On the Subject of Vaccine Safety

Out of curiosity, I recently watched the documentary Vaxxed. On its surface, the documentary appears to be anti-vaccine, but it’s not quite that. It is actually pro-vaccine, but questions the safety of vaccines, and especially the current schedule of vaccines for kids. After realizing Vaxxed was directed by Andrew Wakefield, I wanted to dig a little deeper.  Wakefield’s study back in 1998 was debunked, right?  He’s sort of a con artist, right?  If so, why, so many years later, is he continuing to try and inform people that at least for some of us, vaccines appear to be unsafe?

Let me tell you, I’ve read a whole slew of items on vaccines the past couple of weeks, books from the library, stuff on the internet, articles, studies, and so on.  I will tell you now that it is like going down a rabbit hole.  Just looking into Andrew Wakefield’s story alone is mind-boggling. Did he commit fraud? They say he did, he says he didn’t. He never claimed a direct connection with the MMR vaccine to autism, but was looking into a possible gastrointestinal (GI) effect that in turn caused autism. After hearing stories from parents who said their children were fine one minute, and not speaking the next, shortly after getting the MMR vaccine, Wakefield wanted to see if there was some kind of connection with GI issues, as all or most of the kids in the study had bowel issues.  The trouble is, in the press release for the study, he claimed a direct connection with the MMR triple vaccine, and he advocated using only the three separate vaccines for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella until further studies could be done.  Instant hoopla from the media.

There are a lot of troubling things about Wakefield, to be sure.  His study only had 12 children in it (though I’ve read/seen things elsewhere indicating there were 40+ other kids in the study). There are claims he faked some of the results to get what he wanted.  When one journalist, Brian Deer, actually took the time to investigate Wakefield (I know, what a novel idea, right?) he found that Wakefield had a patent for a potential vaccine to compete with the MMR vaccine. Wakefield claims this vaccine wasn’t really to be a vaccine at all, but a treatment for those whose GI systems have been adversely affected by vaccines (yet it is labeled in the patent form as a vaccine). Brian Deer is himself a bit of a sensationalist in his writing. He has an elaborate website detailing all of his stories. He has thrown a lot of accusations at Wakefield, which ended up getting Wakefield’s medical license revoked and his paper on the study redacted from the Lancet journal that printed it (you can still read the study on their website). Deer has his TV spot regarding Wakefield on Youtube, and I have to say, that although he may be correct, there’s still an seedy undertone to the whole thing, especially an interview with a really senile old man in the American South. This man is supposedly connected to Wakefield, but it was a very bizarre exchange to say the least. Wakefield and the others on his Vaxxed team (Del Bigtree a journalist who worked on the show The Doctors) don’t do their side any favors by often hosting meetings that seem a little to much like an old-time healing revival. In this whole story, Wakefield and Bigtree come across as being very well-spoken and charismatic, whereas Deer is the awkward, straight-talking journalist hunting the truth. There’s a sensationalist major motion picture somewhere in there.

So in watching Vaxxed, some of Wakefield’s interviews and interviews of other advocates for better vaccine safety (some are outright anti-vaccine), and then reading and watching what Brian Deer has to say, it’s difficult to figure out where the truth lies. I mean, Deer supposedly filed the complaint that ultimately got Wakefield’s license taken away. That strikes me as odd, but I don’t know if this is a common practice of journalists to in essence report their subjects to the authorities or to just publish the story and let the cards fall where they may. I also get the impression that just as the media didn’t really question Wakefield initially, neither do they question Brian Deer. This is troublesome, because it’s ultimately a failure of the media and journalism as a whole. When did the media become so lazy? Maybe they always have been lazy and we’ve just chosen to overlook it. And maybe I just haven’t done enough reading on this subject yet.

Aside from that whole story, the issue of vaccine safety is something people have instant opinions about, but if we’re honest, don’t really know much about. We want to believe the health care industry, the doctors, the drug companies, and the government all have our best interests at heart. But I think in our current time of universal deceit, especially from the media, we don’t know as much of the story as we should in order to make an informed decision. We want and do trust our doctors, but looking at the bigger picture, what if the doctors themselves have been lied to about the safety and/or effectiveness of vaccines? What if we all have been lied to? I bring this up due to Vaxxed’s biggest claim, that of having been contacted by a CDC whistleblower named William Thompson.  Thompson supposedly has a lawyer for whistleblowers and currently is still working at the CDC, though perhaps not in the same capacity.

