Mothers of Vaccine-Injured Children: Modern Day Cassandras
Some days I feel like Cassandra, the Greek woman who could see the future, but not articulate it in a way that gave her credibility. In the tragedy Agamemnon, Apollo promised Cassandra the gift of prophecy if she would be his lover. She accepted the gift, then rebuffed Apollo when he desired sexual favors. Apollo got revenge by ordaining her predictions would be rejected. She predicted the Trojan horse battle and Agamemnon’s bloody death, but no one believed her.
Parents of children with complex chronic illness must also feel like Cassandras. Hundreds of times I have taken detailed histories from parents in which seemingly healthy children deteriorated or regressed within 24-48 hours of a vaccine, often ending up in the Emergency Department, only to be told that it was a “coincidence” and that the vaccine could not be the cause. This seems to be in direct opposition to the usual course of events when a clinician is presented with a new symptom and we are taught to ask about any new or different events, exposures or experiences. Concerns raised by intelligent parents that their child is getting too many vaccines at once are typically dismissed. The bar to get compensation in Vaccine Court is incredibly high, with restrictions based on original “vaccine injury tables” despite a significant expansion of the number and types of vaccines introduced since the 1986 National Vaccine Compensation Program legislation. The injuries are often lifelong and change the trajectory of family life completely.
In 1997, my experience with a patient I vaccinated opened my eyes to the possibility that CDC recommended vaccines were causing significant harm to at least a subset of children who received them. Five years later, I took my concerns to the University that trained me, where I was taught basic rules of pediatrics: 1) first do no harm 2) listen to the mama 3) look at the child. I delivered Pediatric Grand Rounds, sharing my concerns about the exponentially increasing rates of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, the gastrointestinal symptoms of my patients with autism including digestion, dysbiosis and digestive enzyme problems, and emerging data implicating gut-brain interactions. I hypothesized that the rapidly expanding vaccine schedule might be related. It was a message the audience of pediatric faculty and residents did not want to hear.
Ironically, the problems with digestive enzymes I discussed have now been confirmed by Buie and Kushak at Harvard in multiple peer reviewed published studies. The role of gastrointestinal problems in autism and understanding the gut brain connection now form the backbone of functional medicine and offer a pathway to improving the lives of chronically ill children and their families. Articles on the communication between gut, brain, and endocrine systems populate highly respected medical journals.
Sadly, the rates of autism reported as 34 per 10,000 in 2002 and dismissed as due to better recognition and diagnosis (another speculation not borne out by the data) have continued to rise exponentially at6-15% per year to the current rates of 1 in 54 children (185 per 10,000) who have autism and one in six who have other developmental or behavioral problems. It is crucial to remember that the analysis published in March 2020 (and largely overlooked by the media in the Age of COVID) was based on a birth cohort from 2008 (8-year-old children were studied in 2016 for the statistics published 4 years later).
This week, Hooker and Miller published data from three geographically distinct pediatric practices. The real-life data, collected over 10 years, examined the relationship between the number and timing of vaccines and presence of chronic illnesses, including neurodevelopmental problems, asthma, gastrointestinal problems and ear infections. Younger ages at vaccination and increasing number of vaccines were associated with more developmental delays, asthma and ear infections. In fact, for ear infections subdivided by quartile of number of vaccines, there was a linear relationship between more vaccines and more ear infections.
I predict the mainstream media and the American Academy of Pediatrics will try to cast doubt on the findings in this study. Yes, there are limitations to retrospective practice-based research, which Hooker articulates quite well. I would argue that, if the AAP or CDC or NIH had agreed to the comparison studies of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children that the parents of children with chronic disease have been asking for since the dawn of the current century, we would have prospective, controlled studies by now. The burden would not have fallen upon clinicians busy taking care of complex chronic illness to be unfunded clinical researchers.
What makes this data compelling is the wealth of scientific information that has accumulated in the past two decades about mechanisms involved in neurodevelopmental disorders, immune dysregulation, mitochondrial dysfunction, environmental toxicity and metabolic derangements. Such research includes but is not limited to:
- Jill James and Richard Deth’s body of published science about methylation biochemistry: how it is disrupted by environmental triggers, how it influences gene expression and how often it is abnormal in children with chronic illness.
- Chris Shaw and colleagues’ body of published science about the effects of aluminum on human tissue and its presence in the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases.
- Bob Naviaux’s highly ranked published science about the crucial role of the mitochondria and the downstream effects on health when mitochondria change from making energy to “battening down the hatches” in the cell danger response.
- Chauhan, McGinnis and multiple other scientists’ published papers delineating the biochemistry and cellular effects of prolonged oxidative stress on tissues and human illness.
- Jim Adams and colleagues on deficient nutritional status and potential value of fecal microbial transplants in children with autism.
- Van de Water and Ashwood’s body of published work on Maternal Immune Activation and increased inflammatory cytokines in intestinal biopsies of children with autism vs. controls.
- MacFabe’s studies about the role of propionic acid in neurodevelopmental disorders.
- Rossignol and Frye’s published work on folate receptor antibodies and mitochondrial dysfunction in neurodevelopmental problems.
Many people assume that vaccine safety trials must be exceptionally well designed and executed, since they are given to populations at large. They are shocked to find out that Hepatitis B vaccine studies tracked side effects for four or five days before the decision was made to vaccinate every newborn in the US. After concerns about the role of MMR and inflammatory bowel disease, 23 different post-licensing trials were conducted on the MMR-II vaccine—no patient was followed for more than 42 days post-vaccination. You cannot find what you do not look for.
The Institute of Medicine, trusted to make evidence-based recommendations, examined the current scientific literature, and found inadequate evidence to accept or reject a causal relationship between 135 of 158 relationships between vaccines and adverse events. Among the remaining 23 adverse events, 18 were found to be associated with vaccination and five were not.
Hooker’s analysis used a cohort study design with strata for medical practice, year of birth and gender. DTaP and MMR were counted as a single vaccine even though each contained 3 vaccines in one injection.
In the Hooker publication, it should be noted that a patient receiving even just one vaccine in the first 380 days of life would fall into the “vaccinated” category. “Unvaccinated” patients had no vaccine doses on record prior to their first birthday plus 15 days. In my view, this design makes the data even more compelling. The data showed that children were more likely to be diagnosed with developmental delays, asthma and ear infections if they received a higher number of vaccines versus fewer immunizations.
As a pediatrician who was taught little about mechanisms of vaccine efficacy or adverse events in medical school or residency, I was expected to follow the CDC/AAP revisions to the schedule without questioning. Recent legislative action removing medical or religious exemptions are taking away the physician’s ability to consider vaccine administration in the context of the individual patient. It is ironic that, during this age of personalized, integrative and functional medicine in which people wear devices to collect precise individualized data, we seem to be doubling down on a “one size fits all” vaccine policy.
In the Cassandra analogy, mainstream medicine and university pediatric curriculums are the Apollos to which I should owe my allegiance. However, I would argue that my allegiance is to my patients. I would argue that the purpose of rigorous medical school and residency training is not to teach us a bunch of facts (which we know will change as science evolves) but to teach us to be analytic thinkers. I would argue that my parents, college professors and debate team coach instilled in me important critical thinking skills that are fundamental to my ability to make informed decisions in partnership with the parents who trust me with their children. If all I need to do when ordering a vaccine is to follow a published schedule, I could delegate all immunization decisions to my medical assistant.
To question medical dogma does not end well for many of us, until we find meaning in the search for truth, which should be the essence of every scientific endeavor.