Vaccines: Risks Vs. Benefits
From Volume 3 Issue 1 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine
This is the third and final part of a series concerning vaccines. Part 1 introduced the issues of contention and presented some of the history of vaccines. Part 2 looked in depth at each of the diseases and their risks versus each of the vaccines and their risks and effectiveness. This final part 3 is to summarize and draw conclusions from what has been presented previously and to offer suggestions for decision making.
In the previous two articles, we have seen that many question the true effectiveness of vaccines and whether they have been the cause of many harmful and occasionally deadly, side effects. Vaccine reactions have been greatly underreported and the public health authorities have a track record of downplaying the vaccine risks while overstating the benefits. With increased criticism and pressure from "anti-vaccine" activists, government disclosure has been gradually improving and compensation has been offered to some of the clearest and most severe vaccine tragedies. Efforts continue by activists to: require more complete disclosure to parents, to secure more rights for parents to choose not to vaccinate their children, and to push for more research into: 1) The causes of adverse reactions; 2) The long term effects of immunizations; and 3) The possible tie between mandatory vaccinations and huge upsurges in certain other illnesses and conditions.
We also reviewed each of the illnesses and their vaccines, noting that some illnesses presented very little risk of any serious damage, while others are nearly non-existent now - there is little chance of ever being exposed to the disease for most children. With all vaccines there is some concern as to how long the immunity lasts. With some specific vaccines there are concerns about how effective the vaccine really is in giving immunity or whether the immunity lasts for a reasonable period.
In addition we looked at the reported occasional side effects of the various vaccines, from mild reactions to brain damage and death. It was also acknowledged that much remains unknown in this area. Many linkages between vaccines and long term serious diseases and conditions have been suggested by a variety of researchers but have not been clearly proved or disproved. There is considerable exaggeration and occasional dishonesty from proponents on both sides of this issue.
To further illustrate how much has been unknown about the possible dangers of vaccinations, are two recent examples of claims of long term serious side effects:
1) In the last few years, research by Dr. J. Bart Classen of Classen Immunotherapies, has claimed to prove a significant link between vaccinations (and particularly the hemophilus vaccine) and an increase in cases of insulin dependent diabetes in children. Classen's data argues that the increased risk of childhood diabetes is greater that the risk of the disease the hemophilus vaccine is designed to prevent.
2) Even more recently, concerns have been raised over the possible impact of mercury (in the preservative thimerosal) used in vaccines. October 25, 2000, Senator Dan Burton, Chairman of the Government Reform Committee of the U.S. Congress, after receiving credible testimony regarding the symptoms of mercury poisoning and autism and the continued use of thimerosal in vaccines, requested, in a letter to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, that the FDA recall all thimerosal containing vaccines.
Per Dan Burton's letter, a twelve to fourteen month old child receiving vaccines, as they are typically delivered, "may receive forty or more times the amount of mercury than is considered safe according to EPA guidelines…. We all know and accept that mercury is a neurotoxin, and yet the FDA has failed to recall the 50 vaccines that contain thimerosal."
Should we vaccinate our children? If so, should we make use of all the vaccines that are recommended and at the recommended times? Though public health authorities would quickly answer "yes" to both of these questions, a careful investigation of the facts concerning vaccines makes the decision much more difficult. There is much evidence that the public health authorities and many medical practitioners often do not disclose pertinent information needed for parents to make informed decisions. In fact many would argue that the risks of some diseases have been exaggerated while the facts about severe side effects of vaccines have been covered up.
The diseases for which vaccinations are offered vary dramatically in their risks. Some of these diseases are very mild and relatively harmless in all but the most exceptional cases. It is hard to justify taking any risk with a vaccine when the disease risks are so low. Other diseases are a real concern as they may with some frequency, threaten your child with death or serious damage. Yet some of these diseases are today very rare or nonexistent here. If your child's risk of being exposed to the disease is very near 0%, then how much additional protection can a vaccine truly offer?
No vaccine is even claimed to be 100% effective at preventing the disease. For some vaccines, researchers claim effectiveness is perhaps 80%, or sometimes considerably less! And how long lasting is the protection? Some doubt that any are effective for longer than 10 years. Vaccines for some of the more serious diseases seem to have shorter periods of effectiveness or require a continuing stream of booster shots.
3. How dangerous are the vaccine side effects?
some of the vaccines, large numbers of very serious side effects have been reported, including many deaths. The reported adverse effects vary greatly by vaccine and are hotly disputed as to how many are truly the result of the vaccine.
Again there is no agreement. Most children experience no serious or lasting side effects. But what percentage is “most”? There are also many serious diseases or conditions which vaccines are suspected of causing or sometimes contributing to (SIDS, diabetes, autism, autoimmune diseases, cancer, etc.). Much is unexplained concerning the rapid increase in some of these diseases, nearly coinciding with the beginning of widespread vaccinations. Are vaccines sometimes a contributing factor? Some claim to have proved that they are, while others contest their claims.
