When I was a child, chickenpox was universally understood to be a generally benign disease in otherwise healthy children. Every spring, chickenpox would wash through the younger grades at my elementary school, and initiate a new group of kids. Most of us remember the disease for its horrendous itching and the occasional scar, but I don't remember any of us fearing it. I grew up accepting Chickenpox as a fact of life, and a normal passage of childhood -- like skinning your knees.
According to the Merck Manual, Chickenpox is a highly contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. There is a 10 to 21 day incubation period. In children over the age of 10 the very first symptoms are headache, fever and malaise. Younger children usually DON'T have these symptoms. But in adults, the symptoms are generally worse. That is why it is important to contract this disease before the age of 10, since infection with the varicella-zoster virus is believed to create a lifetime immunity to chickenpox. Nursing babies often aren't susceptible to chickenpox -- if their mother had the illness as a child, she will pass antibodies, through the placenta in pregnancy and additional ones via her milk which confer a high degree immunity. About 24-36 hours after the first symptoms begin, the characteristic rash appears. The Merck manual then states, "Children usually recover from chickenpox without problems. However, the infection may be severe or even fatal in adults and especially in people with an impaired immune system."
My college textbook, Microbiology, by Davis, Dulbecco et al, describes the varicella-zoster virus as being part of a large family of viruses, known as the "Herpesviruses." This family includes the well-known herpes simplex viruses which cause fever blisters, Epstein-Barr virus (causes mononucleosis) and cytomegalovirus. One of the main characteristics of this family of viruses is their ability after primary infection to insert their viral DNA into a person's DNA and remain there in a latent form indefinitely. In the case of chickenpox, this is thought to explain how a person who had chickenpox as a child, can then develop shingles as an adult, in response to certain environmental stresses which may cause the virus DNA to un-insert itself from the host DNA and start replicating itself.
Sometime around 1995 a vaccine for chickenpox became available. It is a live-virus vaccine. Typically live-virus vaccines are made by growing the wild -type virus in ways that alter its ability to cause the disease. In essence it is similar to the natural virus, and capable of reproducing once inside the body, but is supposed to be less likely to actually cause the disease itself. However just because the symptoms are reduced does not necessarily mean that it is not causing harm inside the body. There are many examples of infections that can silently damage organs, and not be discovered until many years later.
The normal route of entry of chickenpox into a child's body is through the mouth and nose-- usually inhaling particles that an infected person has coughed. This means that the virus will come in contact with the mucous membranes and trigger the beginnings of an immune response. After this initial "alert" of the immune system, the virus travels to the lymphatic system, where additional body defenses are mustered. Finally, after the body has had adequate time to gear up, the virus gains access to the blood stream and major organs. But by this time, the immune system is mounting a full response (thanks to its being alerted early by the mucous membranes and lymphatic system) and will usually protect the major organs from damage from this virus.
Now compare this scenario to what happens when one's first exposure to the virus is from a vaccine: The mucous membranes are bypassed. The lymphatic system is bypassed. The live virus gains immediate access to the bloodstream and major organs -- a situation that millions of years of evolutionary wisdom seems to have tried to avoid!
No one really knows what the long term ramifications of exposure to this virus in this unorthodox way are. Since it is so new, there is no long term data available. In fact there is no data to even suggest that after ten years, immunity from this vaccine is sufficient to prevent the disease -- possibly leaving people vulnerable to getting chickenpox as adults when the risks of this illness are much greater!
There is no evidence that when little girls who have received the chickenpox vaccine grow up and become mothers, they will be able to pass sufficient antibodies on to their babies to protect them from chickenpox in infancy -- which can also be dangerous in the very young. And like all vaccines currently on the market, there is no requirement that manufacturers study recipients of vaccines to identify possible long-term ill-effects from these biological agents. In fact to my knowledge, no vaccine manufacturer ever records data on the health of vaccinee's longer then 90 days -- and even following them that long is rare! But that does make it easy for them to dismiss epidemiological data that seems to suggest vaccines may play a role in the increase in a variety of autoimmune diseases, asthma and brain disorders.
