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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Discussing Childhood Vaccines on Fox News

Last weekend I discussed the risks and benefits of childhood immunizations with Dr. Mark Seigel and host Carol Alt in a segment called "To vaccinate or not to vaccinate" on the new Fox News show A Healthy You. Amidst the excitement, I misquoted an important statistic. I meant to say:

In the United States we give kids 70 doses of 16 different vaccines during childhood and babies receive 26 doses during their first year of life.

Why is this statistic so important?
  • Because we give kids more vaccines than any other country in the world
  • Because we have the highest rate of infant mortality among 34 industrialized nations
  • And because research studies confirm that increasing doses of vaccines are associated with increasing rates of infant mortality (Miller 2011)

Countries with the lowest rates of infant mortality are also among those who give their kids the fewest immunizations, notably Sweden, Japan, and Iceland, where kids get only 12 shots total.

Instead of vaccinating more, we should be vaccinating more selectively. We should start with shots against the most dangerous diseases for babies, like Haemophilus influenzae type B, pertussis, and pneumococcal infections. Whenever possible we should delay vaccines that have a higher risk of adverse effects when given before the age of two, like hepatitis A, and those that are ineffective in babies, like injected live-virus vaccines. We should also consider delaying vaccines against illnesses that are rare in the United States, or rare in babies, or usually mild in babies, until infants' immune systems are more mature. In many cases, delaying vaccines also reduces the total number of doses required to achieve immunity.

We also need to practice harm reduction. Here are my top strategies to reduce the risks associated with childhood immunizations: 

#1  Weigh the risks and benefits of each vaccine on a case-by-case basis. 

#2  Avoid unnecessary immunizations by checking titers before giving MMR, varicella, and hepatitis A vaccines.

#3  Some vaccines are made by more than one manufacturer, so whenever possible, choose shots with the fewest additives. Ingredients of concern include mercury (in the form of thimerosal), aluminum, monosodium glutamate (MSG), antibiotics, and tissues from animals and humans. Fortunately, all childhood immunizations are available in mercury-free forms.

#4  Give vaccines in single doses rather than multiple doses whenever possible and never give more than one aluminum-containing shot at a time.

#5  Do not give live-virus vaccines to babies less than one year old. When they are administered, live-virus vaccines should be spaced at least 3 months apart with the exception of the MMR and varicella vaccines, which should be spaced at least 6 months apart.

#6  Before and after immunization, consider giving supplements to support a healthy immune response. Probiotics have been shown to increase the effectiveness of vaccines while reducing the risk of adverse events (Youngster 2011). Probiotics also minimize the chance of allergic reactions and make our bodies more resistant to disease.

#7  Keep kids healthy with a whole foods diet, daily exercise, outdoor play, and plenty of sleep. 

#8  Never vaccinate kids (or adults) with the following:
  • Previous serious reaction to a vaccine 
  • Signs of illness or infection during the past week
  • Autoimmune disease 
  • Developmental or neurological disorders
  • History of surgery, transplant, transfusion, or cancer treatment within the previous 3 months
  • Medications and treatments that suppress natural immunity like antibiotics, steroids, chemotherapy, and radiation

It's time to recognize that the current standards of care aren't working well enough and if we want to protect babies better, immunization schedules have to change.

Alternative vaccine schedules can minimize the risk of adverse events and increase compliance while keeping cases of dangerous diseases extremely rare. Offering options other than the current one-size-fits-all approach can actually increase immunization rates, especially among families who would otherwise opt out of vaccines altogether.

Talk to your doctor about the best immunization schedule for your child. If he or she isn't open to alternatives, find a "vaccine friendly" doctor on Dr. Sears' list.


Miller NZ and Goldman GS. 2011. Infant mortality rates regressed against number of vaccine doses routinely given: is there a biochemical or synergistic toxicity? Human and Experimental Toxicology 30(9):1420-8.

Youngster I, Kozer E, Lazarovitch Z, et. al. 2011. Probiotics and the immunological response to infant vaccinations: a prospective, placebo controlled pilot study. Archives of Disease in Childhood 96(4):345-9. 

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