It is possible that the best decision for your child is not to vaccinate for some or all diseases. Does a decision not to vaccinate place others at increased risk for the disease? If a certain percentage of Americans decide not to vaccinate against polio, will polio quickly return as a serious threat within America? Does the presence of your unvaccinated child increase the risks of carrying the disease to others for whom the vaccine has not been effective or whom have not been vaccinated? Just how real is this risk and how significant should it be in your decision making? The opposing sides strongly disagree.
Presently every state within the U.S. has laws requiring parents to vaccine their children at specific times with specific vaccines. The primary means used to enforce these laws is a requirement for vaccination records prior to entry into public school (also usually applies to private schools.)
However, there are a lot of minor variations in the laws from state to state. Some also require evidence of vaccination for public universities. It is not unusual for states to require hospitals and physicians to review children's immunization records and either administer or refer children for immunization.
Virginia and Minnesota both have provisions specifically requiring home schools to comply with vaccination requirements. However, Mississippi’s law seems to specifically exempt home schools. Most states make no specific reference to home schooling at all in their vaccination laws. Some state laws indicate failure to immunize would constitute a misdemeanor offense. A few states go so far as to prescribe possible penalties (i.e. a possible fine of up to $100 or up to 30 days in jail).
All state laws also provide for some exemptions to their vaccination laws. All states allow an exemption for medical reasons (i.e. a physician recommends no vaccination due to prior adverse reaction or family history of problems with vaccines).
Nearly all states allow some form of religious exemption. Some of these are very restrictive, requiring that immunization must conflict with the tenants of an organized religion to which you belong. In other sates, the exemption applies for a strongly held personal religious belief. A few states also allow a very broad “philosophical” or “personal beliefs” exemption.
In a few states your child may be exempted from pertusis vaccine requirements after age 6 or from hemophilus after age 5 (recognizing the greatly reduced risk of these diseases after these ages).
Outside of the school admission requirement, there is little actual enforcement of the vaccine laws. Those who do not vaccinate are at risk of some harassment from medical providers who believe very strongly in vaccines and have no respect for a parent’s right to decide for their own child. It helps to avoid these problems by looking around for a pediatrician who has some respect for parent’s rights of informed consent (many are sympathetic in this regard, fewer truly support not vaccinating).
With recent hospital births, there have been many reports of hospitals pushing for the new Hepatitis B vaccine to be given to all the newborns. Actually the vaccine is only recommended by the CDC for newborns when the mother has Hepatitis B or if it is not known whether she has it. In most cases this issue can be dealt with by insisting that the hospital staff test the mother for Hepatitis B rather than vaccinate the newborn.
In a hospital, there is always a risk of some care provider threatening you to try and force you to vaccinate. It is good to know just where you stand with your state’s legally provided exemptions and if there are any proscribed penalties for non-compliance. Often the threat may be simply to turn you in to the Child Protective Services agency for neglect. If this threat is carried out, you may have some trouble from these folks. Without the law specifically prescribing a verdict of neglect for not vaccinating, it seems unlikely that such a charge should stick without other substantiating factors.
Your safest defense is with the legally prescribed exemptions. Many have had success claiming a religious exemption even when their situation did not strictly meet the law’s guidelines. Parents are advised to first try a very non-specific claim of religious exemption. If this fails, then to try a carefully worded claim that comes as close as possible to meeting the language of the law.
In those states allowing only a very restrictive religious exemption, it is reported that there is the very real possibility of successfully challenging it in court. (Supposedly this has been done successfully in one state and some other states, such as Texas, recognize the weakness in their law and prefer to avoid legal challenges.)
As Christians we are charged with submitting to governing authority as coming from God (Rom 13:1-7). Yet, there are limits, situations where we may believe the law requires us to do something contrary to what God commands (Acts 4:19). For many, vaccine laws fall within a difficult area of conflict. We believe we have a responsibility to God for the health and safety of our children. If after careful study, we conclude that vaccines are more likely to harm than help our children’s health, then our parental duty comes into conflict with our duty as citizens to obey the laws. Should we obey a law which we believe infringes on parents’ God given rights and responsibilities? and that may cause severe injury or death to one of our children? If you conclude that even some vaccines pose an unjustifiable risk to your child, then you face a difficult question!
The best solution to such a conflict is having a legally sanctioned exemption, avoiding conflict with the law. In some states, many can qualify for such an exemption, in others, it is very difficult. For this reason, it makes good sense to lobby for broader legal exemptions, or perhaps even someday, the removal of mandatory vaccination laws. (It should also be remembered that with current laws, it is usually impossible to accept one vaccine and claim exemption from another.)
Failing to clearly qualify for an exemption may expose you to some harassment and threats. Are you prepared to face these if they occur? If you choose not to vaccinate, perhaps you should shop around for a sympathetic pediatrician who will at least try to spare you any harassment from other medical providers.
