Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dr Weil’s “Shot in the Dark”

From Dr Andrew Weil’s column at www.aarpmagazine.org/health
I wanted to post this here because I respect Dr Weil as “a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine.” I don’t agree with him 100%, but I think he is widely respected, and thus his opinions carry some weight even in mainstream culture…

Italics are mine.

Q: Some say that vaccines—or the chemicals used to preserve them—can be risky. Should I avoid them?
A: My opinion is simple: the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks. And yes, there are risks, mostly of immediate adverse reactions. But these are much lower than the risks of the diseases that the vaccines prevent. If we still lived with diphtheria, polio, and tetanus, no one would question the wisdom of preventing these diseases.
Immunization facilitates a natural process by simulating encounters between the body’s immune system and killed or weakened viruses and bacteria (or pieces and products of them). In early life, such encounters can enable the immune system to defend us against these pathogens. I understand some people’s resistance to the idea of injecting toxins and germs into children (or themselves) but I think they have not considered immunization’s very favorable ratio of benefits to risks. The risk varies from vaccine to vaccine, but it always a miniscule fraction of one percent. And I take very strong exception to those who believe that febrile illnesses of childhood are necessary for optimal lifelong health. That is nonsense.
That doesn’t mean I’m in favor of every vaccine though. I’m not sure universal vaccination against Hepatitis B is a good idea. The people are risk are in well-known subgroups, so the shots (and the small risk) should be limited to them. Nor am I sure we should vaccinate all children against chickenpox. For most people, getting chickenpox confers lifelong immunity, but the vaccine does not. And catching the disease as an adult is more dangerous than getting it overwith in childhood.
I’m glad that mercury preservative has been nearly phased out of vaccines, though I have not seen credible evidence that it causes autism, as some claim. I hope that genetic engineering will bring us better (and even safer) vaccines.
Finally, for the record, I keep current on my own immunizations—I had the pneumonia vaccine along with my flu shot—and my 15-year-old daughter has had all of hers.

Of course, he neglects to mention a couple of things:
1--vaccines have imperfect efficacy, meaning that they may or may not provide the promised protection, and that outbreaks actually frequently happen among fully vaccinated populations.
2—he makes the common mistake of referring to vaccinations as ‘immunizations’ which, of course, they are not. The actual shot is a vaccination. Immunization may result from vaccination, but immunization can also come from natural infection, and with some things (such as tetanus) actual immunity is not possible (although the vaccination seems to bring some degree of protection).

I find that he is very pro-vaccine BUT even he feels that some vaccines are not appropriate for everyone (or even anyone). The two he mentions (Hep B and Varicella/chickenpox) are both on the ‘required’ list for most schools, and yet he points out that mass administration of those particular vaccinations is pointless and even harmful. (For what it’s worth, those were the first two vaccines that I knew I didn’t want either.)


alisaterry said...

How disappointing. I normally respect his views on health. I would hope that he would have emphasized that some people have allergies to certain vaccine ingredients, like dairy or eggs. And I'm really shocked that ANYONE gets the flu shot, since they have to guess which strains to include in the vaccine. (Sigh) I wonder if he'd feel differently if his daughter was paralyzed by the HPV vax, since that is becoming a very common side effect (Guillain-Barre Syndrome)

Kimberlee said...

Have you read Dr. Sears' new book on vaccines? The vaccine book? I blogged about it a few weeks ago. It seems they may have similar opinions on vaccines. Very interesting.

Thanks for sharing.

Mae said...

My opinion on vaccines is ambiguous (and probably ambivalent), but I do have a non-commital comment on potential ingeredient allergins (can I be any more passive?!) Just because a vaccine contains allergins known to affect some people doesn't mean they are universally bad. I'm not allergic to egg, so I have no issues with being injected with such items. I am, however, allergic to Codeine and will suffer through 5 months of a hacking cough (this has happened) rather than taking the prescribed Codeine. (I know, vaccine to antitussive, apples to oranges, but bear with me...)

My brother-in-law's son is allergic to wheat and dairy (among several other things), so obviously I would support his opinion to avoid vaccines with aforementioned ingredients. However, my sister's children are not allergic to these things, so I see no harm (in strict reference to the suspension medium) in her children being vaccinated with these items.

I think we should be careful in villifying certain ingredients just because a smaller portion of the population is allergic to them. Do you feed your children chicken or eggs without compunction?

On the other hand, I heartily agree that a chicken-pox vaccine is ridiculous. If you poll people at least 20 years of age and up, most of them probably got chicken pox and of that percentage, most of them probably don't even remember the incident. But because my dad, isolated farmerboy that he was, never got chicken pox, as a grown man he has to check into a hotel every time the kids or grandkids get it! That seems ridiculous.

Ok, sorry to be the voice of subversion, but just wanted to share an optional view (J knows I totally respect her opinions but hold to my hickish but moderately educated view points. Oh, and J, feel free to delete my comment if you feel I would offend anyone, I don't want to do that!)

brightonwoman said...

In response to Mae:
I'm not anti-vax either. I think they have their place...I just think it's a terribly irresponsible parent who doesn't research the risks (because there ARE risks) before making a decision one way or the other about them. I have friends (like alisaterry) who are staunchly anti-vax, and I respect that...but I'm not there myself.

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