information I needed to recognize what was happening and to take steps to deal with it, including calling my doctor.
At age six, when it was apparent that Chris could not learn to read or write, he was given an extensive battery of tests that confirmed minimal brain damage that took the form of multiple learning disabilities, including: fine motor and short-term memory delays; dyslexia; auditory processing deficits; attention deficit disorder; and other developmental delays. He was removed from the Montessori school he attended and placed in a class for the learning-disabled in a public school, where he stayed throughout elementary, junior, and high school, despite repeated unsuccessful efforts by the schools to “mainstream” him.
As a teenager, Chris struggled to deal with the big gaps between certain aspects of his intelligence—such as his creativity and his unusual ability to think on an abstract level—and his inability to concentrate for long periods of time or to organize and process certain kinds of information he saw or heard. He was angry and frustrated because he couldn’t do what his peers could do, and was troubled both in and out of school. After working in a warehouse and mail room following high school, he eventually earned an associate degree in video and film production at a school where a third of the students are learning disabled and receive in-depth tutorial support. Chris is now making his way in the world using his creative gifts. He continually adjusts for the learning disabilities that will always be a part of who he is, but which he is determined not to let define who he is.
My son’s vaccine reaction nearly a quarter century ago is identical to those that thousands of other parents have reported to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) for the past 22 years. These parents tell us how they took healthy, bright children to doctors to be vaccinated and, within hours, days, or weeks, their children got sick, regressed mentally or emotionally, and became different children. Whether a child recovers, is left with minimal brain damage as my son was, or is more severely injured—as was the case with the children who were awarded nearly $2 billion in compensation under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986—a pattern of common experience emerges.
Parents call the NVIC and describe how, within days of vaccination, their babies run fevers; are covered with body rashes; become restless and irritable; start twitching, jerking, or staring into space as if they can’t hear or see; scream for hours, fall into a deep sleep, and wake up screaming again; or have a dramatic change in eating or sleeping habits.
Others describe a gradual deterioration in overall health— a picture that includes unexplained rashes; new sensitivity to foods such as milk; persistent diarrhea; constant ear and respiratory infections and the onset of allergies, including asthma; severe sleep disturbances; the reversal of developmental milestones such as the ability to roll over or sit up; loss of speech, eye-contact, and communication skills; development of strange or violent behaviours that include hyperactivity, biting, hitting, social withdrawal, and repetitive movements such as flapping, rocking, and headbanging. Older children and adults complain of muscle weakness, joint pain, crippling headaches, disabling fatigue, loss of memory, or being unable to concentrate and think clearly.
Depending on the child and the specific therapy interventions, there is either gradual full recovery or the child is eventually diagnosed with various kinds of chronic health problems. My son regressed after his DPT shot but stopped just short of autism. Why? I don’t know. Vaccine-induced brain injuries appear to be on a continuum ranging from milder forms such as Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities to autism, seizure disorders and severe mental retardation, all the way to death.
But how many children react adversely to vaccines every year? Is it really just the rare phenomenon that vaccine advocates claim? There is no comprehensive procedure for charting reactions, and it’s been estimated that perhaps less than 5 to 10 percent of doctors report hospitalizations, injuries, or other serious health problems following vaccination. The 1986 Vaccine Injury Act mandated no legal sanctions for doctors who do not report reactions; they can refuse to report reactions, and even deaths, and suffer no consequences.
Even so, about 12,000 reports are made to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System each year. However, that number probably represents only a fraction of what is actually occurring. And the larger unanswered question that haunts the discussion of vaccines is: Has repeated manipulation of the immune system with multiple vaccines in the first three years of life, when the interrelated brain and immune systems develop most rapidly outside the womb, been an unrecognized factor in the epidemics of chronic disease and disability plaguing so many children today?
