Friday, December 31, 2010

Are multiple vaccines really safe for kids?

Are multiple vaccines really safe for kids?

What risks do young children face from the full, recommended vaccination schedule? After reading the recent advice from the UK’s interim Chief Science Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing safer. Her letter to GPs recommends that children aged 12–13 months receive three vaccinations at one appointment: a booster jab for H. influenzae type B and meningitis C (Hib/MenC) infections; the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine; and the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) for S. pneumoniae infections.

So, six disease-causing organisms or fragments, plus a bundle of other substances that are added to stabilise or enhance the vaccine, will now be introduced into babies’ systems just after their first birthday. Responding to six different vaccine-borne pathogens at the same time, handling additional mercury and other chemicals in the formulation, all in addition to developing natural immunity to bugs picked up from the environment, puts quite a strain on a baby’s immature immune system.

For many parents, the real question is: just how much of a strain? What do we know about the effects of “vaccine load” from the full, recommended vaccine schedule, including this latest 6-in-one? Surely, this wouldn’t be recommended without adequate scientific studies to back up the safety of the new policy?

In short, there are no such studies. In an ideal world, a policymaker would be able to draw upon a smorgasbord of scientific investigations, including, for instance: examination of side effects in children given one or multiple vaccines at the same time; studies of vaccine reactions in children born full-term compared with those born at, say, 30 weeks or earlier; evaluations of effects of vaccines in children with co-existing infections and impaired immunity; and long-term, detailed studies on children subjected to full vaccination schedules versus unvaccinated children. But, no; such studies simply don’t exist.

One of the most outspoken critics of the vaccine safety literature is the British gastroenterologist, Dr Andrew Wakefield. You’ll remember that the witch-hunt against Wakefield, headed up by the UK’s General Medical Council, aimed to bring the man down. It didn’t go after the science directly. The whole saga is actually more than a little reminiscent of the way in which Julian Assange is currently being attacked personally, all in a bid to discredit WikiLeaks while not having to target WikiLeaks itself.

Anyway, for those who are interested, Dr Wakefield has laid out his case in great detail in a book, published this year, called Callous Disregard. In the book, speaking on the subject of the safety studies that had been performed on the MMR vaccine in 1998, Wakefield says the following:

“…my opinion [on the safety of the MMR vaccine] is also based on a comprehensive review of all safety studies performed on…MMR vaccines and re-vaccination policies. This now runs into a report…of some 250 pages…In summary, the safety studies are derisory, and appear to reflect sequential assumptions about…MMR safety…where each assumption has potentially compounded the dangers inherent in the first.”

For his unwillingness to hide the results of his thorough research and observational findings, Dr Wakefield was hounded from his job at the Royal Free Hospital in London, and later from his country, by the UK medical establishment and a biased media. While Wakefield’s comments above were only made in relation to the MMR vaccine, we are also not aware of any comprehensive studies of the safety of the Hib/MenC or PCV vaccines.

Showing how politics and economics often take precedence over any real desire to objectively evaluate the risks and benefits of childhood vaccination strategies, Wakefield’s book reveals how a senior medical officer in the Scottish Office blew the whistle on the inner workings of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The JCVI was, of course, the prime driver behind the ‘super-vaccination’ schedule. ‘George’ describes a ‘hard core’ of the JCVI who “were absolutely not interested [about safety concerns] and were really political animals”.

Of course, the faces, and we must hope, also the attitudes, are likely to have changed at the JCVI since then. But just how much? Undoubtedly, the situation is not nearly as clear-cut as Prof Davies’ letter makes out.

The bottom line for many parents is: are there sufficient data to be properly informed of the risks and benefits for their children, especially with respect to partial or full vaccination – or even not vaccinating at all? We say not. However, the fact that the necessary data are simply not available to allow proper scientific and objective risk/benefit evaluation is meaningful in itself given that vaccination is being pushed on our children for all it's worth. Owing to the propaganda around vaccination, many are now of the opinion that vaccination is the very best way to prime our children's immune systems for their future encounters with the myriad of pathogens to which they will be exposed during the course of their lives. But, in reality, the shaky scientific evidence underpinning vacination is somewhat at odds with the forceful recommendation – or, in some cases, the mandatory requirement – issued by most health authorities that children receive the full vaccination schedule, apparently for their benefit.

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