What we do know as a result of vaccination for measles, another previously common childhood infection--also thought to be much less serious if contracted between the ages of 3-9, is that for many, the vaccine does not confer lifelong immunity, it merely POSTPONES one's susceptibility. Prior to widespread measles vaccination, epidemics in college-aged people were unheard of -- today (or a least prior to requiring re-immunization of college freshman) college students have become more common victims, and face a greater potential for complications then children.
When I first heard press reports about the new chickenpox vaccine, I remember thinking to myself, "That's crazy -- how in the world will they sell a new vaccine with unknown long term dangers to the public -- nobody's scared of chickenpox." But very soon my question was answered. While reading a popular parenting magazine one day, I noticed a slick multi-page advertising insert that compared the cost of this vaccine to lost wages of the working parent who must miss a week of work to care for their sick child. It was a shock to see the health of our children so shamelessly traded for the materialism of our culture.
At that point, having studied a bit more about the history of vaccination, and the evolution of public perception about specific illnesses once a vaccine is introduced, I remember commenting to a friend, "Just wait -- in twenty or thirty years when childhood cases of chickenpox become rare due to the use of this vaccine -- everyone will be talking about what a DANGEROUS disease chickenpox was!" As it turns out, I was wrong -- it didn't take twenty or thirty years, it happened almost as soon as the vaccine was released. Pharmaceutical company spun articles and news reports began appearing that emphasized that chickenpox is not a benign disease. First they said that there were about ten deaths a year due chickenpox. A year later I saw an article that claimed there were a hundred deaths a year due to chickenpox. Next came a heart-rending article, splashed all-over the newspapers complete with color pictures and all of some poor child who had a "normal" case of chickenpox and then developed some serious heart complication. The child's doctor was quoted as saying, "Chickenpox is NOT harmless!"
I'm sure sales of the vaccine increased after that story came out -- funny how in the previous fifty years (prior to introduction of the vaccine) the media never had a story like that to run!
What the media never seem to mention in all these alarmist articles is that most of the children who die from chickenpox were already immunocompromised -- many are suffering from cancer or leukemia. Also nobody even thinks to question what other lifestyle choices these families are making that may place their child at greater risk -- Is the child exposed to cigarette smoke? Does the child consume a lot of sweets, hydrogenated fats, refined carbohydrates and/or animal protein (in other words the typical American diet) which may be depressing his immune system?
In addition, most people are unfamiliar with the fact that there are numerous accounts by parents whose children developed neurological or immune problems shortly after a vaccination but could not get their doctor to even consider that the vaccine was responsible and couldn't get their doctor to report it as a vaccine adverse event to the government agencies that keep track of such data. No wonder the CDC bean-counters are so quick to claim that the dangers of the natural diseases are a greater risk to children then the dangers of the vaccinations!
Already many states are considering adding chickenpox to the list of immunizations required for entry into school. This is indefensible! Why should any parent be forced into presenting their healthy child for administration of a biological agent with still-to-be-determined long-term risks (but which are most certainly there!) in order to possibly prolong the lives of a very few already sick children (who might be less likely to get chickenpox if there were fewer active cases in the community.)
Furthermore, what will be the risk to these children's babies? The vaccine which takes a series of three shots to provide immunity cannot possibly protect a newborn from the illness, and it would be pretty naive to believe that a mother who had only received the vaccine, but never actually contracted the disease and developed full immunity would actually be able to pass on sufficient immunities to her newborn.
Maybe some parents believe that they can't keep their children from eating a junky diet, and thus they need this and other vaccines to protect them from possibly becoming quite ill, because their immune system--compromised by a poor diet, might not be able to adequately protect their child from serious harm from common diseases. But in a free country, does that mean that families who DO take personal responsibility for their health, and do eat healthy whole-foods plant-based diets low in processed foods and trans-fatty acids MUST forfeit their right to an undamaged immune system simply because the masses, persuaded by drug manufacturers choose to put their faith in science over nature?
