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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Autism Awareness Month: The Vaccine Debate

April is Autism Awareness Month, so this seems the perfect time to discuss the debate about Vaccines and the link (or lack of link) to Autism.  There is a great deal of debate over whether vaccines can "cause" Autism and this post will seek to reveal some of the discussion on both sides of the debate, will explain what parent's options are for vaccines, and will offer some tips for choosing the best option for our families.

Our Story...
The vaccine debate is one that is very near and dear to my heart.  I have a child who suffered what the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) considered to be a "severe adverse reaction" to the his 2 month old shots.  You see, I'm not an anti-vaccination advocate and I never have been.  my first 2 children were fully vaccinated on the CDC's recommended schedule and besides the occasional low-grade fever and fussiness neither of them ever had any adverse reactions.  I didn't expect my youngest to react any differently.  In fact, I never even considered the possibility that vaccines might hurt my baby.

We went into his 2 month old well-check visit happy and excited to have a baby who slept well, ate well, and was fully adjusting to life outside.  He was my easiest baby by far.  We left the appointment having gotten the recommended shots for a 2 month old (DTaP, Hib, IPV, PCV, and RV) and everyone was feeling fine.  That all changed in the mere hours after arriving home.  My baby became inconsolably upset.  By the time we got to dinner he was in an all-out non-stop scream.  I held him, bathed him, breast fed him, and did all the things that normally helped him settle, but nothing seemed to affect him or his blood-curdling screaming.

He screamed for 36 hours.  I'm not talking about "fussy baby cry", I'm talking about ear piercing,  window breaking, cover your ears so your eardrums don't burst screaming.  The only moments of quiet that we had were when he'd pass out from exhaustion every 3ish hours for a few minutes.  Seriously, he screamed for HOURS and then slept for 5-10 minutes, then woke and screamed some more.  He wouldn't eat.  He wouldn't accept swaddling.  His body was ridged.

Now, you have to remember, I'm a mom of 3.  I had two older children.  I'd lived through colic and eating issues.  I'd lived through sleep disturbances and fussy nights.  All of these things I knew and was prepared for.  NOTHING prepared me for this vaccine reaction.  I called the pediatrician, the ER, consulted nurse and doctor friends.  I called the ER again.  No one could do anything for my baby.  And then it stopped.  36 hours later by baby fell asleep and didn't wake up for 18 hours.  18 HOURS.  As if the first 36 hours of almost-non-stop screaming wasn't bad enough, my was stone still and unwakeable for 18 hours.   At first we let him sleep.  Then after about 6 hours (when my breasts, that had nursed him every 2 hours since his birth, felt like they would explode) we tried to wake him.  We undressed him, rubbed him with wet wash cloths, bathed him, rubbed his body to try to wake him, but NOTHING could wake him up.  I called the ER again.

12 hours later I was frantic.  I had been able to get him to latch for a few moments to release a small amount of breastfeeding pressure, but he was still out cold.  The nurses at the ER told me that "the damage had been done, this happens sometimes, and that there was nothing they could do" we simply had to "wait it out".  Finally, after 18 hours he woke up, dreary, hungry, and extremely weak.  My baby had been poisoned, but thankfully had lived to tell the tale.  After this incident, he was put on an alternate vaccine schedule where he recieved his vaccines in smaller increments over a much longer time frame.  He did not have another dose of DTaP until he was 3.5 years old.  Currently (at almost 4 years old) he doesn't appear to have any residual side effects from this experience.

Little C just before getting his 2nd ever dose of DTaP.
This shot is required by public schools in our state and in order to
finish his doses before Kindergarten this was the latest possible time
for him to receive his and dose to enter Kindergarten on time

We found out later that our baby had suffered from what the Pediatrician said might have been aluminum poisoning.  With a family suffering from metal allergies, this made since.  As it turns out the specific combination shot that he had been given, DTaP-IPV-HepB (called Pediarix by GlaxoSmithKline), was notorious for reactions similar to ours.  So much so that many Pediatricians no longer offer the Pediarix shot.  

