The Ongoing Debate
Vaccinations, what a topic! They rank right up there with politics and religion as things not to discuss around the Thanksgiving table. Vaccinations are sure to elicit emotional responses from most people, though generally these responses are based largely on belief and lore rather than facts and hard science. It is easy to understand why the subject is so charged given that all parents would want to protect their children. And of course all people, even those who aren’t parents, want to believe there is a way to protect themselves from the dangers of life, which makes it easier for vaccine makers and policy makers to spread fear and sell products that promise a safer existence.
But do we really understand all there is to know about vaccines? Are those who ask questions about vaccines really fringe lunatics or are they perhaps more informed than the masses and using this information and their intelligence, combined with a healthy diet, to choose another path to health? In this heated debate, it is imperative that we parse fact from fiction so that we can all make genuinely well-informed decisions about our health and well-being.
My film, The Greater Good, does just that. The Greater Good weaves together the stories of families whose lives have been forever changed by vaccination with the perspectives of doctors and scientists from around the world. Our tagline for the film is “If you think you know everything about vaccines… think again.” The film shares different perspectives on vaccinations to help the viewer understand what we know and don’t know about vaccine science, and shows that parents who ask questions about vaccines or forgo them for their children are not crazy or ill-informed. The film also shows that vaccines may be responsible for the epidemic of chronic illness that plagues our planet today.
So let’s address the facts of what we do and don’t know about vaccines today as we begin to reconsider this controversial topic.
How many vaccines do kids get today? A child receiving all the recommended vaccines and boosters today receives:
• Twenty-six doses of nine vaccines by the first birthday;
• Forty-eight doses of fourteen vaccines by age six;
• A total of seventy doses of sixteen vaccines by age eighteen.
This is almost three times the recommended number of shots recommended by the CDC in 1983:
• Eleven doses of four vaccines by the first birthday;
• Twenty-two doses of seven vaccines by age six;
• A total of twenty-three doses of eight vaccines by age eighteen.1
VACCINES FOR ADULTS
Is vaccine safety just an issue for new parents? No. The CDC is now recommending a flu shot every year from cradle to grave as well as many adult booster shots for childhood diseases and new vaccines such as shingles. The pharmaceutical industry has an estimated two hundred vaccines in development for use in many population groups, not just children.
Are vaccines safe? A large, long-term clinical study comparing the medium or long-term health outcomes of vaccinated and unvaccinated groups of people has never been done. Moreover, while vaccines are often given simultaneously, with as many as ten vaccines given in one visit, safety studies do not evaluate the safety of simultaneous shots. Nor have the different ingredients of human infant vaccines taken individually or in combination been evaluated in large, long-term clinical studies. Until these studies are done, it is not possible to fully answer this question.
What kinds of risks am I taking if I vaccinate my child?
Like all pharmaceutical products, vaccines carry risks. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, signed by President Ronald Reagan, acknowledged that vaccines can cause injury or death. It sets up a trust fund for resolving vaccine injury and death claims and provides compensation to those found to be injured by vaccines.
Recent research has shown neurological damage including motor function deficits, cognitive impairment, and behavioral changes in mice given the aluminum in vaccines.2 Research has also shown impaired immune function and autoimmune disease in humans following administration of these same compounds.3,4 Despite these findings, large scientific gaps remain; until those gaps are filled, the overall safety of vaccines is difficult to assess.
How often do adverse vaccine reactions occur?
A large, long-term clinical study comparing the health outcomes of vaccinated versus unvaccinated patients has never been done therefore this question is difficult to assess. In addition, most vaccine trials last only a few weeks so many reactions may be unknown. Furthermore, the U.S. has a system called the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) to monitor vaccine reactions. VAERS is a passive reporting system and the CDC states that underreporting “is one of the main limitations of passive surveillance systems, including VAERS. The term underreporting refers to the fact that VAERS receives reports for only a small fraction of actual adverse events.”5
Doctors often say that reactions such as swelling, soreness, tenderness and a lump at the injection site, fever, fussiness, tiredness, and vomiting after vaccination are normal and nothing to worry about. Is this true?