Recently, an older relative had an outbreak of shingles. This was the first time this had ever happened to her, and the outbreak occurred near her eye -- which was especially a concern. Her opthamologist commented to her that he had seen an unusually large number of cases of shingles this year. That got me wondering about something. While this relative had just been through a particularly stressful period just prior to this outbreak, which most probably was a factor in HER getting the shingles, but why was the doctor seeing an unusually large number of cases all of a sudden?
I got out my old microbiology textbook and read the following: "Contact with chickenpox is said to provoke attacks of shingles in partially immune individuals." I wonder....now that the use of the chickenpox vaccine is becoming more widespread, could it be provoking cases of shingles in the older people whose own immunity may be waning?
The vaccine IS a live virus. Studies have documented that for a period of time after vaccination with a live virus vaccine, a person will "shed" some of that virus from their body, which may infect others. Most often, when a child comes down with chickenpox, that child stays home and is not out exposing the community for most of the time that they are infectious, but after a vaccination? Who keeps their children at home and away from older people for a couple of weeks while they may be shedding virus after being vaccinated? How is shingles provoked from shed vaccine different then shingles provoked from the wild chickenpox virus? We don't know. What about children who miss getting chickenpox in childhood because they were vaccinated...what happens when their immunity starts to wane..(which it always does with vaccines -- that's why you have to keep getting booster shots!) .will they be even more susceptible to provocation shingles?
Finally one last point I'd like to make. Since varicella-zoster is a herpesvirus which as I said earlier are known for their ability to hide in the DNA of our cells and then perhaps in response to specific environmental events eject themselves from our DNA (and sometimes this is not done with precision -- in fact scientific journals have indisputably proved that occasionally some of our own cells DNA can still be attached -- this is called "translocation of genes" in the journals) and begin reproducing our DNA inside new virus particles....well what are the implications of using an altered form of chickenpox virus (the vaccine) using an evolutionary brand new route of primary exposure (via the bloodstream) and then repeating this "experiment" millions of times (as we are in the process of doing) in widely disseminated geographical areas?
I fear that we are facilitating and speeding up the evolution of a multitude of simple life forms -- primarily viruses. Unfortunately more complex life forms (such as humans) cannot possibly even come close to evolving in a complementary way in order to survive assault by so many novel infectious agents.
Until someone can come up with data to adequately dispel all of my concerns I'd rather bet my family's health, and the health of our species on the wisdom of millions of years of evolutionary history rather then humankind's usually naive and misguided manipulations of nature. Unfortunately, the use of live vaccines by some, creates risk for us all -- I call it exposure to second-hand vaccination -- but at least second-hand vaccination doesn't bypass the normal engagement of our immune system.
(Note: if you liked this article, you might also want to read my thoughts about Pertussis -- below)
An Alternative View of Whopping Cough
(originally writen by JoAnn around 2002)
Recently, there has been a change in the official "conventional" view of the whooping cough vaccine. Although many in the natural health community have for years been saying that this particular vaccine is largely ineffective, our own Center For Disease control manned by "experts" with close ties to the major vaccine manufacturers, have until just recently, disregarded the views of the "anti-vaccine camp" (Despite the fact that this view is backed up by studies published in the medical journals. eg "The 1993 Epidemic of Pertussis in Cincinnati" --New England Journal of Medicine, July 7, 1994, and Clinical Infectious Disease, Oct, 1995) As well as anecdotal reports from parents right from the very beginning of widespread use of the vaccines.
According to an AP article published in the KC Star on Sunday April 29, 2002 ("Whooping Cough Returns Worldwide") Scientists don't know why the disease is making a comeback, but are considering that perhaps the vaccine's protection wears off after a few years or else the disease is evolving strains that are resistant to the vaccine. It is sad that these people (the scientists and experts) who are setting health policies for the masses are failing to use the facts here to climb out of their box and perhaps shift their fundamental paradigm to one that could really improve people's health.
