Immunizations and Children's Health
An important issue facing parents interested in alternative health care today is the question about immunization of children. Increasingly, states are redoubling their efforts at immunizing all children, and schools from day care centers to universities are making admission contingent on a child’s immunization record. Much has been written in the alternative literature about the harmful effects of some vaccines. Alternative literature tends to be very speculative and somewhat alarming in nature in their focus on the harm that vaccines may rarely cause. Conventional sources tend to be very dogmatic and less likely to focus on the negative side effects of some of the vaccines in use today. Somehow a balance must be found.
The unique case of the small pox vaccine
First, understand that most historical and homeopathic literature about the negative effects of vaccination refer to one vaccine - the small pox vaccine which was made from cow pox. In fact, the words vaccine and vaccinate are derived from the Latin word for cow. Hahnemann, the founder of Homeopathy admitted that this original vaccine did save many lives. However, it was the small pox vaccine that could, in rare instances, kill the patient or more likely, leave him with chronic health problems. This is still true today. Despite newer methods for preparing this vaccine and despite the threat of bio-terrorism, the federal government is reluctant to universally vaccinate all Americans against small pox because of the potential of adverse side effects. In the old days a patient’s skin was scratched and some cow pox pus was spread onto the scratch. This was a very crude vaccine because it contained the live virus and also pus cells from the calf. However, small pox was a deadly disease and the risk was deemed to be acceptable. Quarantine, aggressive immigration policy and vaccination eliminated deadly small pox from the world.
The use of live viruses in vaccines
Today, some vaccines such as polio and measles are still made from live or weakened whole viruses. Other vaccines use just part of the outer protein coat of the infectious agent, thus limiting the amount of foreign protein injected into the patient and therefore, the potential for an adverse reaction. For instance, the old pertussis vaccine (the “P” in DPT) has been replaced with an acellular version. This has resulted in less vaccine related illness.
Homeopathy and vaccination
Homeopathic physicians have historically not been in unanimous agreement on the issue of vaccination and its effects on a person’s general health and their homeopathic case in particular. My professional view is, I think, a balanced one. I ask that parents make an informed decision about the issue of immunization for their children. This means that you should read arguments from both sides of the issue. Websites such as Mayoclinic.com and the CDC’s National Immunization Program do a good job presenting the official conventional view of vaccination. On the other hand, the National Vaccine Information Center, presents an alternative and somewhat alarming view of childhood vaccination because their focus is on educating parents about the potential harm from vaccines. For instance, pediatricians are required by law to provide parents with a vaccine risk/benefit information sheet before the administration of a vaccine. Most pediatricians never do so and in this regard the National Vaccine Information Center provides a needed service to parents. You can download these Vaccine Information Statements from the CDC.
There is legitimate concern about the long-term safety of vaccines. Some speculate that conditions such as autism or autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis are related to vaccines. These arguments are usually based on the correlation of increasing rates of vaccination and increasing rates of these conditions or diseases. The assumption is that we have traded potentially deadly acute diseases for devastating chronic diseases. However, correlation is not causation. These conditions could just as easily be related to the changing quality of our food supply, the air we breathe, the ever-increasing levels of electromagnetic radiation in our environment, the effects of surface testing of nuclear weapons or all these factors combined. Some of these conditions take a very long time to appear or appear in the next generation. This long latency period makes it very difficult to design a conclusive study about this issue. This makes it very difficult to know either way which side is correct. The rise and fall of rates of various infectious diseases in relation to an immunization program might have nothing to do with the vaccines but with a natural cycle of the pathogen in question. It is just not possible to know at this time.
From the homeopathic perspective, there are several more considerations. Conventional physicians are not as experienced in taking a detailed history compared to a homeopathic physician. They may miss subtle changes in a child’s behavior or subtle constitutional signs simply because they have not been trained to enquire about them. What constitutes an adverse vaccine reaction depends on who is asking the questions. Bear in mind that conventional medical science utilizes immunizations against diseases in cases in which the disease has no reliable allopathic treatment (for example, measles, tetanus) and for diseases that are associated with significant damage or even death. It is the goal of public health agencies in every state to control communicable diseases that are damaging and to assure safety from these diseases to the yet uninfected. From the conventional perspective, it is good common sense and preventive medical practice based on a statistical model. From the homeopathic perspective, many of these diseases can be effectively treated, yet there is no absolute guarantee that every case will be cured. Each patient is a unique individual judged on an individual basis. Statistics are often no consolation to the parents of a child damaged by a vaccine.
My guidelines about vaccination
In my practice, I do not vaccinate children. I recommend that parents retain contact with an allopathic pediatrician for that purpose. However, I do have several guidelines about vaccination.
- Ask your pediatrician for written information on side-effects before vaccinating
- Do not vaccinate an acutely sick child or a child with a fever
- Give only one vaccine at a time (such as MMR but not MMR and DPT)
- Never pre-medicate a child with Tylenol to mask a vaccine reaction
- Wait 4-6 weeks between vaccines to observe any reaction
- Document all reactions and treat them homeopathically
- Do not repeat a vaccine that caused a reaction
- Do not vaccinate more than is required by law.
The vaccination schedule is not a law but a recommendation, therefore, you can allow more time between vaccines. This may confuse or frustrate your pediatrician but your child’s health is more important. There is no way to tell which vaccine caused a reaction if your child is getting two or three different vaccines at a time. It may be more convenient to group several vaccines together but doesn’t make much sense. You can download the schedule of required vaccines in New York State from the Department of Health.
Are "homeopathic vaccines" real?
Lastly, there is much misinformation about " homeopathic vaccines", namely giving a homeopathic potency of the disease causing pathogen instead of a conventional vaccine. There is no such thing as a homeopathic vaccine. Homeopathic remedies are too dilute to stimulate an immune response and confer immunity. In other words, after administration of a homeopathic dose of the poliovirus, you wouldn’t be able to measure antibodies to the poliovirus in the patient’s blood. However, homeopathic remedies made from conventional vaccines may be useful in treating side effects of that vaccine. There are practitioners out there who claim to be homeopaths who are willing to give these preparations and sign your child’s immunization record form. My advice is to avoid such practitioners. There is no basis, historically or scientifically, for such a practice.
However, there is historical precedence for using homeopathy during an epidemic. For example, there may be an epidemic of measles in a particular area at a particular time. After treating a number of cases of measles, a homeopath may determine that symptoms of that specific epidemic can best be treated by Belladonna. Belladonna could then reliably be used to prevent others from catching a case of measles. This preventive or prophylactic use of a remedy is not a vaccine because Belladonna would not prevent all future cases of measles just cases of that particular measles epidemic. The next measles outbreak might require a totally different remedy. This is probably how the misunderstanding about homeopathic vaccines developed.
What should you do about vaccination?
If you choose not to vaccinate your child on religious or philosophical grounds please educate yourselves about the various childhood diseases from both conventional and alternative perspectives. Many authors who are opponents of vaccination are not physicians and have not had direct experience with the sometimes-devastating effects of these diseases. If you are choosing alternative medicine for your child please select a practitioner who is a physician with experience treating serious infectious diseases with an alternative approach.