According to Thompson’s phone calls (which were recorded without his knowledge), the CDC in doing their study (in which he was an administrator) to hopefully refute Andrew Wakefield’s study results, they deliberately hid and changed data that indicated a percentage of correlation (not causation) between the MMR vaccine and autism, especially when it comes to black males.  Some have asked that Thompson be hauled in front of Congress to give testimony.  To this date, I don’t think that he has been called.  This claim, that the CDC’s study actually found a high correlation with MMR and autism in black males is directly related to the current Measles outbreak in Minnesota.  Somalian mothers are worried about them getting autism from vaccines and so have not been vaccinating their children.

Let me add that lost in all this is that we are not really talking about a direct connection from the MMR vaccine to autism, but a connection between the vaccine causing GI issues that result in autism. Let me additionally add that anyone thinking rationally would come to the conclusion that the CDC’s study should be questioned every bit as Wakefield’s should. Their study was done at a time in which the drug companies, government, and health industry were under enormous pressure to restore the good name of all vaccines in public opinion. Vaxxed also states that the head of the CDC during this study shortly after went to work for Merck, one of the main drug companies making vaccines.

Now, if at that this point one was still “all in” for vaccines and trusts the CDC study, one really wouldn’t look much further, but I have looked further, and I really don’t know what to think.

One the one hand, it’s clear to me that vaccines in general do work to keep away certain diseases. However, after doing more reading, it has also become clear to me that this general idea is easily questioned, and for good reason. Take the flu vaccine. Why do so many people get vaccinated each year and still get sick?  Well, we know that the flu has many strains, so it could be a person vaccinated against one strain ends up catching another.  A second and probably more important reason is the timing of the vaccines. I don’t think it’s widely publicized enough that one should not get any vaccines if they are in any way sick or under the weather. The big push for the flu vaccine each year comes in fall/early winter, a time when everyone is stressed out, when the weather is getting colder, and when there is less sunlight.  All three elements tax many people’s immune systems. This can make someone susceptible to the very vaccine that is supposed to prevent illness.

Incidentally, I have found out that you can get the disease even if you have been vaccinated, and you can also possibly spread or be a carrier of the disease shortly after getting a vaccine. This was something I didn’t know, but then, this is the first time I’ve really looked into the criticisms of vaccines.

The main issue anti-vaxxers or those who question the safety of vaccines is the immune system component. Again, this was also something I didn’t know. I never knew the actual reasons and the basis of their arguments. Yes, I’d heard of the side effects listed on the vaccine inserts, and yes I’d heard of the stories of children and some adults being adversely affected by vaccines, but I never really understood the full argument against them. Most people know how vaccines work. The virus is introduced into our bloodstream and instigates our immune system making antibodies that will protect us against the virus if we ever are exposed to it. The argument against the safety of vaccines is this: Ultimately they overtax our immune system, something that most likely comes with a cost (possible auto-immune issues or GI issues that cause auto-immune symptoms).

We can see this line of thinking about the immune system is correct because the first argument pro-vaxxers jump to is that of: what about the poor children or others who can’t get vaccinated due to compromised immune systems?!? Leaving the moral dilemma of choosing one child’s well-being over another aside, that argument is somewhat conceding the point. These individuals have flawed immune systems. They are always at risk and are vulnerable whether vaccines exist or not. In fact they are so vulnerable they cannot even take the very vaccines that may save them. And why, again? Because vaccines tax the immune system. That is how they work.

Another interesting tidbit I’ve learned is regarding Measles. People don’t die from the Measles, per say; they die from pneumonia or some other such illness due to their immune system being so compromised. Measles also greatly drains the Vitamin A in a body. This is what causes blindness in some who get the disease because they already have depleted levels of Vitamin A and with the Measles it becomes almost nonexistent.  In places like Africa, vaccines aren’t going to work for the starving kids there until they are healthy, most often needing Vitamin A and other supplements. Once again, vaccines don’t work on compromised immune systems.

Let’s also take the idea of herd immunity.  On the face of it, herd immunity makes sense. If everyone is vaccinated, then the disease cannot be passed along and can even be eradicated from a certain location. But that doesn’t really hold up if indeed a vaccinated person can still get the disease and if vaccinated people can pass along the disease. And if the trade-off to a disease free life is a compromised and overtaxed immune system being passed down from generation to generation, this may ultimately lead to a society’s ruin. The herd immunity argument also brings up questions of freedom. If herd immunity is the only way for vaccines to work, then shouldn’t everyone be forced to get any and all vaccines available? Most liberty-loving people balk at such an idea, even if they think vaccines are completely safe.