When you look at how vaccines might cause chronic illnesses through neuroimmune dysfunction, the scientific picture is complicated by the presence of potentially toxic components added to vaccines as stabilizers, preservatives, and adjuvants. These include many substances—heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum, yeast, monosodium glutamate (MSG), formalin, and antibiotics—that, together with residual DNA and possible contamination from animal and human cells, have unknown effects.
There is an astonishing lack of basic scientific knowledge about how viral and bacterial vaccines, given in combination, affect brain and immune-system functions in the human body at cellular and molecular levels. Pre-licensing studies conducted by industry to demonstrate the safety of new vaccines rarely look at large numbers of children given the experimental vaccine in combination with other vaccines, and follow-up for serious health problems following vaccination is limited to a few days or weeks.
In addition, there have never been any large, long-term studies comparing the long-term health of individuals who have received many vaccinations versus those who have never been vaccinated at all. This means the rates for ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, seizure disorders, asthma, diabetes, intestinal bowel disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and other brain and immune-system dysfunctions in a genetically diverse unvaccinated population remains unknown. This makes it hard to make comparisons, other than looking back at medical statistics from the era when vaccinations were not so frequent.
This vacuum of basic scientific knowledge compromises the statistical conclusions of every recent epidemiological study conducted by government and industry to try to prove that vaccines do not cause chronic health problems, especially autism. The recently released Institute of Medicine report that denied a causal relationship between autism and vaccines and called for an end to all research into vaccine-associated autism relied almost exclusively on epidemiological studies. Researchers conducting epidemiological studies to estimate the incidence of disease in vaccinated individuals often look at old medical records to do their statistical analyses. But the scientific truth about a vaccine’s ability to cause chronic health problems has not been determined with any degree of certainty because all of the participants in epidemiological studies are vaccinated.
It is possible that when all children were exposed to only DPT and polio vaccines in the 1960s, a tiny fraction of those genetically susceptible to responding adversely to vaccination were affected. But with the addition of the combination measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to the routine vaccination schedule in 1979, and then the Hib, hepatitis B, chickenpox, and pneumococcal vaccines in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s possible that far more of the genetically vulnerable are now being brought into the group of vaccine-adverse responders.
Government and industry refuse to investigate genetic and other high-risk factors for vaccine-induced chronic health problems. But independent research is being conducted at the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California-Davis, and by other non-government, non-industry researchers around the world. Their research may eventually confirm that there is a critical link between a child’s genetic susceptibility to respond adversely to vaccination and one or more cofactors, such as a coinciding illness or concurrent exposure to medications or other environmental toxins while in the womb or after birth.
The damaging effects of vaccines in genetically vulnerable children may only be one part of the explanation of why there has been an explosion of chronic disease throughout America, the most highly vaccinated population in the world. Mass vaccination with multiple vaccines in early childhood has removed many natural infections from our human environment. This phenomenon is only about 50 years old.
Humans and infectious microbes have coexisted for as long as we have walked the earth, and the human immune system has developed an efficient way of meeting the challenge from viruses and bacteria. When infected with viruses, parasites, and cancer cells, the body’s first line of defence (CE) is to mount an inflammatory response, such as fever, which then signals the need to produce anti-inflammatory chemicals and antibodies that resolve the inflammation and initiiate the overall healing process.
“Babies are born with a very immature cellular immune system,” says Lawrence Palevsky, a New York pediatrician and cofounder of the Holistic Pediatric Association. “Childhood viral infectious diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox initially stimulate the cellular part of the immune system, which leads to the production of the signs of inflammation—fever, redness, swelling, and mucus. This cellular immune response stimulates the humoral part of the immune system to produce anti-inflammatory chemicals and antibodies that assist in recovery from these illnesses. This natural process helps the cellular and humoral immune systems mature. A healthy, mature immune system for children requires an equal balance of cellular and humoral immune-system responses.”
