Other Views

The Infant Vaccination Controversy  

From the November 1998 Issue of Nutrition Science News

Most parents dutifully take their infants to the doctor or clinic at the prescribed times to be vaccinated. Generally, it doesn't occur to them to question this public health institution. However, growing numbers of doctors, scientists and parents have become suspicious about the long-term implications of what some consider a national experiment posturing as solid science. It could be said that the development of immunization theory has been compromised by the theory's very successes.

The history of vaccines does indeed have some glorious chapters. In 1796, British country doctor Edward Jenner formulated a vaccine that led to the global eradication in our time of the deadly smallpox virus. A century later, French chemist Louis Pasteur formulated a vaccine against rabies and even foresaw serums made from nonliving substances that would one day materialize as synthetic, chemical vaccines.1

These are among the defining legends of Western medical lore. Presently, researchers on the vaccine trail have a new dream: to create a "supervaccine" to be used against all invasive bacterial or viral organisms.1 It would theoretically be injected into infants during their first weeks of life and thereafter protect them against every known human-invasive microorganism including those causing common childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, chicken pox and rubella.

That such a dream could have detractors seems almost sacrilegious. Why would a medical practitioner or a parent oppose such an agenda?

One side of the controversy believes ardently in the military medical metaphor: The body is perceived as a battlefield on which great generals, otherwise known as doctors, wage war against a virulent enemy of viral and bacterial microbes to secure a kind of peace known as health.

On the other side is a holistic belief system, espoused since Hippocrates, holding that deleterious microorganisms aren't the ultimate cause of disease. Thomas Sydenham, who in the 17th century was known as the "English Hippocrates," put it this way: "Germs seek their natural habitat--diseased tissue--rather than being the cause of diseased tissue. For example, mosquitoes seek the stagnant water, but do not cause the pool to become stagnant."2

In our time we've witnessed the gradual reemergence of the Hippocratic model as manifested by alternative and preventive medicine. Even as recently as 10 years ago the idea that nutrition could have a positive effect on health was viewed skeptically by many allopathic doctors. Today, it has become a widely accepted tenet of health. "You are what you eat" is no longer perceived as the misguided prattle of fringe health fanatics but the guiding principle of a multibillion-dollar natural products industry.

The aspersion of fringe fanaticism is presently applied to people who question the wisdom of our national vaccination policy. Prominent among the critics are Harris Coulter, Ph.D., and Barbara Fisher; they coauthored DPT: A Shot in the Dark (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985; Warner, 1986; Avery, 1991). This book specifically targets the P in DPT--the pertussis vaccine, which Coulter and Fisher claim had a poor success rate and was even harmful to many infants.

Nutrition Science News had the opportunity to speak separately with Coulter and Fisher for an update on the politics of infant vaccination. Here is what we learned from them.

Adult vs. Infant Vaccination

We live in a society of either/or arguments. One cannot take a stand on an aspect of vaccination without being perceived as railing against all aspects of vaccination. Coulter stresses it is not adult immunizations that are protested. No one, for example, disputes the science or efficacy of the smallpox vaccine. Coulter also agrees that if one were to travel in some parts of Asia, vaccinations against cholera or blackwater fever would be wise. What he and many other scientists dispute are the ever-increasing numbers of infant vaccinations.

In psychology, more than a century of research has been dedicated to understanding how an infant develops into an emotionally mature adult. Clearly articulated developmental stages, each with tasks to be mastered, are well documented. In purely physical terms, our bodies must also pass through developmental phases. Coulter is prominent among a group of scientists who postulate that childhood diseases are part of that normal process. "Contracting and overcoming such diseases," he says, "is part of a developmental process that actually helps develop a healthy, robust, adult immune system able to meet the challenges that inevitable encounters with viruses and bacteria will present later on."

