To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

A 17-month-old child was draped over her mother’s shoulder after the struggle from her ear exam was over. The mother writhed as she stated, “the worst thing for me about parenting, is this vaccination issue.  I feel I may be harming her with the shots, and yet I fear the diseases just as much. I just don’t know what to do.”  As parents this is what you fear the most—doing harm to your beloved child, especially when you think you are protecting them!

As in all of your parenting choices there is no ‘right’ roadmap for all.  You need to make some tough decisions, and today, vaccines are one of them.

You may be one of those parents struggling to make the ‘right decision”. If you are refusing to follow the CDC guidelines, you may be doing so with great apprehension as you withdraw from the safety of the authority. If you are vaccinating you may be plagued by the reports of the possible side-effects of vaccinations. This issue serves to remind us that despite the taming of our environment, we cannot guarantee a long healthy life for all creatures. We can only do our best, in the moment we have, to make our best choices and move on.

We have to understand that MD pediatricians are taught that achieving vaccination of young children is the single most valuable thing a doctor can do. We also need to know that public health authorities don’t have supernatural knowledge of the future, and in some cases, even the science of immunology! In our current health care system most pediatricians don’t have the time necessary to adequately address your concerns regarding vaccines. As the relationship between your doctor and you deteriorates, you are left feeling bewildered and anxious. You don’t know whom to trust, and the blur of letters representing each vaccine feels like a tangled mass of weeds and thorns in the back corner of your garden… IPV, MMR, Hib, PCV, DPT….. You try not to think of it until it’s time to go to the doctor again for more shots.

Many parents continue to follow the CDC vaccine schedule, and feel conflicted with every shot. Conviction for how to vaccinate is the element missing from most parents I meet. Deciding to withdraw from the herd requires courage and self-sufficiency and a degree of conviction. To meet this issue properly, you need time and patience to research.

It is a fact that fifty years ago 1 in 10,000 children suffered from autism and today that number is approximately 1 in 150 children, 1 in 98 boys. However, Autism is a multi-factorial condition, and cannot be solely linked to vaccine injury.  On the other hand, there exists data to suggest vaccination to the current CDC guidelines is not safe for all children at the current rate of vaccination.

If you are feeling anxious about vaccinating your child, first you must determine why. The vague-ness of “vaccines are associated with autism” will plague you. Get straight on the facts, for example Vitamin K shots given just after birth are NOT vaccines.  Although you may feel pressured to vaccinate on schedule, at this time you still have the right to pause.

You will want to read book and websites by a few authors, representing various positions on the argument. Cast your net wide.  Read the CDC website (conservative), read Dr. Sears’ Vaccine Guide (pro-vaccine but sensibly cautious), and explore Generation Rescue website (my favorite website for critical thinkers).  See where those places take you, and reflect upon which information resonates with you.  A new book I am wildly happy about it called the “Vaccine-Friendly Plan“, written by Dr Thomas and Mothering Magazine author Jennifer Margulis. This book is written by a MD pediatrician who also believes in the value of vaccinating, but has a schedule than the CDC.  Write down your specific concerns about vaccinating your child and leaving your child unvaccinated.

Next, evaluate the diseases.  Take each vaccine and learn about the infection.  Ask yourself, “How likely is it that your child will become exposed to it?  Is it deadly, does it cause disability, or does it just keep you home with a sick child for 2-6 weeks?” Keep a notebook and journal with all schedules, questions, records of vaccination, etc.

Third, evaluate your individual situation: for example:

  • Are there digestive problems, allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases or other children in your extended family with autism? If so, you will want to decrease the number of vaccinations.
  • Will you breastfeed for 2-3 years?  If so, you are protecting your child from infection.
  • Does your child have to attend a daycare with more than 4-5 children?  If so, your child has greater exposure to infection and more stress.
  • How much time and interest do you have in cooking and eating the freshest foods? Google search the “Body Ecology Diet” and the “Weston Price Foundation” for ideas on what I think constitutes a healthy diet.  Another article will follow on this topic.

Fourth, find allies.  I am a Naturopathic physician (ND) and naturally I believe NDs are well suited to support parents who want to delay, amend or avoid the CDC vaccine schedule.  We are capable of performing physical exams, evaluating risk, and know when to refer to conventional doctors.  I have been educated by a Yale PhD in immunology, and can explain why the CDC vaccine schedule does not make sense.  I understand what makes an immune system strong, how to treat infections with natural remedies, and how to use antibiotics judiciously.