To investigate the laws of your state in this matter, a good starting point is the internet web site : www.access1.net/via/
It is documented than many of the vaccines typically used today were derived from aborted babies (i.e. Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Chicken Pox, Polio, and Hepatitis A vaccines). Some of us opposed to abortion have a problem with this. With careful searching though, it is reported that there are alternatives for some of these that were not developed using aborted babies. There are reported to be no U.S. approved alternatives for the Rubella, Chickenpox and Hepatitis-A vaccines. You can visit the website www.cogforlife.org for details on which vaccines from which manufacturers are derived from aborted fetal tissue and what the alternatives are.
Consider the need for and effectiveness of each vaccine separately. When the disease itself appears to be mostly harmless, consider accepting this known small risk over the largely unknown and disputed vaccine risks. Is there truly a reasonable risk of contracting the disease in absence of vaccination? If not, why assume any of the vaccination risks? Is the vaccine sufficiently effective against the disease and does it offer long enough lasting protection to be worthwhile? Weigh the potential risks and benefits.
Of the diseases vaccines protect against, I would consider tetanus, diphtheria, polio and whooping cough (pertussis), to be the most serious. Of these, the chances of contracting polio within the U.S. appears to be miniscule. Diphtheria also has become very rare.
Tetanus, though very deadly, appears to be protected against more by proper wound care than the vaccine, in most cases. With a more dangerous wound, you are advised to get another booster shot anyway.
Whooping cough is rarely deadly, but is still a very serious disease that continues to occur with some frequency in spite of widespread vaccinations. Many who catch the disease have been vaccinated. I would also consider the extent to which your children are at risk of disease exposure. Are they often among large groups of children? Will they be traveling to foreign countries or have much contact with others coming from foreign lands. The risks for many home schoolers may be considerably less than for the population as a whole.
Rubella is one disease that many parents are concerned about because it is still fairly common and because of the risk of birth defects when a pregnant woman catches the disease. For this reason, some have chosen to only vaccinate their daughters for Rubella and only to do so when they are nearing the age for marriage. Also they may first have their daughter tested for immunity (Rubella is so mild at times that your child may have had it without your knowledge). Vaccination closer to childbearing age reduces the risk of immunity wearing off too soon. However, remember that some adverse reactions are reported even in adulthood.
We know that vaccines pose a much greater risk for some children. The question is which ones? Why do a small percentage of children have bad reactions? Why do some people have life threatening reactions even into adulthood when vaccinated? There are few answers to these questions, but some patterns have been observed which may help you reduce the risks for your child.
1) Don't vaccinate a child who is already sick in some way;
2) Don't vaccinate a child who has previously had a very bad reaction to vaccines;
3) Don't vaccinate your child if there is a family history of vaccine reactions, convulsions or neurological disorders, severe allergies or immune system disorders.
4) Carefully monitor the timing and number of vaccinations given to your child at one time. (Doctors and nurses do make mistakes and vaccinate children earlier or at closer intervals than recommended. I personally know of several very adverse reactions that appear to have resulted from vaccine "overdose".)
5) Consider delaying vaccinations until slightly older ages. Some claim that the incidence of reactions is significantly reduced after age 2, as the immune system is more mature.
6) Check out the specific precautions for each vaccine given by the CDC. These are available in various CDC publications on the Internet or available by mail. They include specific types of allergies or recent previous diseases for which reason they recommend delaying that specific vaccination. Don't expect your doctor to screen for these conditions, as indications are that most probably do not. There are many testimonies of doctors offering reassurances that everything will be fine with giving the vaccination to a very sick child, who subsequently has a severe reaction!
Don't make the mistake of going overboard! Providing all of this information on vaccine risks may cause you to overrate the risks in your own mind. The fact is that most children do receive these vaccines and a very high percentage of children have no really bad side effects that have been detected. However much we may argue that the side effects are greatly underreported, etc., they still are probably no more than 1-2%, at the worst! Consider whether the disease risks may not be worse than the vaccine risks.
Remember that vaccines are huge money makers for the drug companies and pediatricians. They also provide a way for the government to be proactive to prevent epidemics and to reduce disease. Whenever there is a serious epidemic, people blame the government and demand action. These factors have resulted in much partial and misinformation, in widespread laws attempting to force vaccinations of children, as well as much propaganda and pressure on parents to vaccinate.
Don't allow yourself to be intimidated or coerced into vaccinating your children. You are responsible - choose for yourself. When you have a child vaccinated, be informed about what sort of side effects may truly be serious. Be a little overly cautious. Don't ignore symptoms that really look serious to you, even if the doctor tells you they are nothing to worry about.
Think for yourself and pray for wisdom. Fathers particularly - be protectors of your family! Don't abdicate your medical decisions to the professionals. They are advisors - YOU are responsible for the final decision. Remember that they are fallible, they don't know “it all”, and they do make mistakes. In a multitude of counselors, there is wisdom.