On the other side of this controversy is a public health system that assumes its mandate is to eradicate all bacterial and viral disease-causing organisms. The holistic medical contingent argues that some of these organisms are millions of years old. How they fit in the overall web of life--besides giving us measles and chicken pox, for example--is unknown. What virulent organisms they feed on and control is also unknown. Even mainstream scientists admit that solid data on the ecological relationship between humans, the infecting agents and how infestation occurs are lacking.3

Unbeknownst to many parents, infant vaccination has long been a subject of controversy. In his book The Assault on the American Child: Vaccination, Sociopathy, and Criminality (North Atlantic Books, 1990), Coulter documents possible long-term neurologic and other side effects of infant vaccines. Among these are lifelong allergies, autism, brain damage, encephalitis, and dyslexia as well as learning and behavior disorders. What Coulter and Fisher vociferously protest is the lack of response to these findings from the government-funded public-health establishment. Fisher, who is also cofounder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) in Vienna, Va., points out that the public-health infrastructure was built with vaccination as the cornerstone of its preventive health policy.

"When I look at it," Fisher says, "what I see is allopathic medicine at war with the other modalities. Homeopathy, naturopathy, chiropractic are perceived as challenging the basic premise of allopathic medicine, which is that germs are the ultimate cause of illness and must be destroyed--in this case, by vaccines."

Both Fisher and Coulter agree that not only are vaccines the sacred cow of the public health system, they have also become the golden calf. What that means is money. Fisher points out that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with an annual budget of around $360 billion, is the most powerful and wealthiest federal agency in the country. On the face of it, that could be wonderful. What better priority than national health? The way it plays out, however, has roused serious concerns in the alternative medical community.

In the United States there are two main vaccine policy-making groups, the Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) under HHS. ACIP makes recommendations for vaccine policy. Fisher says these recommendations turn into mandates "because state health officials automatically turn them into state law. In most states," she says, "[when it comes to public health] you no longer even have a vote by the legislature. All the state health departments have to do is issue a regulation, and it automatically becomes a law."

Fisher says: "For 16 years I have sat in rooms with these officials, both at scientific conferences and government meetings. I was appointed to the Vaccine Advisory Committee for four years under HHS. I was the token consumer representative." What she observed was lack of oversight of this huge enterprise. "You have the highly funded HHS. You have the federal health infrastructure that funds the state public-health infrastructure. Together they have decided they are going to use vaccines to eradicate disease-causing microorganisms from Earth. Then there are the drug companies that manufacture the vaccines; they have a very profitable relationship with FDA and CDC. Everyone is committed to the same premise. What we are trying to make the public realize is that no money whatsoever has been portioned to independent researchers who work outside this very profitable, self-reinforcing loop."

Unanswered Questions

For years dissenters have been raising questions about vaccines. Among them: What is the safe quantity of vaccine antigens that will not cause local, systemic and sometimes severe neurological damage in infants and children? What happens to the vaccine antigens in the body years later? Where do they go, and what are they capable of doing?4 To what degree is the introduction of live viruses via routine vaccination responsible for autoimmune diseases? What effect do live viruses, which are incorporated directly into the genetic material of our cells, have on the cells themselves?5

Coulter correlates the explosion of learning disorders in the past 30 years with mass infant inoculations and bemoans the fact that no studies are being conducted to investigate this correlation.6 Instead, Congress set up the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in 1986, thereby creating a no-fault system to protect vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits and to compensate parents of children who have been harmed by vaccines. Since 1990 more than $500 million has been paid out.7 One would think that such a large payout would itself raise serious questions about our vaccination practices.

It is ironic that alternative medical practitioners, whose theories have historically been called unscientific, should be demanding: Where are the control groups? Where are the long-term follow-up studies? Where is the adversarial research?

Fisher says: "Brave souls have raised their own money and have identified that these problems exist, but when they try to publish, many are kept out of the medical journals or are even vilified. The public-health infrastructure will brook no view other than 'vaccines are totally safe and effective.' "

Currently, vaccines are being mandated in ever-increasing numbers of doses. "Right now in America," says Fisher, "we require 34 doses of 10 different viral and bacterial vaccines before children are allowed to go to school. Some of these are live virus vaccines--the polio, chicken pox, measles, mumps and rubella vaccines. What concerns us presently is the proposed implementation of vaccination registries that would track every child in the country to ensure that vaccine schedules are complied with. This would even include entitlement programs--no shots, no family assistance. A state legislator in Oregon has proposed a bill to deny tax exemptions for children whose parents cannot prove their children were vaccinated with all the government-recommended vaccines."

