INTRODUCTIONThe Vaccination Controversy
When I was growing up, going to the doctor for shots was a time honored tradition that we all accepted–like it or not! Even during my training as a resident at the hospital, I dutifully went for yearly physicals, which included an updating of the basic adult immunizations. Like my parents, I never questioned vaccinations and did not consider them anything but a normal part of routine prevention of illnesses. It wasn’t until I was successfully treated for a thyroid condition with holistic medicine that I became interested in the complementary medical approach of using the body’s natural defenses against disease as much as possible. In this view, vaccinations can interfere with the body’s natural immunity and may themselves cause disease.
Vaccinations, which for decades had been hailed as one of the major achievements in public health, are no longer immune to controversy. In our grandparents’ days, nearly all children had measles, mumps, and rubella. It’s not uncommon to hear stories about chickenpox parties in our parents’ days that flourished at the first sign of the rash when all the mothers would rush their children over to the infected child’s house. Since the introduction of vaccines in the twentieth century, these common childhood diseases are no longer common
. This would seem to be good news. But in recent years, professional journals and newspapers have reported with increasing frequency on vaccine injuries, mercury toxicity, and possible links between vaccinations and chronic diseases such as autism.
One of the first major health decisions facing new parents is whether or not to vaccinate. Many parents do not even realize there is a choice, as there has been the assumption that vaccinations are compulsory rather than voluntary for entry into school. Vaccinations are recommended by our healthcare system for every child. However, like any medication, vaccinations carry the risk of adverse effects and are not always 100 percent safe. Sometimes a child can experience a reaction after a shot–discomfort, allergic reactions, and even reports of death have occurred. Stories in the media about the link between autism and the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) shot are prevalent. As a result, a growing number of parents have begun to question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Nowadays, with the abundance of information available, parents are more informed about the health benefits and risks of vaccinations, pose more questions to their doctors, and are interested in taking some responsibility for their children’s health and wellbeing. Some of my patients fully vaccinate to schedule, some not at all, and others vaccinate selectively.The Current State of Our Children’s Health
Medical advancements in the 1900s were impressive in their achievements: We are treating diseases with more sophisticated techniques, targeting illness with complex drugs and extensive therapeutic regimes. We understand the mechanics of the body better than at any time in history. But even as we are told we are healthier and living longer, more children every year are on daily medications for chronic conditions. In recent years, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in these sorts of conditions–children who suffer from repeated ear infections, severe asthma, allergies, or eczema, or even behavioral problems like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The explanations for the increase in chronic childhood illnesses are complex and often contradictory; the effects on children and families, however, are profound and evident. As a result, more parents every year confront the limits of conventional medicine in treating and addressing the causes of chronic illnesses like these.
Unfortunately, healthcare in the United States has a long way to go before it is satisfactory. According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association
(Barbara Starfield, M.D., “Is U.S. Health Really the Best in the World?” JAMA. 2000; 284: 483—485) the United States ranked 12th out of a group of 13 countries when measured on health indicators such as low birth weight, infant mortality, and life expectancy. Our children, who represent the future generation, may be more at risk than we were. Many of our children, for instance, are ingesting more than safe amounts of fluoride from local water supplies, which damages tooth enamel, ligaments, muscles, and skin, and is associated with lower IQ levels, arthritis, and cancer. Mercury used in amalgam dental fillings is known to be toxic and may lead to damage to the brain, kidney, and immune system. Antibiotic overuse has caused antibiotic resistance, yeast overgrowth, and weakening of the immune system.
Nowadays, according to the American Obesity Association, 15 percent of children in the United States are obese, an increase of over 50 percent in children ages 6 to 11 since the 1960s. Most overweight adolescents grow up to become obese adults. This alarming rise in obesity has been blamed upon a number of societal causes, including our more sedentary lifestyle, high rates of television viewing (up to 30 hours a week), and the prevalence of fast food and junk food in school. In many elementary and high schools, it’s not uncommon to find vending machines selling candy and soft drinks. With financial restrictions and cutbacks a reality at many schools, these machines have become a money-maker for the schools. To add to the obesity problem, physical education programs are among the first cut during school financial crises, and nationwide, children are increasingly deprived of exercise during school hours .Obesity brings with it a host of health problems: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and higher incidence of some cancers.
