The vaccination “conspiracy”

 

by Mike Kroll

The Zephyr, Galesburg

 

It is difficult to drive around the Galesburg area and not see those large yellow and red yard signs warning against vaccinations or the letters to local newspapers discouraging parents from having their children vaccinated as required prior to entering schools. The opponents to vaccinations say that rather than protecting ourselves and our children from infectious diseases these vaccines are really dangerous chemical cocktails poisoning the recipients and actually causing untold cases of autism, asthma, hyperactivity, diabetes and even multiple sclerosis. These vaccination opponents go so far as to say that the medical value of vaccines is a myth and assert that there is no such thing as a safe vaccine.

Not surprisingly this is a viewpoint not shared by the bulk of the medical and health communities. Knox County Health Department Administrator Greg Chance said, “The demonstrated benefits of the mandated vaccinations far outweigh the real but statistically rare potential risks of adverse reaction and the failure to promote community immunization will only expose us to the potential reemergence of deadly communicable diseases of the past.” Other experts in the community health point to ubiquitous vaccination and the resultant near elimination of many formerly devastating infectious diseases as among drinking water standards and improved sanitation as hallmarks of success in community health.

Locally Dr. Sam TerBeek, a Galesburg chiropractor and practitioner of holistic medicine, is at the forefront in opposing vaccinations. “I have studied the actual ingredients that are in today's vaccines and they are filled with toxic substances such as aluminum, formaldehyde and mercury as well as human and animal cells. It just doesn't make sense to knowingly inject these toxic ingredients into the bodies of our children and not expect to create health problems. The human body is an amazing mechanism that can learn to defend itself from disease and infection but the very notion that by purposefully exposing young children to the very diseases we fear most will assist in this natural process makes no more sense than dropping an infant on his head so his young body and develop a tolerance for trauma.”

Vaccinations are hardly cutting-edge medicine today. They have been around since the end of the 18th century after Edward Jenner developed the very first vaccine for smallpox in 1796. Prior to the development of the smallpox vaccine the disease had killed an estimated 60 million people in 18th century Europe alone, including 80 percent of the children under five years old infected with the disease. Reports suggest that as many as one-third of those who survived a smallpox infection lost their sight as a consequence. Medical historians estimate that smallpox was responsible for between 300-500 million deaths worldwide prior to the disease being declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1979. Massive vaccination programs across the world have been credited with this accomplishment and today smallpox is considered as the only human infectious disease to have been eradicated in nature by modern medicine.

The practice of vaccination against smallpox was very quickly adopted around the world, such was the fear of this deadly disease, and the success of such programs prompted medical researchers to seek out vaccines for other infectious diseases. Vaccination programs have faced resistance since the beginning with many sharing a variation of TerBeek's view that purposefully exposing a healthy person to a disease agent is lunacy. The concept behind vaccinations has always been that the body's natural autoimmune system reaction to infection would help develop immunity to specific diseases following controlled minor exposure, a biological process known as immune sensitization.

Following the success of the smallpox vaccine it has become common practice in many countries to mandate a series of vaccinations targeting a range of serious infectious diseases including diphtheria, hepatitis, measles, mumps pertussis, polio, rubella, tetanus and tuberculosis. Today most of these once rampant diseases are under control across the developed world and a second major disease, polio, has been declared eradicated by the WHO with much of the credit being given to near universal vaccination. While thousands of people continue to be afflicted by many of these diseases worldwide their reported modern incidence in the developed world has dropped precipitously. The generally accepted opinion within the medical and health community worldwide is that vaccination programs have been one of the major successes in medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states on their website: “Vaccine-preventable disease levels are at or near record lows. However, we cannot take high immunization coverage levels for granted. To continue to protect America's children and adults, we must obtain maximum immunization coverage in all populations, establish effective partnerships, conduct reliable scientific research, implement immunization systems, and ensure vaccine safety. ...Vaccines work best when most members of a community are vaccinated - the more people who are vaccinated, the lower the possible risk of anyone's exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases. Because vaccines must be safe for use by as many people as possible, vaccines are developed in accordance with the highest standards of safety. Years of testing are required by law before a vaccine is licensed and distributed. Once in use, vaccines are continually monitored for safety and efficacy. As a result, the United States currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history.”

TerBeek disputes such statements from the institutionalized medical community and asserts that this is all part of a large conspiracy to continue foisting unsafe vaccinations onto an ignorant population. He even showed me a book entitled Murder by Injection: The story of the Medical Conspiracy Against America by Eustace Mullins.

“At least fifty percent of all pediatricians do not vaccinate their own children. They know and understand the risks and aren't willing to take those risks with their own kids but neither are they willing to speak out against the medical community at large. Many nurses are also mothers and they come to see me with horror stories they have personally seen about the tragic effects of vaccinations on children and the elderly. Only a few years ago when a shortage of the flu vaccine meant that many elderly residents in area nursing homes could not be vaccinated many nurses came to me and said how relived they were to not have to expose their patients to the toxic vaccines and how much better their health was as a consequence of not being vaccinated. Of course things were corrected the following year and once again there was wholesale vaccination of the elderly and these nurses nurses had to steal themselves to the resultant health complications in their patients.”

I spoke to a Galesburg pediatrician who is also a member of the Knox County Board of Health. Dr. F. J. Peppers practices as part of the Cottage Medical Group and sees thousands of children annually. He and his wife are also parents themselves. “The available medical and scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in support of the risk-benefits of vaccinating our children while most of those who allege otherwise base their opinion on anecdotal evidence or isolated studies that cannot be substantiated. The plain truth is that vaccinations have worked very well and it is at least in part this success that fosters some of the resistance. Thanks to vaccinations the observed cases of most of these diseases has dropped to the point that many don't appreciate just how serious they once were. When it appears to a parent that the risk of their child contracting one of these diseases has disappeared it is not hard to see why they might question the utility or value of getting the prescribed immunizations but my role to to lay out the facts and explain just how important vaccination continue to be. I believe in the value of immunization and I enthusiastically encourage every parent to get their child vaccinated; but more so than that I made sure that my children received all of their vaccinations too!”