While most of these reactions may seem benign on the surface, it is not known for certain what causes these reactions and whether they reflect some deeper problem. In The Greater Good, Dr. Lawrence Palevsky states that no studies exist to determine what happens to the body’s systems and tissues when a vaccine is given. In the making of the film and while conducting screenings, we have come across many parents who said their child had these “normal” reactions after a round of vaccines but never was quite the same again and went on to develop a learning disability, allergies, ADHD, or another type of chronic disease.
Are all the ingredients in vaccines safe? The truth is that vaccine ingredients have not been tested for safety in doses given to human infants either singularly or in combination for co-toxicity. The list of ingredients in vaccines includes but is not limited to: mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, cells from aborted fetuses, cells from monkey kidneys, chicken embryos, viruses, antibiotics, yeast, polysorbate 80 and detergents.6 While the amount of mercury has been reduced in most vaccines, it is still used in the manufacturing process and trace amounts (less than 1 mcg) still exist after filtering.7 Moreover, most flu vaccines still contain 25 mcg of mercury.8
Mercury is a well-known neurotoxin and is particularly damaging to the brain of a developing fetus or child.9Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.10
Adjuvants are substances added to vaccines to stimulate an immune response because without adjuvants, the vaccines do not work. Aluminum is the adjuvant most commonly used in vaccines. In their study, “Aluminum Vaccine Adjuvants: Are They Safe?” published in Current Medicinal Chemistry, Lucija Tomljenovic and Christopher Shaw write: “Aluminum is an experimentally demonstrated neurotoxin and the most commonly used vaccine adjuvant. Despite almost eighty years of widespread use of aluminum adjuvants, medical science’s understanding about their mechanisms of action is still remarkably poor. . . Experimental research, however, clearly shows that aluminum adjuvants have a potential to induce serious immunological disorders in humans. In particular, aluminum in adjuvant form carries a risk for autoimmunity, long-term brain inflammation and associated neurological complications and may thus have profound and widespread adverse health consequences.”11
Are vaccines properly studied for safety and effectiveness?
Vaccine studies often last just a few weeks and focus on efficacy, namely whether the vaccine being studied stimulates the “desired” immune response in the blood. The pharmaceutical company developing the vaccine conducts the studies and then submits them to the FDA for approval for licensure.
Most seriously, the study is allowed to use another vaccine or a liquid containing an adjuvant such as aluminum as the placebo.12 This way, the vaccine producer can say that the vaccines cause no more adverse reactions than a placebo.
The complete vaccine schedule has not been studied for safety nor have all the various possible combinations of vaccines that might be administered on a single day.
Do doctors know all there is to know about vaccines and their safety?
Doctors are taught that vaccines are safe and effective; they are not taught how vaccines are studied, the components of vaccines, or the gaps in research. Doctors are taught that decades of clinical use of vaccines have demonstrated their safety and that vaccine side effects are rare, but there are no large, long-term clinical trials comparing the health and well being of those vaccinated to those unvaccinated to back up these assumptions.
Aren’t vaccines safer than getting the diseases?
This is a very difficult question to assess, as we don’t know the longterm health outcomes of the vaccine schedule. Given that we only have a passive surveillance system to determine adverse reactions, we don’t know the true numbers of reactions that occur. Many diseases vaccinated against today were considered fairly benign in past decades (flu, chicken pox, mumps, rubella) or quite rare (hepatitis A and B, meningitis).
This does not mean that all diseases are rare or benign, but rather explains the difficulty in making a statement assessing the relative risk when the true health outcomes and reactions are as yet unknown.
Are vaccines responsible for the low levels of mortality we see from infectious diseases in the developed world? According to a study by Bernard Guyer and others, published in Pediatrics in December of 2000, “nearly 90 percent of the decline in infectious disease mortality among U.S. children occurred before 1940, when few antibiotics or vaccines were available.” What happened?
According to the authors: “State and local health departments implemented these public health measures including water treatment, food safety, organized solid waste disposal, and public education about hygienic practices.”10
Do vaccines cause chronic illness?