There are three major issues at stake. The first is Coulter's premise that overcoming childhood diseases constitutes important stages in the development of a robust, adult immune system and that bombarding an infant's immature immune system with live viruses actually can do more harm than good.

The second issue involves how antibodies are transferred from a mother to her child to protect an infant during its first months and years of life. If the mother had contracted and overcome measles during her childhood, she would be able to pass this immunity on to her baby, both through the placenta and by means of breast-feeding, thereby protecting the child for 12 to 15 months after birth.

Fisher recalls the measles outbreak of 1989­90: "A whole group of young mothers who had been vaccinated against measles, and therefore had only temporary artificial immunity, were not able to give their babies the protection their unvaccinated mothers had given them." She observes: "We saw a lot of measles in very young babies where they did not naturally occur before. Furthermore, these babies were dying of a particularly nasty kind of measles, which aroused speculation that the virus may have mutated beyond the scope of our present vaccines."

This leads to the third issue. By artificially suppressing these microorganisms through mass vaccinations, Fisher asks, are we causing them to evolve into more virulent forms? We've seen what happened when antibiotics were indiscriminately used; now humans are faced with supergerms for which there is no known defense. Fisher wonders, with vaccines, "Are we actually creating a worse problem for future generations than if we found alternative ways to live in harmony with these viruses?"

The fact remains that none of these questions is being addressed publicly. Says Fisher: "You have a very narrow-minded view of public and individual health that has been embraced by the public health police. I am waiting for the scientists who have the guts to come forward and speak out. They're going to be in the disciplines of immunology, genetics, microbiology, cell biology and bacteriology. They've got to step forward and take the power away from the epidemiologists, who like to manipulate numbers, and the infectious disease specialists, who are absolutely obsessed with the eradication of microorganisms through the use of vaccines."

The Future of Vaccines

Even more vaccines are coming down the pike. Fisher cites the rotavirus, a new live-virus vaccine to keep babies from getting diarrhea. Also, an AIDS vaccine is on a fast track. That it will be mandated for everyone, she says, is almost certain. "There will be no way of knowing what havoc even a portion of that virus is going to cause years after it is injected into the body. I believe we are in tremendous danger. If we do not rein in this vaccine autocracy, we could literally compromise the biological integrity of the human race."

That an immunocompromised species might be proceeding into the future is speculative. Whether Coulter, Fisher and others in the alternative medical community are right or just well-intentioned alarmists is not known. What is known is that the questions they have raised have been peremptorily deemed unworthy of government-funded research. Arthur M. Silverstein, professor of ophthalmic immunology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, writing about the swine flu vaccination tragedy of 1976, when the Guillain-Barré syndrome was identified as a direct consequence of swine flu vaccination, concluded: "The decision to produce a vaccine should probably be separated from the decision to immunize," and "a mechanism should be built into such programs from the start that requires periodic reevaluation of the premises upon which decisions are made."8 Perhaps a public forum to objectively evaluate the arguments for and against our national vaccination policy--including its very premise--is finally now in order.

Franklin Cameron is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colo. His writing specialties are history and natural approaches to physical and mental health.


1. Chase A. Magic shots: a human and scientific account of the long and continuing struggle to eradicate infectious diseases by vaccination. New York: William Morrow and Co.; 1982. p 39.

2. Bieler H. Food is your best medicine. New York: Ballantine Books; 1992. p 40.

3. McNeill W. Plagues and peoples. New York: Anchor Books; 1989.

4. Murphy J. What every parent should know about childhood immunization. Boston: Earth Healing Products; 1993.

5. Moskowitz R. The case against immunizations. J Am Inst Homeopathy 1983;76:7-25.

6. Coulter H. The assault on the American child: vaccination, sociopathy and criminality. Berkeley (CA): North Atlantic Books; 1990.

7. Mariner W. Health affairs. 1992 Spring;11(1):255-65.

8. Silverstein A. Pure politics and impure science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1981. p 142.