What do BOTH sides say?
The primary points that Anti-Vaccine Advocates cite is that vaccines (and combinations of vaccines given at the same time) are not tested well enough, that internationally certain vaccines that are allowed in the U.S. are not allowed or are facing scrutiny in other countries, that the risk of catching many of the diseases contained in vaccines are so low that getting the vaccines isn't worth while, vaccine manufacturers are protected from criminal persecution, that there are too many chemicals in vaccines, and that the government should not be allowed to interfere in individual medical decisions.  Let's take each of these issues and analyze them.

1- Vaccines are not tested well enough.  First, lets look at what the CDC says about Vaccine Testing.  Vaccines must go through a three phase testing process.
         Phase one: Vaccines are tested on small groups.
         Phase two: Vaccines are tested on groups that match the characteristics of people the vaccines are meant for.
         Phase three: Vaccines are given to much larger groups to test their efficiency and safety.
         FDA Approval Process: after passing all three testing phases the FDA requires a variety of documentations showing the effectiveness and side effects in order to be approved.  The FDA then weighs the risks, economics, and benefits of the vaccines before approving for  mass use.
         **many vaccines also go through a Fourth Phase where ongoing trials are conducted**

So, technically every vaccine IS tested, EXTENSIVELY often over a 10 year time period. The issues are that the FDA does NOT require vaccines to be tested in combinations with other vaccines.  While many are tested together, not all are.  Because vaccines are developed individually, each vaccine is individually tested.  At no point are vaccines tested in coordination with the other vaccines on the recommended CDC schedule.  This means that while vaccines might be individually safe, when in put in combination with each other there may be unforeseen side effects or greater risks.  The next issue with testing is that historically there have been vaccines tested and accepted by the FDA that have later been pulled from the market because unforeseen side effects (often severe) were discovered that hadn't been seen in testing.  The last issue with testing is that a mistrust between manufacturers and the public exists due to multiple instances where testing data was skewed, changed, or questionable results were left out.  Why this has happened is up for debate.  The severity of these oppissions and changes are also up for debate.  But the fact remains that this mistrust affects EVERY test because, to be honest, we never really know which tests to trust and which not to trust.

2. Internationally certain vaccines that are allowed in the U.S. are not allowed or are facing scrutiny in other countries.  The fact that vaccines are offered world-wide allows us to see how other governments regulate ingredients, side effects, etc.  We are able to compare our own acceptance with that of other well-informed countries.  Historically, there have been MANY vaccines (and vaccine ingredients) that have been banned in other developed countries that the U.S. has allowed.  Gardasil is the hottest topic right now in vaccines because the U.S. recommends and has approved it while the list of countries that have banned the vaccine is ever growing (including countries like France, Spain, India, Japan, and many many more) due to unforeseen and wide spread serious and permanent side effects.  Similar bans have been put in place internationally on ingredients in MMR shots and various others sighting the poisonous nature of the ingredients and their potential to cause problems when administered in large populations.  This contributes to the skepticism of many American parents into the FDA's ability to judge a vaccines safety.

3.  The risk of catching many of the diseases contained in vaccines are so low that getting the vaccines isn't worth while.  Let's face it, many of the diseased we receive vaccines for have been all but eradicated in the Western Hemisphere and in most developed nations.  Take Tetanus for example.  Roughly 40-60 people get Tetanus annually in the U.S. (with roughly 10-15 deaths annually) thanks in large part to the vaccine.  That number is much larger internationally with Tetanus causing major problems neotatally in many impoverished African countries.  On the other hand, Diptheria has become very rare world wide.  The U.S. has seen less than five cases in the past decade while the World Health Organization states that in 2014 there were roughly 7,000 cases world wide (with roughly half causing mortality), mostly in countries where people live in very poor hygene conditions in densely populated living conditions.  So why are children in the United States being immunized for a disease that they will likely never be exposed to?  

The problem is that there is documented evidence for many other diseases (Measles, Rubella, Prutusis) that show that in populations of non-immunized in the U.S. the rates of disease are much higher with the side effects of the illnesses being much more severe.  This then because an issue of "what would happen if we stopped vaccinating for some diseases?"  I'm afraid we can't answer that question and that in and of itself is reason enough to continue to receive vaccines for most.