Also in recent years, the number of children diagnosed with learning and behavioral disorders, such as ADHD, dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, visual disability, Asperger’s syndrome, and autism, has vastly increased. Learning disorders are known to affect 30 percent of children in the United States, according to the Scripps Howard News Service. Most research has been inconclusive as to the causes. Factors such as environmental pollution, poor nutrition, antibiotic overuse, and changes in family life have all fallen under suspicion as possible causes. However, many of the families in my office practice have witnessed adverse effects following vaccinations, and have come to blame vaccines for causing or contributing to these disorders. With the health statistics stacked against our children in nearly every aspect of their lives, many parents and healthcare practitioners are interested in taking proactive measures to counter the odds. Doctors, even those who practice conventional medicine, are adopting a more holistic and preventive approach to healthcare. Most agree that maintaining and cultivating health demands more than simply prescribing medication. Wellbeing extends to the mind and spirit as well as the body and includes wholesome nutrition, exercise, healthy lifestyle, and harmony in relationships. During times of illness, many parents are turning to natural forms of medicine as a first line of defense, and employing conventional medication only when needed. Now many are also realizing that this attitude should also apply to vaccinations.What’s Right for My Child?
Whatever your decision regarding vaccinations, the goal is always the same: to raise happy and healthy children who are able to blossom and reach their potential in life. As a physician to many families, the most common question I hear from concerned parents is, “What should I do about the shots?” My response is that it depends upon your child’s overall health status and risks for specific diseases or side effects, as well as upon your personal values. As a physician trained in both standard and holistic medicine, I am privy to two ways of thinking about health. As an M.D., I am well aware that the standard of care is to vaccinate; as a holistic practitioner, I recognize that vaccinations can present short-term and sometimes long-term risks for both children and adults. Although the goals of conventional and holistic medicine are the same, the approaches can be vastly different, and the choices offered can be confusing and even frustrating for parents.
After careful consideration of the options, my husband and I decided not to vaccinate our children. In my office practice and in my lectures, however, I am careful to emphasize that our decision to not vaccinate was a personal family decision, and as a caretaker to many families, I do not impose this course of action on my patients. I recognize that vaccinations prevent many severe and life-threatening illnesses, and it would be naïve to trust that healthy lifestyles and natural parenting approaches are always going to provide us with adequate solutions. Although homeopaths have been treating infectious diseases successfully for several centuries, I would not hesitate to rely on medicine and technical advancements of the twenty-first century when needed. My book Natural Baby and Childcare
gives more information about both natural and medical treatments for many of these illnesses.
The decision to vaccinate can be a confusing and difficult one for some families, as we all want to do what is right for our children. Some parents base their decision on statistics in books and on the Internet. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), which was begun by parents whose children were injured following vaccinations, the data can vary. Some people base their decision on personal experience; they know someone who is crippled with polio, or they suffered an adverse side effect from a vaccine.
Whatever your decisions, I strongly support a “pro-informed-choice” attitude–one that encourages you to make educated, informed decisions regarding vaccinations and every other aspect of parenting. My experiences as a parent and a doctor indicate that the decision to vaccinate is no longer black or white. There are many shades in between that will set a tone that is right for your family. The information in this book is designed for parents who have chosen to vaccinate their children as well as for parents who have chosen not to. This concise guide will help you in making an informed choice regarding your child and vaccinations, and will offer alternatives for those parents seeking options other than the standard full vaccination schedule.
Excerpted from The Parents' Concise Guide to Childhood Vaccinations by Lauren Feder, M.D.. . Excerpted by permission of Hatherleigh Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.