The day Millicent was born, the nurse announced that she wanted to give her a vaccine for a venereal disease. It didn't seem right. Why would they want to inject drugs into a healthy newborn? If the vaccine were safe, why did they ask my wife to sign a liability waiver? Why did they give my wife a hepatitis B test, if they were still going to vaccinate the baby after the test is negative? Why can't they wait a few months or years when the child will be stronger? How could a newborn baby get a disease which is transmitted by unsafe sex and dirty needles? I could not get answers to these questions, so I postponed the vaccine.
Soon I was faced with more vaccine decisions, so I did some library research on the subject. I found both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine books. The pro-vaccine books and pamphlets were condescending and paternalistic, and gave very little information beyond the official vaccine schedule and some scare stories. The anti-vaccine books were packed with facts, anecdotal evidence, more scare stories, and sometimes conspiracy theories.
Figuring that there was really a solid case for vaccines, but that the patient information had been dumbed down, I looked at the medical literature. But the vaccine studies which I found were very weak from a scientific point of view. The studies are usually epidemiological rather than clinical; the long term effects are usually not studied at all; the risks are not modeled in a way that allows any direct comparison of risks and benefits; and obvious alternative vaccine strategies are usually not discussed.
Furthermore the national vaccine policy is terribly flawed. Vaccine recommendations are not made in an open process; the public is not allowed much input to the decisions or even access to all the information; vaccine researchers are used to set policies which have non-medical aspects; pediatricians and other physicians have eschewed their responsibilities; and patients are not accurately informed of the pros and cons of vaccines.
The more I read about vaccines, the angrier I got. Physicians have an ethical duty to do no harm and to give patients informed choice. Scientists have an ethical duty to document the biases and limitations of their experiments, and to find and publish the raw truth regardless of political implications. Government agencies have an ethical duty to openly evaluate alternative policies, and to involve the public in decision making. Drug companies have an ethical duty to provide their customers with appropriate data and analyses about their products. All have been corrupted.
I actually think some of the vaccines may be worthwhile. I intend to give my daughter a tetanus vaccine, and maybe one or two of the others.
When people ask me why I did not vaccinate my daughter, I explain that before analyzing the reasons against vaccinating, it is important to look at the reasons for vaccinating. The best that can be said is that some people with a vested interest in vaccines use dishonest tactics and biased information to promote the vaccines. Lacking a compelling argument one way or the other, the prudent action is to do nothing.
I put my findings on the subject in a Vaccine Policy FAQ, for the convenience of others.
last revised: Sept. 7, 1998
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Footnote, Oct. 8, 2002. Since forgoing the vaccines, several of them have been taken off the market because of safety concerns. This includes the hepatitis B and rotavirus (diarrhea) vaccines. I have no regrets.