The current recommendation for vaccination against Pertussis (Whooping Cough) calls for five different doses of this vaccine administered at 2,4,6, 18 months and again at five years. How did they come to recommend FIVE doses? They used to recommend four -- claiming that four offered immunity. Eventually evidence to the contrary forced them to add an additional shot. Four or course came about when faced with the fact that three was not sufficient....
I can only assume that when one's entire education, social connections, and economic security are all linked with a particular belief (that is the orthodox view endorsed by modern medicine -- that germs alone cause disease and invasive and/or toxic technologies offer the only hope) well then it becomes very difficult for individuals to think outside of the paradigm to which they have become accustomed.
So every time these experts are faced with new facts or evidence that COULD provide an opportunity to question if the theory upon which they are staking everything might be flawed, they work extra hard to explain away these anomalies and continue along the same path. So now that they are faced with the fact that five vaccines also does not protect what are some experts proposing? That expectant mothers now get booster shots in the third trimester of pregnancy! That they think might protect their infants -- the one's most at risk of dying from pertussis.
I would consider such a proposal extremely unwise! It is clear from research conducted relating to the development of allergies that exposure to allergens in the third trimester can be a significant time for priming a baby to develop allergies. The biggest concern of course has been that protein fragments not properly digested in the mother's gut, can pass through into her bloodstream and sensitize her unborn child. So just imagine what happens when potentially allergenic substances bypass the gut altogether and have direct access to the mother's bloodstream and thus the placenta! If this doesn't cause noticeable harm to the baby, it would surely increase the likelihood of a reaction when that baby gets its subsequent doses after birth. In light of the fact that the pertussis vaccine has already been linked by some studies with brain damage, learning disorders, seizures and crib death, to even consider injecting it into the body of pregnant women suggests to me, serious incompetence on the part of the "experts"
When I look at the "facts" as presented in the recent article appearing in the KC Star, I find an entirely different explanation for them. First off, I do not believe that the decrease in numbers of cases diagnosed as whooping cough after the introduction of the vaccine are in fact a result of the vaccine. It must be remembered that ALL diseases have their own natural history, that is separate from anything that we humans have done, diseases rates increase and decrease from factors we have yet to clearly identify ....Sunspot cycles? Climatic fluctuations? Natural selection killing off the most susceptible individuals who don't reach adulthood and thus do not pass along their genes?
Since the introduction and widespread adoption of the pertussis vaccine, hygiene and sanitation have improved, emergency medicine has also improved, more antibiotics have become available (which if not over prescribed for minor complaints, but administered at the appropriate time can be lifesaving for infants with pertussis) All of these factors would likely diminish the death rate from pertussis, which unfortunately too often is unfairly attributed almost exclusively to the vaccine.
Still there is yet another factor that figures into the views of those who promote the perutssis vaccine as being responsible for a decline in pertussis. The organism which causes pertussis is notorious for being a very difficult organism to grow in culture -- in other words when a doctor swabs the nose or back of the throat in an individual who appears to have pertussis, it is more likely then not, that this organism will not "grow out" on the culture dish and the doctor will pronounce that the patient does not have pertussis. He then calls the illness something else... Croup? RSV? Hemophillus influenza B? It is only in more recent years that more sophisticated blood testing has shown us this. Combine this with the fact that doctors, due to their very biased education which emphasizes the interests and perspectives of the powerful multinational drug and medical technology corporations (and this doesn't just stop once they graduate -- have you noticed all the drug company logos on "freebies" in your doctor's office? or noticed how quickly the drug rep gets in while you have to wait endlessly for your appointment?) have for the longest time been completely averse to even considering that perhaps the vaccine is less effective then they've been told.
