The Vaccination DilemmaRobert Helmer, D.TCM September 1, 2005
A Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective on the “Immunization” Controversy
Throughout the early history of humans, great plagues have lead to the deaths of millions of people. During this time in history, healers noticed a pattern with some diseases – once a person had become ill with a particular disease, they could not be subsequently infected by the same disease later on in life. One of the first written records of this type of acquired immunity came during the 5th century B.C. from the Greek author Thucydides. Thucydides noted that during the great plague of Athens the people who survived the disease were not infected with that particular illness again.
In actuality, doctors of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) documented these epidemic pox diseases much earlier in history and vaccinations were actually first developed in China in the 10th century. This form of vaccination, referred to as variolation, was first utilized to combat smallpox. The same form of variolation was not used in the West until eight centuries later in Europe.
In modern society, many parents assume that having their child immunized is unquestionably the correct thing to do. But are vaccinations themselves more dangerous than the disease? There is a growing body of evidence showing valid risks associated with what society now considers routine vaccinations.
(Ed. note: See Vaccination Risk Awareness Network website at www.vran.org)
Furthermore, there are real questions about how truly effective these vaccines are in providing immunity against disease. For these reasons, some parents are deciding not to immunize their children.
With the recent outbreak of rubella in southern Ontario, parents who previously decided not to immunize their children are now wondering if they made the right decision. Rubella or German measles is considered a mild viral illness in children.
The rubella outbreak was first reported on April 21, 2005, and a total of 253 cases of rubella have been confirmed in Ontario (to date), with 232 of these appearing in Oxford County. The majority of cases (90%) occurred in unimmunized children aged 19 or younger. Most of these individuals have presented with the most common and mild symptoms of rubella which are a runny nose, red eyes, rash, fever, headache and/or joint pain. However, many of these confirmed cases did not experience any symptoms, but have been diagnosed based on positive blood tests and having been exposed to someone with rubella.
The rubella virus is considered to be highly contagious and spread through coughing and sneezing. The virus poses the greatest risk to pregnant women because it can infect a fetus in the early stages of development (first 20 weeks). Miscarriages are said to be common and babies born with congenital rubella syndrome may be deaf, blind, and suffer from cognitive disabilities or heart damage. These are very real concerns but only a small percentage of pregnant women will be infected by the virus if exposed to it, and only a small percentage of those women will present with the very serious symptoms.
The government and news media tell us rubella is easy to prevent and that vaccines are safe, effective and free. Most children (95%) in Ontario schools are fully vaccinated by the age of seven.
The “choice” of whether to vaccinate or not is decided by the child’s parents. To my knowledge, some parents in Ontario have been refused to have their children accepted as patients by family doctors and pediatricians because they chose to not have their child immunized. But parents who have educated themselves beyond the popular media and the doctors’ offices have decided there is more risk to immunizations than the modern medical community wants us to believe.
The side effects of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine include; swollen neck glands (1 in 7 patients), joint aching and swelling (1 in 100 patients), and rash and slight fever (1 out of every 7 to 20 patients). Furthermore, anaphylactic shock, though rare, does sometimes occur and encephalitis occurs in one out of 2,500,000 people who have received this vaccine. In recent years, the rubella vaccine has been related to the initial onset of autism. Some parents have reported the onset of autism after having the MMR vaccine. More commonly I see in clinic practice (specifically of young children and babies) an aggravation or initiation of eczema related to immunization.
CHINESE MEDICINE FOR MEASLES
Immunizations have been used by TCM doctors for more than one thousand years and are a historical part of Chinese medicine. However, I do not recommend children receive the MMR vaccination. I only would suggest considering this immunization if an individual was living in close proximity to an outbreak or was traveling somewhere in the world where there was a high incidence of rubella. TCM treats rubella very effectively and has been documenting effective treatments for at least one thousand years. According to modern pharmacological testing, Chinese herbal medicinals are proven to have very strong anti-viral properties.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, a childhood bout of diseases such as measles, mumps or chicken pox is not necessarily considered a bad thing. In TCM, these diseases are believed to be associated with fetal toxins, which are passed on to the baby at conception or developed in the womb.
These toxins can be caused by the lifestyle and diet of the mother. According to TCM theory, the toxins lay dormant within a child until they are provoked by some stimulating external pathogen.
These toxins are then expressed to the surface of the body where they are expelled and manifest as a rash or blisters. In TCM, this full expression of a rash is important and there are specific herbs within Chinese herbal medicine that are effective in ensuring that the rash is fully expressed. If these rashes or blisters are fully expressed and cleared, and the body heals correctly, the child will no longer have these fetal toxins within his/her system. This is supported by medical literature in the West suggesting that children who have had measles are overall healthier than those who have not. This ridding the body of fetal toxins is the TCM explanation for why a person cannot usually contract these diseases more than once in a lifetime.
Within TCM pediatrics, the idea of fetal toxins is a very important concept. TCM practitioners believe many infantile diseases including eczema are caused by fetal toxins, which are passed from the mother while the child is still in the womb. In TCM, after the child is born, they are given herbal medicine to clear fetal toxins from their bodies. Today, three provinces in China routinely prescribe a medicinal herbal formula to all babies based on the fetal toxin theory.
Although the evidence is not conclusive, there is a growing concern among parents visiting my office about the possible long- and short-term side effects of childhood immunizations. Modern western medicine is an experimental medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine is an empirical medicine.
When using experimental medicine, there is no way of knowing whether there are long-term side-effects for such treatments. In comparison to TCM, immunizations in the western world are comparatively new and we will not become aware of the long-term ramifications for several generations.
My advice to parents is to educate themselves by following seven simple rules:
1. Gather information of the pros and cons for each type of immunization.
2. Parents should take their own feelings into account when weighing the risk of contracting each disease versus the efficacy of each immunization.
3. Parents should seek out medical providers who are sympathetic to their needs and wishes.
4. Wait as long as possible before beginning immunizations.
5. Ask your doctor to administer one vaccine at a time and not multiple vaccinations all at once. We do not contract more than one disease at a time, so it makes sense to receive only one vaccine at a time.
6. Most importantly, parents need to recognize that they must live with the consequences of their decisions no matter what the outcome. This means asking yourself if you are prepared to nurse your child through a disease such as measles or whooping cough, or you would feel if your child was one of the few unlucky ones to contract the serious, even fatal, side effects of a vaccine.
7. Make peace with the fact that this is one of the many difficult decisions of parenthood and there are risks no matter what path you choose to follow. The goal is to minimize the risks as much as possible and ultimately, to be comfortable with the decision that you make.
Robert Helmer graduated from the Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1998 and several years later became the first person to specialize in the treatment of children in Ontario, using TCM. Robert is a well-respected teacher, author, and practitioner of Chinese Medicine. His post-graduate studies and work in pediatrics led him to work in China (on four occasions) as well as in England, Germany, U.S., and Canada. For more information, please contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org