Well-meaning public health officials, doctors and parents concerned with low vaccination rates appear to have scored a major win with the passage of California SB277, which mandates vaccination compliance for all children who attend public or private school. The premise of the proponents’ argument is that vaccines are proven safe and effective for the vast majority of individuals, and what amounts to forced vaccination is seen therefore as an overall benefit to public good. Though the most ardent supporter may readily admit that severe adverse reactions are possible, such statistics are brushed off as being inconclusively attributed to vaccines, and/or affecting a trivial number of individuals.
The link between autism and vaccines has become a flash point issue which has drawn away from the fact that vaccines have been repeatedly linked to other deleterious and perhaps much more common long-term side effects which the medical and public health establishment has not yet acknowledged, specifically concerning autoimmune disease.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease, and the number is rising(1). Although the cause of autoimmune disease is unknown(2), there is a growing body of research suggesting that the development of autoimmune disease as a result of vaccination is possible or probable, although that fact is difficult to prove definitively(3). Thankfully, even the government has taken notice of this link. The Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has quietly partnered with scientists at Georgetown University’s Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics to pursue a collaborative project which aims to streamline identification and tracking of autoimmune-related adverse outcomes within the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)(4). On April 27, 2015, the project’s lead researcher, Dr. Peter McGarvey, PhD presented initial findings on the genetic analysis of autoimmune disease at the Food and Drug Administration’s 2015 ORSI Science Symposium.
The results of his study suggest that it will likely be possible to use genetic predisposition to autoimmune disease to “aid in the assessment of potential immune-mediated adverse events following vaccination(5).” So, while even the FDA tacitly acknowledges that the link between autoimmune disease and vaccination are worthy of further inquiry, proponents of California SB277 press on with a militant crusade against any doctor or parent who dares to question the recommended vaccine schedule for an apparently healthy child. Ironically, this witch-hunt creates a climate in which the very first steps of the scientific method – that is, observation and hypothesis – are deemed obsolete. Rather than act as the champions of the scientific method, which the bill’s proponents falsely claim has proven vaccines safe in every respect, they are dangerously undermining it by discrediting anyone who would make an observation otherwise.
I should stop here to clarify that prior to 2012, I had a very conventional view of vaccines. As with many of my peers, I thought so-called “anti-vaxxers” were alarmist and dangerous. In 2012, my life changed. After the birth of my second daughter, I became increasingly ill with symptoms of autoimmune disease, and received an autoimmunity diagnosis late that same year. Meanwhile, my children were developing their own chronic issues, like eczema, severe environmental allergies, food sensitivities, digestive distress, vascular inflammation, and an inability to gain weight labeled as ‘failure to thrive.’
A consistent pattern emerged. On no fewer than four separate occasions, my children developed new symptoms or saw existing symptoms worsen within days or weeks of vaccination. Looking back at my own medical records, I realized that the first onset of my own recent symptoms also came in close temporal proximity to a flu shot I received during my second pregnancy. Going back even further into my medical history, it seems plausible that sudden onset of significant autoimmune-related symptoms in mid to late childhood could also be timed with vaccination.
While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does publicly acknowledge that there are side effects possible from vaccines, its guidance is that most symptoms are minor and go away within a few days. Moderate to severe symptoms listed are very frightening (“seizures,” “coma”, “permanent brain damage”)(6) but are generally much more grave than anything my family and I may have experienced. There is no clear mention of chronic autoimmune disease as a potential side effect, other than its vague reference to the possibility of developing a blood condition (which is often autoimmune related) as a result of the MMR vaccine(7).
In all, there is nothing listed on the CDC information page which would lead me to believe that my or my children’s reactions – that is, generalized symptoms of an increased and apparently permanent autoimmune response – have ever been observed ever before. But, on the contrary, questions surrounding autoimmune responses to immunological adjuvants have been documented for more than 50 years(8). Adjuvants are substances added to a vaccine in order to increase effectiveness. There has been some public awareness of adjuvants in vaccines, specifically surrounding the mercury-based adjuvant Thimerosol. Due to public outcry, Thimerosol has been mostly removed from vaccines administered to children under six, with the exception of the inactivated flu vaccine. There is a limited supply of Thimerosol-free flu vaccine doses available for children under seven, as well as pregnant women, however trace amounts of Thimerosol still persist even in that version of the vaccine(9).