Another issue is what some call Herd Immunity.   The more people who are vaccinated the less likely a disease is going to spread through a community.  The idea is that if the majority of the "Herd" is protected then those who cannot be vaccinated (for whatever reason) will still be protected.  When you look at the sheer numbers required to achieve Herd Immunity it because a much more intangible theory.  For most vaccines to work on the entire "Herd" they must reach 95-98% vaccination in a community.  That is just not feasible if people are able to choose not to be vaccinated.  It's also not feasible when you consider vaccines "life spans" and the need for boosters, those who are not vaccinated due to medical conditions, and those who do not vaccinate because of religious beliefs.  The exposure of many cities to international populations also throws as "kink" in the Herd Immunity theory.

4. Vaccine manufacturers are protected from criminal persecution.  Wait? WHAT?! Vaccine companies are except from criminal persecution?! You read that right.  A vaccine company could knowingly put out a vaccine that they tampered with the testing of (to give it the illusion of being more safe), cause massive numbers of permanent injury (or death) and then NOT be held legally responsible.  Yes, you can sew for monetary damages, which could potentially hurt the company, but there is no criminal responsibility by vaccine manufacturing companies.  This is not the case in MOST other countries, but in the U.S. the vaccine manufacturers cannot be considered criminals, no matter what they do.  Is it illegal to tamper with testing results? Yes.  Has that stopped them in the past? No.

Here's the problem: Vaccine manufacturers are businesses.  They have to make money.  They are run as profit seeking companies.  If you go through the process of making, testing, distributing  millions and millions of vaccines these companies have already committed a great deal of money towards a particular vaccine.  If that vaccine is then not approved by the FDA or is recalled off the market (because of adverse effects or because the company has been deemed criminally responsible for those effects) then the company looses money.  Sometimes enough money for them to go under.

Consider for a moment: what if an entire vaccine manufacturer goes "under"?  What happens to the vaccines?  What happens to any future vaccines?  They disappear.  I think it's fairly clear why that would be a bad thing globally.  So the U.S. government decided to protect vaccine companies.  It makes since, but it is not morally or ethically ok in any way.  Taking away the criminal liability of these companies opens their door to all types of sketchy test-tampering activity.

5. There are too many chemicals in vaccines.  Not only are there too many chemicals, but the chemicals that are in vaccines are known to be dangerous.  This is the biggest issue for me personally. There is a lot of miss-information and completely contradictory information out there about these igredients. The CDC says these vaccines are safe and says their ingredients are safe.. The problem is, the FDA says that these ingredients are not safe over a certain amount and in most cases the vaccines produced by the CDC have higher amounts than those approved by the FDA. In addition, when you consider the collective amount of each of the vaccine ingredients over your lifetime and if you get multiple shots (for example Aluminium which stays in your system for a very long time) then you could actually be getting far more than the amount that event he CDC deems "safe". An example is aluminum. The FDA says that 25 micrograms of aluminum is a "safe" amount to inject intravenously for a full grown adult in a 24 hour period (anything higher could result in what they call "aluminum toxicity" which among many other things can cause brain damage, neurological symptoms, and kidney damage). These are the levels of aluminum in the most common vaccines given to children:
Hib (PedVaxHib brand only) – 225 micrograms per shot. Hepatitis B – 250 micrograms. DTaP – depending on the manufacturer, ranges from 170 to 625 micrograms. Pneumococcus – 125 micrograms. Hepatitis A – 250 micrograms. HPV – 225 micrograms. Pentacel (DTaP, HIB and Polio combo vaccine) – 330 micrograms. Pediarix (DTaP, Hep B and Polio combo vaccine) – 850 micrograms. A typical 4 month old (roughly 12-15lbs) gets the Hib vaccine, Pediarix vaccine, and the Pneumococcus vaccine at their 4 month wellness check up. When you add that all up, this 4 month old is getting roughly 1200 micrograms of Aluminum in one day. That is like getting the maximum amount of 25 micrograms recommended by the FDA injected 48 times in the same day.... I'll let that sink in for a second.... ummmm CRAZY! Right?! how is this even POSSIBLE?! That these two agencies that are both supposed to be looking out for our best interests have such contradictory MEDICAL opinions about safe levels of aluminum?! Another example is the Flu Vaccine. Technically speaking there isn't straight mercury in the flu vaccine, it's actually called thimerosal and is only 50% mercury. The FDA says that 2 ppb (parts per billion) is a maximum safe amount of ingested mercury and that 200 ppb is considered toxic. The typcial flu shot has 25 mcgs of thimerosal (which is equivalent to 25,000 ppb of mercury). Apparently you can get a thimerosal-free flu vaccine also (by special request), but even that one contains 300 ppb mercury because it actually contains trace amounts of thimerosal (a low enough level that the FDA don't require labeling of it). Do you see the contractions? This is why many think that there are too many chemicals in vaccines. Are the chemicals necessary? The CDC and vaccine producers think that they are because they both preserve the vaccine (to make it transportable, storable, etc) and they act as the agent that increases your body's immune reaction to the actual "good" stuff inside the vaccine.