There are studies linking vaccines to chronic cognitive dysfunction, behavioral changes, motor function impairment, eczema, learning disabilities, arthritis, asthma, autism and more.2-4, 14-18
Do vaccines cause autism?
While vaccine authorities assert there is no science linking mercury or vaccines to autism, there is in fact peer-reviewed scientific evidence connecting both to autism. A study by Gallagher and Goodman found that boys who received the birth dose of Hepatitis B containing mercury were nearly three times more likely to receive an autism diagnosis than those that did not receive the vaccine. They went on to study the three doses of Hepatitis B and found that boys who received the whole series were nearly nine times more likely to require special education services than boys who did not.14,17
A recent study by Tomljenovic and Shaw connected the rising incidence of autism to the use of aluminum in vaccines.19
Helen Ratajczak, PhD, a former senior scientist at a drug company, conducted a review of all the available autism research since autism was first described in 1943; her results were published in the Journal of Immunotoxicology. When interviewed after publication and asked whether the science on autism shows any relationship between vaccines and autism she said: “The data show that when more vaccines were given, and were given at earlier ages, the incidence and prevalence of autism increased. There are many aspects of vaccines that cause autism.”20
But hasn’t science proved there is no link between mercury and autism? A review by Catherine DeSoto, PhD, of all the empirical research available on the mercury-autism link found that the body of research actually shows a link between mercury and autism by more than a 3-to-1 margin. Her findings are in stark contrast to government claims that there is no scientific link.21
Are vaccines mandatory? The fact is that all states have exemptions for vaccines: medical, religious or philosophical. Some states have only medical exemptions, some have medical and religious and some have all three types. The difficulty of obtaining exemptions differs from state to state. Visit our website to explore the laws in your state:http://www.greatergoodmovie.org/ state-laws.
What recourse does one have after vaccination damage?
If you or your child suffers a vaccine injury, you must apply to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for damages. The program manages a trust fund that pays damages to those injured by a vaccine and is funded through a seventy-five-cent tax levied on every vaccine given in America. To date, the program has paid out more than two billion dollars and has about three billion dollars in reserves.
If you are denied compensation or are unhappy with the award, you are not allowed to sue the doctor, nurse, government or vaccine manufacturer. On February 22, 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have no recourse in civil court even if the vaccine manufacturer could have made a safer vaccine.22
Won’t disease come back if we stop vaccinating? The fact is that disease incidence is a very complex issue determined by many variables such as general health and a robust immune system due to proper nutrition; and public health measures such as sewage management and drinking water systems.13
Moreover, disease outbreaks regularly occur in fully vaccinated populations so vaccination may not be as effective a preventative as generally believed.23 Given these facts, it is difficult to make any statements about what patterns disease might take if vaccination rates declined.
AND NOW WHAT?
The coming few years will be critical for the issue of vaccine safety, and I hope you will get involved. I was thrilled to bring my film The Greater Good to WAPF’s national conference last fall, and to hear from so many chapters that the film has been a valuable discussion starter. If your chapter hasn’t screened the film yet, please visit our website for details and resources to help you do that, including a discussion and facilitation guide, tips for hosting a screening, an FAQ, links to studies and resources mentioned in the film and much more available at www.greatergoodmovie.org.
One particularly important policy issue emerging in the coming months is the protection of state level exemptions to vaccines for philosophical, religious and medical reasons. It is important that all fifty states give families the right to all three of these exemptions. Coalitions are forming across the country to educate their communities about the complex issue of vaccine safety. These groups include natural health practitioners, families, midwives, doulas, nurses, teachers, elected leaders and vaccine safety advocates of all stripes.
A vital link in that emerging group is the WAPF community. I encourage you to reach out to groups in your community and learn what is happening in your state. Collaborating on a screening is a great way to get started. I believe that together we can create a world where:
• Vaccines can be made safer;
• Doctors and parents are educated about adverse reaction to vaccines, so that these reactions may be treated appropriately, thereby reducing long-term impact;
• Parents have the information they need to make informed choices about vaccines;
• Schools and doctors respect and value parents’ rights to choose how they keep their families healthy;
• Families feel safe to make their own choices regarding their families’ health and well being without fear of expulsion from school or exclusion from their communities;
• Scientists are free to pursue research into vaccine safety without fear of jeopardizing their income or career prospects;
• All fifty states uphold family’s rights to exemption from vaccination for religious, philosophical or medical reasons;
• The top priority is health and wellness, and all vaccines go through a vigorous due diligence process for safety.