Dr. K. Miyoshi coined the phrase “human adjuvant disease” in 1964 after noting that his patients showed diverse symptoms after receiving medical treatment involving silicone or paraffin oil adjuvants(10). In more recent years, “post-vaccination phenomena” involving autoimmune illness has been specifically linked to vaccine adjuvant exposure, particularly aluminum-based adjuvants which are still commonly present in vaccines. Diseases documented in this category include Guillain-Barré Syndrome(11), Lupus(12), Antiphospholipid Syndrome(13), Transverse Myelitis(14), Primary Ovarian Failure(15), Multiple Sclerosis(16), and general symptoms of autoimmunity(17). Despite documented scientific articles on the link between vaccines and long-term, chronic autoimmune diseases ranging from mild to severe, none of these aforementioned conditions were referenced in the literature from the CDC regarding possible vaccine side effects, even in the context of presenting other side effects which it qualifies as “so rare that it is hard to tell whether or not they were caused by the vaccine(18).” But despite the CDC’s omission, these autoimmune conditions as potential vaccine side-effects are likely very real.
In 2011, Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, Head of the Zabludowicz Center for Autoimmune Diseases at the Sheba Medical Center (affiliated with Tel Aviv University), identified a grouping of clinical symptoms and triggers in both humans and animals to establish new medical phenomenon called Autoimmune/inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA)(19). The adverse reactions that I and my family have experienced are on the spectrum of ASIA. Unfortunately, I am not confident that my family, or anyone presenting symptoms of ASIA, would be able to easily obtain medical exemption to SB277. My experience has been that mainstream doctors are unaware of this relatively new research on ASIA, unwilling to understand it in-depth, and/or categorically dismissive of any challenge to the vaccine schedule other than in the most dire cases of adverse reaction or compromised immunity. Of course, doctors more attune to these emerging issues of autoimmunity do exist. But, because high-quality doctors increasingly are electing to take their practices outside of the network of lower-cost insurance plans, patients are facing even more limited choice in selecting their family doctor or pediatrician.
A 2012 survey of 13,575 American physicians by The Physicians Foundation found that more than 50% surveyed had imminent plans to reduce patient access to their services, and nearly 7% planned to switch to cash-only or high-cost subscription concierge practices. For those patients left behind in Affordable Care plans or HMOs, lack of doctor choice creates an undue burden for patients who, in all likelihood, will not be randomly assigned a doctor who is aware of the relationship between autoimmunity and vaccinations. These compounding factors mean that California bill SB277 will effectively remove the rights of parents to make decisions regarding their own children’s individual health risks, even in cases where legitimate science may support them.
Proponents of SB277 may respond to my argument here to say that, despite my personal experience, very few people who would exercise the ‘personal belief exemption’ would do so over legitimate medical concerns that their doctor has dismissed. Whether or not that is true, such an argument ignores the counter-productive nature of its anti-science undertones. Consider that a persistent and deeply held fear of vaccinations among the most well-educated in this country (20) may actually be the result of the CDC’s unwillingness to acknowledge a large category of potential side effects which have been widely documented in scientific journals. Perhaps clear guidelines for contraindication screening on the basis of genetic predisposition – that is, the kind that Dr. McGarvey and his colleagues at the FDA and Georgetown University are now studying – would finally give comfort to those parents who are pejoratively labeled “anti-vax.”
Published critiques of Dr. Shoenfeld’s work are admittedly mixed, but even its critics conclude that more study is needed, rather expose any clear refutation of his work(21). Due to the scientific consensus on the need for more research in the area of autoimmunity and vaccines, vaccine safety specifically as it relates to autoimmune disorders requires more transparency by relevant governing bodies and medical associations, and more study to identify reliable guidelines for contraindications, before vaccines should be effectively forced on the public. For proponents of SB277 to figuratively “close the book” on this area of vaccine research is an arrogant and reckless corruption of science.
[accordion title=”Sources” close=”1″]1) https://www.aarda.org/autoimmune-information/autoimmune-statistics/
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8) Alijotas-Reig, J. Human adjuvant-related syndrome or autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants. Where have we come from? Where are we going? A proposal for new diagnostic criteria. Lupus. 2015 Mar 25. pii: 0961203315579092.
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20) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/31/us/vaccine-critics-turn-defensive-over- measles.html?_r=0
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