There are also conventional doctors who will take the time to counsel you and support your decisions whether or not you choose to vaccinate.  The Generation Rescue website has a database for such physicians who are willing to stand outside the “standard of care”.

In addition, even if you are committed to natural medicine, I suggest you find a Primary Care Provider (MD or Nurse-Practitioner (NP), or ND) with 24 hour on-call status.  I have chosen an NP who has holistic training and also has years of emergency room experience.  I call her when my child is sick and I am at the threshold of my comfort zone.  Knowing there is an ally to help me navigate worst-case scenarios provides me with the support to make better decisions.

Fifth, remember that there is somewhere between vaccinating and not vaccinating.  Explore the Danish and Swedish vaccines schedule found on the Generation Rescue website.  Children in the USA receive 39 vaccines by age 6, whereas Danish children receive 12.   Also, consider using the CDC vaccine schedule from 1983 (10 vaccines). Alternatively, Naturopathic doctor in consultation with Immunologists have created an alternative schedule, which calls for delaying some shots and avoiding others. It is best not to procrastinate and then make up your own schedule because the timing of shots does matter.  Also, some vaccines, like tetanus and pertussis, work better in combination.  If you’re going to vaccinate, don’t waste them!  If you’re going to vaccinate, do the research and feel good about your choices.

As a doctor, I won’t tell a parent not to vaccinate their children.  But I will help the conflicted parent find resources, and create a plan.

Some elements of vaccination that are black and white for me:

  • Avoid vaccination before 12 months, preferably 24 months. According to current immunological research, the immune system is not mature enough. Around 12 months of age, humans begins to make a chemical called interferon gamma, as known as IFN g. If your child takes vaccines prior to the secretion of Interferon gamma, you will increase the likelihood of allergies later in life. The brain undergoes most rapid growth from the 3rd trimester of pregnancy until 24 months of age.  Vaccinating during this period increasing the risk of damage to brain cells – by overstimulating the microglia, causing inflammation in the brain. Temper this decision with your lifestyle and diet as advised above.  This is good time to visit a pediatrician who is in support of delaying vaccines.
  • No Hep-B at birth unless mother is Hep-B positive (Hep-B disease is transmitted by sexual contact, dirty needles or from mother to baby during birth).
  • No vaccines that contain Thimerosal. These include flu shots from multi-dose vials, one meningococcal vaccine and three tetanus-diptheria vaccines.
  • One vaccine at a time.  I mean, just MMR on one day, not MMR plus another vaccine.
  • No Gardisil – (Gardisil does not have a great safety record, plus the disease is preventable, easily evaluated by yearly pap smears, and treatable)
  • Expose your child to wild chicken pox, instead of the vaccine. If your child reaches puberty without getting chicken pox, consider the vaccine. (The disease is not life threatening and we don’t know how long-lasting the immunity to chicken pox is when created by vaccination.  If risk of death by having chicken pox late in life is much higher, wouldn’t you rather have the old-fashioned immunity?  The CDC website sites worker productivity (parents) as a major reason for administration of this vaccine…)
  • If your child is sick or taking antibiotics, postpone the vaccine. (The immune system is busy fighting an infection already).  Plan for vaccination in the summer months, when natural Vitamin D is plentiful in the body.  I also plan to have a less scheduled window during vaccination.  Give the body time and rest to make the appropriate response to vaccination.

Whether or not, or how you choose to vaccinate your children, all children need a healthy immune system. Lack of farm fresh foods, increased separation from the natural world, and the increase in toxic chemicals in the environment all work against the development of the immune system.  The focus of my work with children (including my own!) is to cultivate a strong immune system:

1. Reduce Toxic intake

Make your home a haven from toxic chemicals, as much as possible.  Please, don’t use Round-Up on your lawn or drive-way… Pay a local teenager to weed it for you! Air and Water purifiers (each in the $300 range) are a worthy investment.  Replace your cleaning agents with non-toxic varieties.  Use cast iron skillets, avoid plastic containers and remove the majority of plastic toys.

*PBDEs are man-made toxic flame retardant chemicals found in toys, electronics, bedding and much more. They are similar to PCBs and have been banned by some European and Asian countries because they are now detected in human breast milk.

