QA on Vaccines

From my Facebook Messages:

Dr Hinson,

Feel free to not answer this question since this is your personal facebook, but I thought I’d give it a try.

I’ve only immunized one of my children, and have remained undecided for the others because of the controversy of vaccines’ effectiveness/dangers. In my limited experience with you as a Dr, you seemed to be in the middle of the road between conventional medicine and natural alternatives, so I’m interested in your opinion. Which vaccines, if any, do you think are necessary?

Thanks in advance. I hope things are going well for you with your plans of a new practice!

JS

PS. We just moved, and the few Drs in our area so far seem to be seriously conventional only, ie: antibiotics absolutely necessary for ear infections, the nurse looked at me like I had 3 heads because I didn’t want the flu shot (after I told her I’d already had the flu this year), and I just found out my Dr will no longer see me for prenatal care because I’d like a home birth with a midwife. All that to say, we miss you guys! You guys rocked.

I think there is little reason to worry about any of the vaccines that are out there. Are they risk-free? No. There are always risks (mostly in the form of allergic reactions). But the risks are so low as to be less than the chance of getting sick from the diseases they protect you from. (Unfortunately, this is more and more the case thanks to the unwarranted controversies out there that have affected vaccine rates.) For example, the polio shot. Polio pretty much no longer exists here in the US. So, you could ask, why bother with the shot? Well, it is almost as unheard of to have a reaction to it. And, there is certainly the possibility that a kid might grow up to be the wonderful person that decides to join the Peace Corp and go work in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease persists. And then that apple-of-any-mother’s eye might bring it back and reintroduce it here. So, as unlikely as that might seem, it is more likely than a problem from the shot.

Now, the polio shot also demonstrates another important facet of the immunization debate–public vs personal benefit. If a child born today is not vaccinated at all, the truth is, there is not a huge risk these days. However, I can only say that because of the vaccination program. If every child in your child’s daycare or school is vaccinated, and your child never leaves the island, the risk would be very low, and one could argue against the need to vaccinate. BUT, what if everyone came to that same conclusion? There is a concept known as herd immunity. As long as a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, then, we don’t have as much to worry about as a public health issue, and this huge public health advantage is easily overlooked these days, as we have gotten so use to low-to-zero rates of some of the diseases involved.

That said, to answer you question, what vaccines are most important to personal health these days? That is, if not vaccinated, which diseases are most likely to greatly affect a kid, i.e., hospitalize them, or even lead to something worse?

I would rank them like this (and this is just opinion, unencumbered by science, stats or the CDC):

1. flu
2. HIB*
3. Pneumococcal*
4. Rotavirus
5. Pertussis
6. Measles
7. Mumps
8. Tetanus
9. …the rest.

Flu? Seriously? Yep. If you simply look at stats, that is the infection most likely to cause death! HIB and pneumococcal are starred because this list is age dependent. If you are asking about a 6 or 8 year old, these are less important because these are common bacteria. They’re everywhere. They cause the vast majority of ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonias, and even meningitis cases in kids under 5. And, as such, they are very pertinent vaccines to be given to an under-2. But, by the time you’re 5 or 6, your immune system has seen the germs so much as to have created its own native immunity. Another way of looking at this is, you are much, much more likely to hospitalize a 1.5 yr old with pneumonia than we are a 10 year old with it.

So, there. Probably more than you wanted to hear. But the vaccine program is extremely important to our society. We are a generation or two removed from when everyone knew someone paralyzed from polio, or made infertile by mumps or born with horrible birth defects due to rubella. We are removed enough that all of that is easily forgotten.

GH

Not too much info. I soak this stuff up. Thanks so much for taking the time. You’ve possibly convinced me…and if that’s the case, my sister who is a nurse thanks you!

JS

I’m going to give you one more bit of info (that you did not ask for). Toxins. Heavy metals. Mercury. Etc. Do you realize you would have to get 75 flu shots at once to get the amount of mercury (in a different, less-toxic form, no less) to equal the amount you would get from eating a serving of swordfish? (And, to make it more local, just 4 tiny bay scallops have the amount of mercury that you see in one flu shot.)

Like everything else that is manufactured–plastics, apple skin wax, shampoo–vaccines have “industrial” ingredients. But so does the real world. You cannot avoid this stuff; it’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, even on the shelf at Annye’s. It’s a testimony to our bodies’ ability to handle all of this stuff that we’re not all sick all the time. And yet, as our environment has become more and more saturated with stuff like this, our life expectancy has continued to climb.

Now, does that mean you should bathe a kid in pesticide and feed them nothing but processed foods, heated in plastic? No. Of course not. But, when there is measurable benefit to something, e.g., vaccines, it means there’s no reason to be overly afraid of it.

Okay. I’m done. Stepping down from the pulpit to go turn this in to a blog post. Hmmm. Certainly went on long enough about it…

GH

Haha, you should. Just copy and paste. I didn’t realize that about the mercury until I was sitting in your office last year and saw the chart comparison. I was really surprised!

I suppose I tend to look at the flip side. I think of all the pesticides, processed foods, prescription drugs, and look at all the food allergies, autoimmune disease, chronic conditions that seem to be absolutely everywhere. Yes we live longer but at what quality? Is it just the drugs that keep our bodies ticking but really we are unhealthier than ever?

JS

Again, without researching the science to back this up (if there is any), I would say that we are more used to good health, so simpler things like food intolerances or arthralgias are now more likely to be complaints. If, say fifty years ago, you could barely walk due to polio or were 40 years old and going blind from uncontrolled diabetes, you probably were not going to complain much about your “rheumatism.”

That said, there is still every reason for vigilance. Just because meds might be able to extend your life, doesn’t mean it should be one of misery. I do not believe meds are as good at extending one’s life as getting out of the chair, moving, and eating less food, but better foods (that are less processed and more local).

This is where modern life and its techno advances are a blessing and a curse. There are more and more options for recreation and exercise; but it is a lot easier to never get out of a chair these days. Given transportation systems and advanced agri techniques, it easier to eat better (we certainly have less to fear for from famine); but at the same time, the same technologies have made it much easier to eat poorly too.

The older I get, I think these two things are more important than anything you can buy on a shelf (e.g, supplements, vitamins, natural meds, cleanses, etc.) or anything ordered on a prescription pad!

GH

Interesting point at the beginning…hadn’t thought if that. Love this convo.

JS

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