Add to that the current fashion for “No Borders,” a policy instantly destroying any hope of herd immunity in a particular country (see Minnesota Measles outbreak begun by a “foreign” traveler).

It gives one even greater pause to learn that the current vaccine schedule is 60+ for kids and higher for adults (they are inventing more and more vaccines for all age groups). When exactly do we reach the point of too many vaccines? Have studies been conducted on the effects of getting multiple vaccines on a body? Throughout a lifetime? How about a developing baby’s body?

Another aside: I had no idea that we are now giving babies the Hepatitis B vaccine on the day of their birth. This is done despite there being no immediate risk (i.e., the baby’s parent’s do not have Hep B) to the baby and that it is usually a sexually transmitted disease, or something passed on by dirty drug needles.

Are anti-vaxxers really the crazy ones, here? Is there no point at which we can question the validity and effectiveness of vaccines, or at the very least, the need for more of them?

Let’s go back to Andrew Wakefield. So maybe he’s a con artist. But what about other studies (and the anti-vaxxers claim they are out there both before and after Wakefield’s time) on GI and Autism? What if, in the process of vaccines taking our immune systems for a workout, the balance of our bodies is damaged, including the GI equation? This is not even to mention the other harmful elements in a vaccine that may adversely affect our immune system and our gut. I don’t know many people who would deny they feel and function better when they eat healthy foods. If someone has difficulty digesting their food it can drastically affect their body, and, yes, brain function, as they may not be getting the adequate nutrition they need.  I know this from personal experience as I grew up with major GI problems myself. In America in particular, our diet is often vitamin depleting, so we have these nutrient-deprived bodies that are getting more and more vaccines all the time, and I have to wonder if our immune systems are having trouble keeping up. In addition, is this problem is being passed on to our kids and then getting compounded when they get vaccines as well?

Wakefield’s big thing was to administer the vaccines singly and over a more reasonable time frame, giving young children’s bodies the time to adjust, indicating that as late at 3 years old would be a much better time to administer especially the MMR one. This isn’t unreasonable in general, but it could be very unreasonable if you’re a drug company planning a schedule of 60+ vaccines before the child turns ten. No way are you going to get parents and kids coming in 60 times just to get a poke in their arm. That problem is even better solved by creating multi-vaccines, like the MMR, that vaccinate for a few different diseases at once. So it’s really no surprise that after the excitement around Wakefield’s statement, they did away with the single vaccines both in the UK and the USA, leaving parents with no choice but to give their children the triple MMR shot.

And somehow parents aren’t supposed to wonder if they’re being lied to?

Add on top of that the fact that drug companies cannot be directly sued (at least in the US) for harmful effects of their vaccines. If you’ve heard of the “vaccine court” that’s essentially what the government put in place (thanks a lot, Reagan) in the 1980s. You go to the government entity and they decide if you are owed monies and how much. And where do they get these dollars, pray tell? A tax on each individual vaccine, more if it’s the multiples (if I recall it was $0.75 for a single and $2+ for multiples). The vaccine court has dished out billions to vaccine injured parties and their families, and the government keeps the rest. If there was a perfect scenario for corruption, this is it. Neither the drug companies nor the government have the incentive to withdraw a single vaccine from the market. At best, they would wait until there are so many people adversely affected (I think it’s supposed to be half the population will have Autism in the near future?) and so much harm done that they would be forced by the public to take such vaccine off the market. The vaccine court is similar to a huge failing of the Catholic Church: insisting that all priests be celibate and unmarried. They essentially set themselves up for failure, and the eventually public outcry was entirely predictable, especially since the truth of the child abuse was deliberately hidden for a long time. If that’s the Church, how can we  then place any and/or more faith in secular government and public institutions? We already know that both the government and large corporations lie to us. It’s really not much of a stretch to consider they may be lying to us about vaccines, especially when a jaw-dropping amount of money is at stake.

At the end of all of this reading and watching, I go back and forth between both camps.  Vaccines are good, vaccines are bad. Vaccines are flawed, but still useful.  It’s thrilling to read books like Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio and think, yes, how wonderful for those children at the time, and then disconcerting to find that Polio was already on the downhill before the vaccine was largely implemented, and that after its invention the definition of “polio” was changed. So “polio” is eradicated, but we now have Guillain-Barré and other syndromes. Most people wouldn’t equate renaming a disease to it being eradicated. Anti-vaxx sites will claim this has happened with other diseases, that they are renamed to show how much the vaccine is “working.”