I hope you will visit our website and consider bringing the film to your chapter and to those you love. You can stream the film, buy a DVD or share either as a gift. Consider hosting an event yourself, or make a donation to our engagement campaign online to help us bring the film to families, healthcare practitioners and policymakers nationwide so they too can “think again” about vaccine safety issues. Most importantly I hope you will tell five friends about the film, and continue to learn more yourself. Find us at http://www.greatergoodmovie.org, on Twitter @GreaterGood-Film, and join our active community on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greatergoodmovie.
MY FILM, THE GREATER GOOD
While it is clear that the vaccine debate is uncomfortable for many, it is far from over. In May 2012, I attended a conference on autoimmunity and vaccine safety and listened to a dozen scientists present their research showing a wide spectrum of harm following vaccination, ranging from brain damage including cognitive impairment and behavioral changes, to autism, autoimmune disease, obesity and even infertility. A growing body of science shows cause for concern and it is important that we as a society recognize that the vaccine debate is a scientific debate, not one between emotional parents and their doctors. In The Greater Good, we tried to present all sides and perspectives and in doing so to show that this issue warrants further attention and discussion.
We hoped that by sharing a wide variety of perspectives in a fair and balanced way, we could present the issue and let the public decide for themselves what to believe. We hoped to educate audiences that the vaccine debate is not as black and white as they may have perceived, that vaccinations are a topic worth investigating and discussing, and that there is much science that needs to be carried out to fully understand the biological impact of vaccinations.
The film has been widely applauded by lay, medical, and film audiences alike and featured at film festivals all over the world. The Greater Good received the Koroni Award for a documentary feature addressing an issue of importance to public health from the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama, Birmingham and The Greater Good was featured at the Amsterdam Film Festival where it was awarded the Cinematic Vision Award. The film recently aired nationally on Current TV in the US. Members of the public and medical professionals have signed up to host screenings and join the Think Again campaign.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN VACCINE LAWS AT THE STATE LEVEL?
The Vermont House and Senate have been battling over whether to retain a philosophical exemption to vaccination. While it looked like the philosophical exemption to vaccination was all but lost, in the weeks running up to a new vote, over thirty Vermont lawmakers watched The Greater Good and heard heated testimony from concerned parents. Small groups of families organized around kitchen tables and worked with groups like National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) to reach as many policymakers as possible. And ultimately, the Vermont House decided overwhelmingly to retain the philosophical exemption—that’s the good news. Unfortunately, the bill also requires parents who choose not to vaccinate to sign a statement annually that they understand they are posing a risk to the community. Do the vaccine makers also have to sign a statement that they know their products pose a risk to some children? And do the Vermont lawmakers realize that vaccine makers bear zero liability when their products cause harm?
In California, things are worse. On December 31, 2011, a law went into effect that allows school nurses to vaccinate children twelve and over for sexually transmitted diseases without parental consent and parents will have no access to the child’s medical records that pertain to these shots. So California children cannot go on a school field trip or get an aspirin from the school nurse without parental consent, but they can be injected with vaccines that injure some kids and their parents will never know. In addition, California is now requiring all seventh graders to get the TDaP (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and attenuated Pertussis or whooping cough) booster shot. Why are they doing this? Because in 2010 there was a massive outbreak of pertussis in California and elsewhere. Most of those who contracted the disease were fully vaccinated, demonstrating that the vaccine either does not work in many people or does not confer any long-term immunity despite the promises that it does. Lastly, California is considering a bill that would require parents who choose not to vaccinate to consult with a medical professional every year in order to be educated about the benefits of vaccines and the risks of choosing not to vaccinate and then obtain that medical professional’s signature.