Thursday 31 May 2012

Biting the Bullet on Vaccines

*Please note that this is no substitute for medical advice given by a board certified doctor of your particular case. This post is for informational purposes only.

My readings and my husband’s usually don’t mix.  So I was a tad surprised when he emailed me a link to The Economist.  The article talks about the trend away on vaccines and how some states in the US are now below the herd-immunity level, posing a risk to public health.  I have been meaning to write about vaccination for sometime now but honestly, I don’t know where to start.  Embarking on a discourse about it is a daunting task and entirely overwhelming.
It seems that there is a great divide between the conformist – those who religiously follow pediatrician recommended vaccines, and the nonconformist, or perceived ‘rebels’ who home-school their children so they can get away with mandated vaccines.  Both sides make convincing and valid points, which make it all the more difficult for parents like me who wish to make an informed decision.
The skepticism with vaccination has been around for awhile especially in the circles of naturalists to organic-yoga enthusiasts but it received international limelight when Jenny McCarthy guested in Oprah Show a few years back (which I have seen).  She vehemently claimed her once bubbly son suddenly withdrew and eventually developed autism, days after his MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shot.  This claim is supported mainly from a study by Dr. Wakefield which was published in the British medical journal “The Lancet”.  However, this was entirely discredited and Dr. Wakefield censured.  Scientific studies consistently conclude otherwise and the medical community has since rallied against this unfounded link. 
On the other hand, I have read heartbreaking stories from parents whose babies changed dramatically after receiving the shots.  There is still that small percentage of a severe reaction, enough to make a parent think twice.  Furthermore, knowing what goes into these shots can make anyone totally against it.  Take for example vitamin K shot which is given immediately after birth.  It contains castor oil- Phenol (carbolic acid – a poisonous substance derived from coal tar), Benzyl alcohol (preservative), Propylene glycol (better known as antifreeze and a hydraulic in brake fluid), to name a few.  As an adult, I wouldn’t even want any of these inside my body!  
Looking back, I definitely regretted agreeing to vitamin K shot for both Ava and Ally, which was given right after birth. I was too focused on giving natural birth that I missed this one in my birth plan.  Same goes for Hepatitis B shot.  What are the chances that my newborns will get it when they were both exclusively breastfed and I don’t have Hepatitis B and neither anyone in our household.  That could have waited 6 months later or so.  The liver of a newborn does not begin to function until 3 or 4 days after birth. As a result, this little being has very limited to no ability to detoxify the large dose of synthetic vitamin K and all other dangerous ingredients in the injection buffet.
In any case, parents have to make the tough decision whether to forego or go for vaccination.  At the end of the day, if I had to pick my poison, I’d go for the one I can contend with.  As much as I feel guilty for allowing chemical junks inside their little bodies and gets all nervous every after shots, I am equally aware of the diseases that are debilitating and fatal.  It was only half a century ago that babies and children have been maimed or have died from polio, tetanus, diphtheria or measles.  The risk of getting the disease is still higher than a possible adverse effect from vaccines.  
Having said that, it is not a ‘take it or leave it’ approach.  I am very lucky that we have a pediatrician who understands and validates my concerns and is willing to work with me (I have heard stories of parents who have been shunned away after refusing vaccination for their kids).  We have taken steps to allay fears and risks.  
For the most part, I have delayed their shots from recommended timetable.  Although doctors see no difference in doing so and actually leave infants vulnerable to diseases longer, it makes complete common sense to me (as well as the psychological comfort it provides).  The older they get, livers function better and body mass bigger in accepting these foreign and potentially harmful substances.  
Secondly, we try to separate shots as much as possible.  Again, some doctors say combined shots contain weakened viruses at different incubation periods and will not invade the body at the same time.  However, I agree with the rationale that one never knows how the little body reacts to the vaccine.  If it doesn’t take it too well the first round, another wave of virus comes in, overwhelming the body.  Separate shots (taken at least a month apart as recommended by our pediatrician) is just gentler to the body.  It doesn’t need scientific evidence to make sense.
Lastly, we simply avoided vaccines that are truly unnecessary and not mandated to start with.  It was our pediatrician who suggested Ava can forego rotavirus (since he reckon we live in a first world country where food and sanitation are closely monitored) and because I was actively breastfeeding her (chances of severe diarrhea from happening is slim).  Rotavirus has been pulled out from the market before after a number of hospitalization cases for intussusception (one part of intestine slides inside the other).  
Also, we don’t get flu shots.  The flu shot is the only one of the many vaccines given to young children that has more than a trace amount of thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury, which can be poisonous in high concentrations.  While there's a preservative-free version of the flu shot on the market, it's not widely available yet. Research indicates that an inhaled version of the flu shot, FluMist - which doesn't contain thimerosal, is safe for babies and may be more effective than the shot. However, the findings are so new that the US Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet approved FluMist for children under the age of 5.
Currently, I am still deliberating if I’d go for the varicella (chickenpox) shot for Ava.  It is one of those shots that I have requested to be separated - from the usual MMRV.  I have come across journals from American Academy of Pediatrics and even from Center for Disease Control that those who receive MMRV are twice as likely to have febrile seizures—fever and shaking—7 to 10 days after the vaccine than children who receive MMR and a separate varicella vaccine.  Recently, AAP stated that MMRV is generally preferred over MMR and varicella for first dose in children 48 months or older.  Anyway, with regards to varicella, we belong to the generation where it was normal to get it.  In fact, some countries like Germany, holds chickenpox kids party so everyone has them at the same time (albeit criticisms for morality issues).  The good news is, those who got it will be assured they won’t get it again versus vaccinated children who are not 100% out of the woods yet.
I have spent sleepless nights especially prior to every vaccine appointment, learning as much as I could.  I guess what I’m trying to drive at is - it really pays to know more.  As parents, we make decisions on behalf of our children and we owe it to them to make it an informed one.


  1. We skipped a lot of the recommended vaccines for our 3rd and 4th baby. Its just too much. With my eldest we did not have 6 in one vaccines now it all combined. And double if not triple the number of vaccines.

    1. Yes! now it's recommended to give 6-in-1 as young as 3 months and recently government is trying to mandate to give the shots at even a younger age! It's a nightmare for parents! I'm still lucky that separate shots are available here.

  2. Hi, appreciate your help to advise who was your Pediatrician or which clinic offers separate vaccine shots?

    1. Hi Daniel, thank you for visiting my blog. We have a great relationship with our pediatrician - Dr Terence Tan of Kinder Clinic Mt. Alvernia. He patiently listens and addresses parent's concerns and directs us to relevant studies and latest findings (e.g. American Pediatrics Academy journals). He recently gave an MMR vaccine to my daughter, (without Varicella, which is usually given as part of the shot) after we discussed with him. Hope this helps!


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