Palevsky points out that vaccination largely bypasses the cellular immune system in favour of stimulating the humoral part of the immune system. “Vaccination does not mimic the natural infection process. Although vaccines stimulate production of antibodies in an attempt to artificially induce immunity to disease, chronic inflammation can be a by-product of vaccination by disrupting the balance of cellular and humoral immune-system responses, especially in those children genetically predisposed to inflammatory conditions such as autoimmune disorders.”
Philip Incao, MD, a holistic family-care physician in Colorado, agrees: “Physically, health is about balancing acute inflammatory responses to infection, which stimulate one arm of the immune system, and chronic inflammatory responses to infection, which stimulate the other arm of the immune system. Overuse of vaccines to suppress all acute, externalizing inflammations early in life can set up the immune system to respond to future stresses and infections by developing chronic, internalizing disease later in life.”
The questions being raised about the wisdom of using large numbers of vaccines to suppress or eradicate all infectious disease are understandable in light of the fact that many highly vaccinated children and adults are chronically ill. However, the challenge to our system of mass vaccination is also part of the move by educated healthcare consumers away from a medical model that many believe has serious shortcomings. Intuitively, people in many technologically advanced countries are becoming increasingly sceptical about not only the safety of vaccines, but also the toxic properties and overuse of prescription drugs and the risks of medical tests and invasive surgeries.
Among the top ten causes of death in the US are toxic reactions to correctly prescribed drugs, which make more than 2 million Americans seriously ill every year and kill 106,000 more. The realization that doctors have injected mercury-laced vaccines into our children’s bodies is just one example of why people are beginning to distrust what doctors and public health officials tell them to do. A 1998 survey found that 39 million Americans made more than 600 million visits to alternative healthcare practitioners in 1997—more than to primary-care physicians.
As a new model for staying well struggles to stand alongside the medical model, a mighty battle is taking place in the offices of pediatricians, who face increasingly well-educated, independent-thinking parents who demand to be equal partners in making healthcare decisions for their children. At no time is that battle more fierce than when an articulate parent, one who often knows more than a pediatrician about vaccine risks, begins to ask questions and demand answers instead of blindly trusting that vaccination is the best course for their child.
Educated parents, who suspect that their children are genetically at risk for vaccine complications, are challenging the rationale adopted by public health officials to justify mandatory vaccination. The idea that everyone has to get vaccinated for the “greater good,” and that it is acceptable for some children to be sacrificed for the welfare of the rest, does not feel quite right when one-size-fits-all vaccine policies end up targeting the genetically vulnerable as expendable.
When it comes to the complex job of raising a child day to day, mothers are usually on the front line. But when we enter the often paternalistic world of science and medicine, we are made to feel as if we are not smart enough, educated enough, or rational enough to make our own good decisions about what is best for the health and well-being of our children. It is in pediatricians’ offices, public health clinics, and hospital corridors where we have been most conditioned to feel incapable and helpless to do anything other than what we are told to do.
In reality, we are more than capable of using our intelligence, our hearts, and our mothers’ intuition to demand to know the truth and make informed choices about any medical intervention that carries a risk of injury or death for our children. No one has more of a right to do this than we, the life-givers, life defenders, and primary caretakers of our children’s well-being.
Once you as mothers and fathers have gathered all the information you can find about infectious diseases and vaccines and have spoken to one or more healthcare professionals, you will know what best to do. Once you have made a vaccination decision for your child, don’t second-guess yourself. You have made an educated, conscious choice, and no matter what happens, you have been the best parent you can be. As parents, it is all we can do.
Excerpted from Mothering (September/October 2004). Subscription information: Mothering, PO Box 1690, Santa Fe, NM 87504-1690, USA, www.mothering.com. Barbara Loe Fisher is cofounder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), www.909shot.com. She is the coauthor of the 1985 book DPT: A Shot in the Dark and editor of The Vaccine Reaction newsletter, and has served on the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (1988–1992), the Institute of Medicine Vaccine Safety Forum (1995–1998), and the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (1999–2003).