If you’ll notice, I haven’t cited any sources for this article and that is because, if you are curious about the whole discussion on vaccine safety, go out and read and watch and make up your own mind.  Nothing I write will ultimately convince you either way. A lot of information is available on the CDC’s website, on the NIH website, on the vaccine court’s website, etc. We have Andrew Wakefield’s story. Did you know that a number of his colleagues were exonerated from blame? Was the study really Wakefield’s long con or is something else going on? If there’s one CDC whistleblower, are there others? What is the connection between our immune system and GI issues? How much do GI issues affect our bodies and our brains? What adverse effects, if any, do vaccines have on our immune systems?  On our guts? Is there a gut-brain health connection? If the choice regarding vaccines is not between certain death from a disease and a healthy long life, but a choice between probable immunization from a disease that you may or may not be ever exposed to or even be permanently damaged or die of and the possibility of getting an auto-immune disorder for life that makes even eating an ordeal, what would you choose? What would you choose for your children?

As much as I want to believe that vaccines are ultimately safe, the very fact that they do harm some, gives me pause. The fact that they are such “holy” artifacts to our society that the companies that make them cannot be sued, gives me pause. The fact that our government is making money on the vaccines gives me pause. The fact that Andrew Wakefield may have falsified his results, gives me pause. His results were only seriously questioned after Brian Deer’s reporting and complaint. How many other scientific studies, both in favor and against vaccines were, have been, or are currently falsifying their results?

The anti-vax sentiment is merely part of a larger one: The disillusionment of public confidence regarding institutions. We have a media that outright lies to us on a daily basis. We have a government that often lies, too, and worse, they are not being held to account by said lying media. Vaccines are one of the last holdouts in public confidence. With the passing of Obamacare, faith in the health industry as a whole (not to mention Congress) is rapidly failing.  It’s only a matter of time before the public starts to question vaccines on a massive scale.

People immediately take offense over vaccine safety. They jump to anger ahead of any other response when anyone questions vaccines. Those who question God in Bible study don’t even get such a response. On comment boards, pro-vaxxers eerily mimic those in the the pro-Global Warming (or whatever it’s called these days) camp. They say the “science is settled” and that people who question vaccines are “deniers.” Pro-vaxxers often wish a horrible disease-ridden death on anti-vaxxers and their children or anyone who merely questions the safety of vaccines. Why is this? Is this not a huge red flag in some way? Before doing all of this reading, I reacted with certainty, too. Weren’t anti-vaxxers needlessly putting other people at risk? Hadn’t that all been debunked? Yes, it has been debunked, but only if one has confidence in large corporations, our government, and our public institutions. I can say I don’t have confidence the way I used to. These large entities are only as good as the people who run them, and if those people do not possess integrity, or moral excellence, it is very probable these entities are corrupt and should be seriously questioned, not blindly followed, even, and perhaps especially, when it comes to vaccines.

However I think about vaccines today (and I go back and forth as I do more research and reading), I can at least say I am informed, that I understand the arguments on both sides, and that I am not blindly following. If you are pro-vaccine, I highly recommend you start researching the other side and really look at their arguments. Look at the studies, too, if you find you can trust them. Anti-vaxxers, or those who question vaccines, be brave enough to question the claims your side is making. Understand that the pro-vaxx sentiment is largely emotional, but so is the anti-vaxx side. The generation now in their sixties grew up with a major media, government, and drug company campaign regarding Polio. The March of Dimes, the iron lungs, the horror stories of what happened to the children. This campaign of propaganda (the benefits of the vaccine aside) was pushed largely when our parents and/or grandparents were young children. Ever see a child completely melt down if their parent has a single cigarette? Yeah, that’s what I mean. Most older people also may have no idea just how many vaccines kids are supposed to get these days. What was two or three back in their day, is 60+ today.

For me, this is the biggest issue with vaccines:  In the future there will be more and more of them, and more combined – 10 in one shot, then 20! Whispers about mandating them or that unvaccinated children are somehow “unclean.” Little to no incentive for either the drug companies, the health industry, or the government to pull in the reigns. Where does it stop? How does it stop? How do we even reach the place where we can calmly  discuss if it should stop?

–P. Beldona

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