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Monday Morning Development Newsletter:  

Vaccination Controversy: What is Fact and What is Myth?
By Lykke E. Andersen*, La Paz, 12 February 2007.

“100 years from now we will know that the biggest crime against humanity was vaccines.”
Guylaine Lanctot, MD

In Bolivia, vaccination rates depend strongly on the education level of the mother. More educated mothers are more likely to have their children vaccinated than less educated mothers (1).

In United States the relationship is the opposite. Highly educated mothers are less likely to have their children vaccinated (2).

This seems strange until you realize there is a big controversy about the effectiveness and dangers of common childhood vaccines (3). Maybe well-educated women in United States are sufficiently educated to question “conventional wisdom” (carefully established by pharmaceutical companies), whereas educated women in Bolivia have only reached the point of learning and accepting “conventional wisdom”.

Admittedly, vaccination requirements in the U.S. (33 vaccines mandated by the age of 6) are much more extensive than in Bolivia (about 7), so there is a much higher likelihood of adverse side effects in the former and thus more cause for concern.

The concerns about vaccinations range from not really being effective in preventing the disease they are supposed to immunize against to causing death, autism, attention deficit disorders, dyslexia, allergy, cancer, and more, in a worrying percentage of cases.

These potential side-effects arise because vaccines contain some highly toxic components (thimersol, aluminum phosphate, formaldehyde, and phenoxyethanol) as well as modified versions of the diseases themselves.

The scientific literature on side effects is inconclusive, mostly because careful long-term studies on possible side-effects have never been carried out. This means that the suspicions regarding safety arises mainly from the following three sources:

1)       Parents whose children died or got seriously disabled immediately following vaccinations.

2)       Researchers who found Sudden Infant Deaths tended to occur within few days of vaccinations.

3)       The general correlation between increased vaccination coverage and increased prevalence of autism, epilepsy, learning disorders, asthma, obesity, and impulsive violence in developed countries. 

In the article “Dispelling Vaccination Myths” by Alan Philips, the following list of Vaccination Myths and Facts arise (not complete):



#1: Vaccines are safe

#1: Vaccination causes significant death and disability at an astounding personal and financial cost to uninformed families

#2: Vaccines are very effective

#2: Evidence suggests that vaccination is an unreliable means of preventing disease

#3: Vaccines are the reason for low disease rates in the US today

#3: It is unclear what impact, if any, that vaccines had on 19th and 20th century infectious disease declines

#4: Vaccination is based on sound immunization theory and practice

#4: Many of the assumptions upon which immunization theory and practice are based are unproved or have been proven false in their application

#5: Childhood diseases are extremely dangerous

#4: Dangers of childhood diseases are greatly exaggerated in order to scare parents into compliance with a questionable but highly profitable procedure

#6: Polio was one of the clearly great vaccination success stories

#6: The polio vaccine temporarily reversed disease declines that were underway before the vaccine was introduced; this fact was deliberately covered up by health authorities. In Europe, polio declined in countries that both embraced and rejected the vaccine

#7: My child had no reaction to the vaccines, so there is nothing to worry about

#7: The long term adverse effects of vaccinations have been ignored in spite of compelling correlations with many serious chronic conditions. Doctors can't explain the dramatic rise in many of these diseases

But it is just as easy to find sources which switch the headings (e.g. Dr. Spock) so it is really difficult to know what is myth and what is fact. (However, in these specific cases the Phillips article is clearly the most convincing with a long list of specific references, whereas Dr. Spock just makes a general and rather unconvincing reference to the National Network for Immunization Information.)

If you think about it, why would somebody try to demonize vaccinations, unless there is a good reason for it? The only reason I can think of is because mourning parents of dead or disabled babies need to blame something or somebody, and vaccinations and Big Pharma seem obvious scapegoats as virtually all kids have been vaccinated. But the other side (the pharmaceutical companies) is considerably more powerful than some mourning parents and has a multi-billion dollar interest in suppressing the concerns about vaccinations.

Probably both sides are right. Vaccines work and are safe for the vast majority of children, have mild side-effects in some cases, and are lethal or crippling for a small minority. People ought at the very least to receive objective information about the odds before subjecting their babies to the needle. A flyer in a doctor’s office in the U.S. attempted that. It said that the chances of a serious adverse reaction to the DPT vaccine were one in 1750, while the chances of dying from Pertussis (the P in DPT) were one in several million (4). So, if you had the choice, which would you prefer?

In the U.S. there is a vaccine injury report system in place (the Federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System), which receives about 11,000 reports of serious adverse reactions to vaccinations, although it is recognized that only 1-10% of adverse events get reported (5). There is also a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which uses tax revenue to compensate families with children who have been permanently disabled by vaccines.  

In Bolivia there are no warnings, no monitoring, no compensation, no information, and no research. We simply have no idea what damage vaccinations are causing, so we can’t give parents objective information about risks and benefits.

Vaccines are promoted all over the world under the assumption that all recipients – regardless of weight, age, genetic makeup, diet, geographic location, etc – will respond the same. This is not likely to be the case. In Australia’s Northern Territory an immunization campaign among native aborigines resulted in a terrifying 50% infant mortality rate! (6).

Fortunately, child mortality has been going down systematically in Bolivia, but it is not at all clear what role vaccinations play in this decline. It could be because of better hygiene, better education, better access to hospitals, fewer risky high-order births, better alimentation, or several other positive developments.

I think the institutions which promote universal vaccination in Bolivia ought to sponsor a research project on the risks and benefits of vaccination in this particular environment. This would help confused parents determine what is myth and what is fact about vaccinations. Hundred years seems an awfully long time to wait.

Related articles:

- Vaccination Failure in La Paz

(*) Director, Institute for Advanced Development Studies, La Paz, Bolivia. The author happily receives comments at the following e-mail:

(1) Instituto Nacional de Estadística & Ministerio de Salud y Deportes (2004) “Bolivia: Encuesta Nacional de Demografía y Salud 2003.” La Paz, November.
(2) Sam S. Kim, Jemima A. Frimpong, Patrick A. Rivers, Jennie J. Kronenfeld (2006) “Effects of Maternal and Provider Characteristics on Up-to-Date Immunization Status of Children Aged 19 to 35 Months.” American Journal of Public Health. December 28, 2006.
(3) For an overview, read “Dispelling Vaccination Myths” by Alan Philips, Director of Citizens for Healthcare Freedom. For a review of books on the subject of vaccination, see
(4) See Myth #1 in “Dispelling Vaccination Myths” by Alan Philips.
(5) See introductory paragraph of “Dispelling Vaccination Myths” by Alan Philips.
(6) Archie Kalokerinos (1981) Every Second Child, Keats Publishing, Inc.

Ó Institute for Advanced Development Studies 2006. The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author and do not necessarily coincide with those of the Institute.

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