Much of the current controversy is centered on two relatively recent events. First was an article published in the British medical journal the Lancet in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Dr. Wakefield's paper focused on anecdotal evidence from 12 patients suffering from a bowel disease that Wakefield attributed to their having received a dose of the Measle, Mumps and Rubella vaccine. Some of these children subsequently were diagnosed with Autism and Wakefield, et. al. Postulated that the Autism could have been the result of the bowel disease that in turn might have been caused by the vaccination. Therefore, some have concluded that the MMR vaccination, or more precisely a component within it, may cause Autism. The tenuous scientific value of Wakefield's study coupled with the abject failure of followup studies to confirm any of Wakefield's assertions did nothing to quell the growing chorus in opposition to the vaccination.

The second event was a story broadcast on the television show 60 Minutes in November 2000 that covered Wakefield's alleged link between the MMR vaccination and Autism. Despite occurring more than two years after publication of Wakefield's paper and after subsequent medical studies published in prestigious American medical journals in 1999 and early 2000 debunked Wakefield's assertions the impact of the 60 Minutes story to bolster the efforts of vaccination opponents was swift and sure. The alleged culprit was a preservative called Thimerosal that contained small amounts of ethyl mercury and which had been used to avoid contamination of various vaccines since the Depression. Since 1999 this ingredient is no longer used in any modern American vaccines even though it was never demonstrated to have any link whatsoever to Autism.

Two other key facts in this controversy must also be noted: (a) nearly every vaccination opponent is the parent or close relative or a child with Autism and (b) the medical professionals most responsible for fighting against vaccination are chiropractors such as TerBeek. There can be no doubt that it is a tragedy for a family to have their child diagnosed with a debilitating disease for which there is no known cure and extremely limited treatment options. The level of frustration and perhaps even guilt can only be exacerbated by medicine's inability to definitively identify any cause for this affliction beyond genetics. Therefore it is easy to see why one might latch onto any life event that may have occurred in temporal proximity to your child's diagnosis, such as an immunization.

But physicians and scientists cannot allow themselves to be fooled into implying a causal relation solely due to a correlation of events in time. As any statistician or philosopher of science will tell you, correlation does not imply causation. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence is of minimal scientific value in and of itself other than to suggest areas or relationships that might bear fruit is studied under proper scientific methods and controls. Many scientific studies have been conducted looking at Autism and various vaccines independently as well as research into any direct relationship between Autism and the MMR vaccine without developing any convincing evidence that such a relationship exists.

The rates of Autism do appear to be increasing in the United States. A study reported by the U.S. Department of Education showed an huge increase in the number of children labeled Autistic between 1991 and 1997, well over 500 percent. But it is quite a leap to presume a vaccine that had been relatively unchanged and in regular use for decades prior to this sudden surge in Autism diagnoses was suddenly causing this outbreak. It is far more likely that the official redefinition of the illness within the medical community coupled with greater funding of special education and identification programs, all of which occurred during this time period, may have substantially contributed to this surge in Autistic children.

One of the most common resources cited by TerBeek and others who oppose vaccinations is a website run by a California chiropractor named Tim O'Shea, who has also written a book entitled The Sanctity of Human Blood: Vaccination I$ Not Immunization. At his website, www.thedoctorwithin.com O'Shea promotes a holistic form of alternative medicine based in large part on vitamins, nutrition and the human body's built-in ability to heal itself. “The healthiest people in human history were groups who were geographically isolated from "civilization." These people had no specialists, no HMOs, no prescription drugs, and no immense hospitals. They were never subverted with the idea that the responsibility for their own health lay outside themselves. Except in the cases of traumatic injury, for most of their lives they looked to the body's inner wisdom, and trusted only that. And it worked - they had beautiful teeth, strong bones, and very little degenerative disease.”

This is much the same approach as apparently taken by TerBeek with his many patients who often seek him out as their last resort when they feel traditional medicine has let them down. The walls of TerBeek's waiting room are plastered with anti-vaccination materials including case studies of alleged victims of vaccinations. TerBeek himself speaks with an uncommon intensity and zeal as he essentially preaches against not only vaccinations but many other “errors” of modern medicine as well as the poor lifestyle choices made by most Americans that lead to ill-health. In reading the material provided by TerBeek as well as that on O'Shea's website it often seems as if their approach to treating their patients has more in common with faith healers than physicians and I would even guess that they would embrace such an observation.

The National Network for Immunization Information is a website devoted to promoting vaccinations (www.immunizationinfo.org). The Immunization Issues page of this website neatly summarizes the position of the traditional medical field. “Decades ago, when thousands of children and adults in the United States contracted smallpox, diphtheria, poliomyelitis or measles each year, vaccine safety concerns were not very common. People were more afraid of the diseases themselves than of possible side effects of the vaccines.

Today the situation is different; because of vaccines most parents have not encountered these once-dreaded diseases. ...Most parents today have not seen a child paralyzed by polio, or choking to death from diphtheria, or brain damaged by measles. Fear of vaccine-preventable diseases has diminished while concerns about vaccine safety have increased—even though a number of the vaccines are even safer than decades ago as a result of medical research. A lack of information or erroneous information about vaccine safety and effectiveness can create confusion among parents who are considering immunizations for their children; this can have tragic consequences.”

 

09/27/07