Why, if the theory of vaccination makes so much sense, do children today seem to spend so much more of their time sick and on medication. Why are not the people entrusted with making national recommendations regarding our children's health not questioning what is going on? They love to quote statistics showing decreases in mortality of specific illnesses like measles, smallpox, polio, since the introduction of vaccines, and yet seem strangely unable to see the forest through the trees -- ask any teacher who has been in the classroom over thirty years and they will tell you that yes, more children are chronically sick today then thirty years ago. It is a fact, that asthma and allergies are skyrocketing. Childhood cancer is increasing. Antibiotic use by children has increased dramatically. Autism and learning disorders are also way up. Now obviously there are many factors one could reasonably suggest as underlying causes of decreasing childhood health ....including diets and environmental degradation. But how can any rational person consider for a moment that our focus upon vaccinations has in fact been responsible for an overall improvement in the health of our nations children? The fact is, during this same time, advances in technology and emergency medicine have been phenomenal. Shouldn't we be seeing some general overall indications that vaccinating more and more is correlated with less antibiotic use? Less doctor's visits? Less hospitalizations? Less medical interventions?
There is another paradigm that parents could consider. In all my years of schooling this was never presented to me (I am by training a microbiologist) This paradigm has been advocated by many wise individuals throughout history from Hippocrates, to Hahnaman. It is often called the vitalist tradition and it presupposes a "vital force" as animating the human. It further presupposes that much of what we call illness or symptoms are not in fact the enemy -- but rather are instead the body's attempts to rid itself of an imbalance. When we go about stopping symptoms by suppressing them (for example using cortisone to treat a rash, or a decongestant for stuffed up nose) we may in fact be sabotaging our body's best efforts to get us well and merely pushing the imbalance deeper to be expressed in some other more serious way at a later time. The vitalist tradition also suggests that the "germ theory of disease" has in fact been given way to much emphasis. While I do not dispute the fact that some germs can be very dangerous, we seem to have totally ignored the fact that not all individuals become equally ill from the same exposure, nor does the same individual become ill from multiple exposures to the same germ (for instance one of my children had to be exposed 5 times to chickenpox before she actually came down with the illness). The germ theory has limitations -- it fails to address "the terrain." That is the overall state of health of the individual. Many of the germs that are now being credited as the cause for growing infections in children were previously known to be normal (rarely disease-causing) inhabitants of the human body like Hemophilus Influenza B, (HIB) I believe, that when the immune system is weakened by sugar, bad fats, other vaccines, antibiotic use, steroid use, stress, it increases the likelihood that one of these "harmless" bacteria will appear to multiply unchecked and then be identified as the "cause" of the person's illness. In fact I would see it as merely an opportunist but not as the true cause of the person's illness. We are at any moment exposed to hundreds of different microorganisms. Anytime we experience severe immune system depression we are at risk from some of these.
Vaccine proponents advocate an endless mission to seek out, and eradicate all possibly harmful germs. (Which for most bacteria and viruses is not even possible since they have reservoirs outside of the human body.) And yet they all seem to have forgotten the Hippocratic oath of "First do no harm." (Which they smugly claim vaccines do not cause any harm -- despite the fact that there are virtually no published studies that show that long-term vaccines are not damaging to the immune system!) Fortunately, this is not our only choice. We can work to live in as healthy of a manner as possible. Educating ourselves about diet, how to minimize our exposure to environmental toxins, and work to turn our extended families into assets that help us feel connected and can thus be health supporting rather then increasing our isolation and possibly adversely affecting our health.
But the most important thing to remember in all of this is that THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES! Life is an uncertain venture. We all know plenty of people who have done all of the "right" things (that is "right" as defined by the prevailing medical wisdom) and they have still fallen victims of the very things that modern medicine assured them it could prevent. Likewise, I know people who have taken personal responsibility for their health and worked hard to eat well, breast feed a long time, didn't vaccinate....and they too have occasionally had sick children. Yet I do believe that most people making wise, health-promoting choices will overall experience much better health then those who merely follow what the medical-industrial complex promotes.
And as a parent consider this....does it matter to you WHAT the illness your child gets is called? Does it matter if the doctors can assure you that your child (properly immunized) was protected from x,y,z, and q.....but now they don't know exactly why your child has developed some other illness which keeps necessitating giving them mildly toxic medicines to treat it...OR does it matter more that your child experiences a level of health good enough that you never feel a need to get them medical help?