6. The government should not be allowed to interfere in individual medical decisions.  This is the age-old politics argument.  How much control should our government have over us and how much freedom should we actually have?  Can the government mandate vaccines which in essence forces people to get them?  The answer is yes, and many states and local government entities have done so.  But SHOULD they be able to mandate vaccines?  This gets into a much more complicated debate.  Freedom of Religion comes into play (some vaccines have ingredients such as animal byproducts that are banned in some religions).  School districts can require children to get vaccines before entering school, but there are always exceptions.  Certain children can get medical write-offs to not get vaccines based on personal or religious beliefs.  Other children can get medical write-offs due to allergens in the vaccines.  Where is the line?  How far can the government go to mandate vaccines without crossing into denial of personal freedoms?  I don't have an answer to this.

What's the Connection with Autism?
So, with all that information being said, what do vaccines have to do with Autism? This is a multiple tiered question with many varying opinions, very few linked to any real medical evidence.  Some say that symptoms of Autism start to show up around the same time as certain vaccines are given (the MMR vaccine in specific) and that the time-connection is enough to verify a causal relationship.  Others say that those symptoms begin to show up around that age even in populations of vaccinated children.  I don't think we will ever be able to find a direct correlation based on age and onset of symptoms.

Some say that there are specific ingredients that actually cause Autism.  This is possible, to some extent.  There are many MANY ingredients in vaccines that are known to cause neurological problems.  Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder (in other words, something disrupts the neurological development), the cause of which is largely unknown.  Could it be that the combination, or some specific ingredient, built up over the first year of life in vaccines actually disrupts neurological development in some pre-disposed children which then actually causes an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis?  Knowing what we know about the ingredients, their levels, and the known side effects of getting these chemicals injected into you, I think we would be foolish to rule out this possibility.  

Others say that the connection can be seen in the numbers.  There seems to be a relationship to more children being diagnosed the more vaccines are given.  In this way, the relationship between greater numbers of early childhood vaccines is correlating to more diagnosed children with Autism.  While the numbers do correspondingly increase, and the time frames over the last 2 generations seem to support this hypothesis, there is just no scientific way to prove that this is a causal relationship.

Finally, some say that the information is there, the documentation has been proven, but that the government (including the CDC and FDA) are hiding the causal relationship.   This is perhaps one of the greatest conspiracy theories of all time.  A government that hides the fact that it is poisoning the brains of it's children?  Knowing the ethical standards of vaccine producing companies, the number of "whistle blowers" who have come forward in the past years from those companies, and the history of our government protecting those companies from criminal prosecution, I think that this conspiracy is possible.  But is it likely?  Why would our government WANT to peruse a vaccination schedule and push dangerous vaccines that they know would poison children's neurological development?  It just doesn't make since and honestly veers a little too far into the outer reaches for my taste.

