Recently, I was talking to Pediatrician Dr. Debbie Gant, a very good friend and a person who I respect in this community. Since we share we share the same concerns about parents choosing not to vaccine their kids, I decided to speak up. While I am not a clinician, I spent a good deal of my career developing vaccines; specifically, the pneumonia vaccine, in a huge study for the VA Administration here in Houston, as well as the pediatric Hib (Hemophilous influnzeae type b) vaccine.
Specifically, Dr. Gant and I are troubled that parents think that they know better than the experts regarding what is best for their children. I would like offer, with all due respect to them, my opinion on this. Make no mistake, Dr. Gant and I both are grateful to modern medicine, antibiotics (that taste good so kids will swallow them up!) and vaccines. Sure, they hurt our little ones, and okay, they need a band-aid after they get an immunization. But I, for one, (the father of four kids, by the way) am very grateful!
Certainly we both believe that you should have some choice about how you raise your children. That is, we don’t think Texas should go to lengths that California, for example, has gone to. In my opinion, however, there some things that you should consider before deciding what to do:
- It is a myth that mercury (themerosol), added to a vaccine as a preservative (i.e. to prevent bacterial and fungal growth, which would be bad, of course), causes autism. Here is a website that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established to answer questions about this ingredient.The scientific paper published was showed to be a fraud. In fact, the physician who published it was barred from the practice of medicine in England;
- The widespread availability of antibiotics and vaccines has all but defeated serious infectious diseases of childhood, in the developed world, at least. In fact, stimulation of immunity among a large of population so as to prevent person to person spent is called “herd immunity.” No longer do we experience unacceptable mortality numbers of children to measles, diphtheria, rubella, or a host of other nasty vaccine-preventable diseases. Of course, better nutrition and clean water matter helped a great deal, but within just the past 50 years (certainly within the lifespan of many individuals still alive today), antimicrobial usage has become common and vaccination of children is nearly universal. Herd immunity is very important to those kids with weakened immune systems (i.e. cancer, HIV). Do want we really want to say to these children, “Sorry for your lack of immunity?”
- Is it true that vaccines cause horrible side effects on previous healthy kids? That’s why the FDA supervises large scale clinical trials to see if the vaccines are safe. This is the same as for other drugs. In my opinion, parents have to place their trust in the FDA; that they have the best interest of your child and indeed, that the vaccine will prevent your child from those dreaded diseases. Is it possible that these pharmaceutical corporations will sweep adverse efforts of their vaccines under the table? Again, I suppose so, but it would not be in their best interest to produce vaccines that were faulty or doesn’t work as advertised.
A world free from serious infections of childhood is a wonderful utopian vision; the reality, however, is that any declaration of victory over them is almost certainly premature. I say this since somewhere along the way to being eradicated from the planet, the microbes rebelled. They started becoming resistant to the miracle antibiotics discovered not so very long ago. How did this happen, and what can be done? First, some information and then, some bad and good news.
Microbes, or germs if you prefer, are actually a very heterogeneous group of living organisms, really sharing little more than small size. Viruses are generally the most common causes of infection, and while such infections may lead to considerable misery, they are often self-limited (although not always, as in the case of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus-HIV). They are usually extremely small; so tiny, in fact, that most cannot be seen using a light microscope and are parasites that carry miniscule amounts of genetic information. Viruses are very different from bacteria, the other major culprit in infectious disease processes. Bacteria are much larger, and can be visualized using most microscopes. The great majority of antibiotic compounds have been developed for use against bacteria (although a small number of antiviral drugs are now available).
Resistance to antibiotics by microbes, mostly bacteria (but also by HIV against antiviral drugs), has resulted simply because bacteria follow the dictates of nature. That is, the appearance of large concentrations of antibiotics in the environment has presented what biologists call “selection pressure.” The microbes either adapt or die.
Overwhelmingly, they die. A few survive, not because they choose to, but simply due to the randomness of mutations (changes) in their genetic information. These mutant forms proliferate and are no longer vulnerable to the drug. This is not the only mechanism of development of resistance, but it serves to illustrate the resilience of bacteria.
Where have the antibiotics come from and why has there been such an increase in resistance over the past decade? The blame is ours. Antibiotic usage has climbed steadily for two decades. Very often antibiotics are prescribed for what are in reality viral infections, against which antibiotics are not effective. The bad news is that superbugs are beginning to show up that defy treatment with almost every available antibiotic. We may see a time when we are again no better off than the pre-antibiotic era with regard to certain types of bacteria. The good news is that when antibiotics are used with greater restraint, there is apparently a return to lower levels of resistance.
So, I’m thankful for liquid antibiotics that taste like bubblegum because it made convincing our 12 year-old to take her medicine when she was small almost as easy as giving candy to a baby; that our nine year-old set up a howl that filled the doctor’s office one day over an inoculation because it means vaccination is a part of his young life that my wife and I take for granted; that our five year-old underwent surgery because it meant his inflamed ear canals could properly drain a chronic infection; and, that our two year-old had to wear band-aids on both of his chubby little thighs for a day following a round of vaccinations because it means he won’t be one of the thousands of kids who used to fall victim to acquired mental retardation resulting from complications of bacterial meningitis.