Sadly the Orcas in Puget Sound have very high levels of PBDEs in their bodies. From the website of Jean-Michel Cousteau, “Dr. Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute noted, “In animal studies, these chemicals cause scrambling of brain development, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, reproductive abnormalities, diabetes, obesity and cancer. These are the same conditions that are increasing in our children, who are highly exposed to fire retardant chemicals. Both human and killer whale babies are now born with toxic fire retardant chemicals in their bodies and receive an additional dose from their mothers’ milk.” I wonder, could this be a factor in the autism epidemic?

Ikea, from Sweden where PBDEs are banned, uses other types of flame-retardants for their furnishings.  I was informed that they use a type of salt for mattresses and avoid chemical flame-retardants altogether for children’s furnishing. Ikea is a great source of furnishing for the nursery.

*Have your child assessed for tolerance to wheat and dairy.  New research shows that 1 in 133 apparently healthy people have celiac disease (autoimmune disease active in the presence of wheat consumption). Most cases of celiac disease are undetected, and this disease wreaks havoc on the developing immune system.  Wheat has been genetically modified to produce MORE gluten per grain – this may account for the increase in celiac disease.  Also of interest, in Scientific American magazine, I learned that bacteria in the gut can turn the gene for celiac disease “on”.  So a shift in microflora could cause this illness.

2. Cultivate Health in the Gut (GI tract)

It turns out, that our bodies consist of more bacteria than human cells. The intestinal tract is a long tubular forest of bacteria that can shift over time to be more, or less, symbiotic with the host.  Which specific types of bacteria line our intestines greatly influences the types of cells that proliferate in our immune systems.  When we are born, the cell types that are prone to proliferation are the Th2 type (associated with asthma and allergies).  Fighting an infection causes the Th1 cell type to proliferate, which decreases the Th2 cell type.  Exposure to bacteria through the gut (called oral tolerance, Th3) decreases the numbers of both Th1 and Th2, decreasing inflammation.

One way to promote “oral tolerance” is to ingest probiotics. Probiotics are found in capsules, powders, yogurts, kefirs, non-dairy liquids, and in food!  Fermented, cultured vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi and pickled vegetables are handed down to us from our ancestors.

Daily ingestion of probiotics is the best way to create health.  Children today have less exposure to beneficial flora from the environment and more exposure to antibiotics.  The use of antibiotics kills intestinal flora and creates spaces for non-beneficial bacteria to grow (dysbiosis).

Women who have had frequent antibiotics and/or dysbiosis pass this mixture of flora on to their children during childbirth.  Children born via cesarean birth adopt the bacteria found in the hospital.  Probiotics are safe for newborns but be sure to buy from a reputable company, for infants.

*Again, have your child assessed for food intolerance and allergies.  Eating foods that are irritating to the GI tract weakens the barrier that is the small and large intestine, thus taxing the immune system.

3. Increase Nutrients

Cultivate a lush forest of beneficial bacteria, and cook freshly harvested, pesticide-free foods.  Limit sugars,  water down the juices and offer only nature’ sweets.  When both parents work outside the home, the time and energy required for shopping and cooking decreases.  Explore strategies such as meal planning, so that a busy week can run smoothly and you can feel secure that your family is eating their medicine.

This article is dense with information!  Please consider a Naturopathic Pediatrician for your children’s health and wellness.


Dr. Sarah Wylie, ND



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ingrid August 5, 2012 at 5:49 pm

More than 40 years ago I was struggling with the issue of vaccination and for sure that many years ago, without the internet, it was almost impossible to find information on the subject. There was so much pressure from doctors as well as family and well-meaning friends. The father of my children had come close to death after receiving a smallpox vaccination that left him covered on one side of his body with the the smallpox sores. Our first child seemed to fair well with the usual round of shots but my second child did not. Within 24 hours of receiving a DPT shot she started to run a very high fever, began a high-pitched scream that was uncontrollable and broke out in what appeared to be a rash that soon covered her entire body as if she had been dipped in scalding water and burned. This condition of the rash and the screaming lasted for days and needless to say, the doctors had no idea as to what was wrong and actually prescribed cortisone creme which I was told to rub all over her body. She was never the same.
After that she never had another shot, nor did her older brother and I never allowed the third child to be vaccinated.
Several years later while living in England I met a mother whose child had suffered from a vaccination reaction which caused brain damage and left the child greatly disabled. I will never forget her words to me:
It is one thing to have your child contract a disease and suffer with it or even possibly die. This can happen no matter how loving you are and how much care you give to yourself and your child.
It is another thing to willingly agree to have your child injected/infected with poisons and toxins and then live with the fact that what happened to them was because of something you allowed someone else to do.

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