Let's Cut Through the Hype...
It's all a matter of weighing the risks to the potential benefits. Let's take the flu vaccine as an example. If you DO get the flu, what are the chances that you (or your children) will develop complications? If you are relatively healthy people with relatively healthy immune systems, and if you are a parent who pays attention to your child's symptoms and diligently try to push fluids and keep your child "strong" enough to fight the infection, then you probably won't develop complications and neither will your children (which would then mean you probably don't need the vaccine). The flu shot contains mercury, formaldehyde, aluminium, and neomycin (all four are highly controversial and are the main reasons people don't get the flu vaccine, and all are listed on the CDC website as ingredients in the flu vaccine). If you are not at high risk for having complications from the flu, why would you knowingly inject yourself with these ingredients? Other vaccines are not as simple to reject. Whooping Cough and Measles have seen a huge resurgences in the past years. Your risk of being exposed to these and having lasting complications is much higher, especially if you are elderly or very young.
For me and my children I weigh these four questions when deciding about any vaccine: 1. Whats the risk of getting sick and having complications? 2. What are the risks of the ingredients in the vaccine? 3. Is the risk of getting sick greater than the risk of the vaccine ingredients? (if I can answer "yes" to this question then I will get the vaccine or have my child get the vaccine).
4. What is the greater good answer? with the exception of my youngest child, we all have tolerated vaccines well and have had minimal side effects. The "greater good" would suggest that we get vaccines in an effort to increase herd immunity for those who cannot tolerate vaccines as well (like my youngest child). We sacrifice a small amount, tolerate a small amount, because it helps protect those who cannot protect themselves.

For me and my family, the fourth question is of utmost importance, with the exception of my child who reacted poorly to the DTaP vaccine. I will gladly give my children vaccines to protect others, but ONLY because I know they react well to them. But this decision must be made by each of us individually. We each have to weigh the risks and benefits, not only to our own families but to our nation and our world. I would never ask someone else to sacrifice their child to save mine, just as I would never sacrifice my child to save someone elses. It's a hard choice.

Abbreviations you should know and a List of Vaccines given in the first 5 years of life: (34 total doses)
FDA: Food and Drug Administration
CDC: Center for Disease Control
DTaP: Diptheria, Tetanus, Acellular Pertussis Vaccine (5 doses)
Hib: Haemophilus Influenzae type B Vaccine (4 doses)
IPV: Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine (4 doses)
PCV: Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (4 doses)
RV: Rotavirus Vaccine (3 doses)
HepB: Hepatitis B Vaccine (3 doses)
Influenza: Flu Vaccine (5 doses, 1 annually)
MMR: Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (German Measles) (2 doses)
Varicella: Chicken Pox Vaccine (2 doses)
Hep A: Hepatitis A Vaccine (2 dose)

How have vaccines impacted your life?  Have you or your children ever had an adverse reaction?  Do you follow the CDC schedule or an alternate schedule?  Please share your RESPECTFUL thoughts and opinions below.


  1. I have had every vaccination as have my 3 sisters and brother and I'm glad. We didn't have any reactions or negative effects and both my brother and sister didn't even cry at any jabs. Slept right through!
    The way i always explained it is, I'd rather my child be alive and have autism (which i doubt would happen anyway) than dead from a preventable disease :)
    Good post!

    1. Thanks for your comment Bethany. I think the most important thing we can do as parents is make educated and well-informed decisions for ourselves and our families. We might not all agree about what the "right" decisions are, but all we can do is our best. The thing that bother's me the most is the lack of transparency when it comes to the CDC, FDA, and vaccine research. We deserve to know the whole truth and not have information left out.

  2. Vaccinators here. And given that we're currently in the middle of a Measles outbreak here it's a darn good thing!

    1. It's important to remember that vaccines do not PREVENT your children from getting the things they've been vaccinated against. They certainly reduce the risk of getting sick and diminish the possibility of severe side effects, but most vaccines are only 85% effective given a population as diverse as ours. Just food for thought :)

  3. I'm on the non-vaccine side of things - I'm on the Spectrum - and in my case, I believe that the vaccines had an effect

    1. I think that you could be very right. The added chemicals (that are known to have neurological side effects) can certainly effect an already on the spectrum brain. I think that this is perhaps the greatest correlation. Perhaps vaccines don't CAUSE Autism, but they certainly do not help.