by Alice Shabecoff
Donna Curless’s three children were born and spent their early years in Brick Township, a mid-size, middle income New Jersey city whose rate of children with autism seemed so off the charts that it became the quoted statistic for quite a few years. Looking for possible causes, government and independent investigators found the water supply polluted with a mixture of industrial chemicals from local manufacturing plants, to which chlorine had been added as a disinfectant, as it is in so many American cities and towns. (Chlorine can combine with other chemicals to produce a toxic byproduct.)
Yet Donna is sure that her own children’s autism was the result of vaccinations.
It’s possible she’s right. Although Dr. Philip Landrigan, the ‘father’ of environmental pediatrics says there’s no evidence to link vaccines and autism, some in the scientific and medical community have found evidence to the contrary.
The unsettled debate involves two questions: ***first, might there be a subset of children who are likely, or at least more likely, to react badly to the current vaccination program? And ***second, aren’t there circumstances in which any child might have a bad response? There’s enough research to suggest that both premises are plausible but not enough for a definitive answer. Given this unsettled debate, parents could take a better-safe-than-sorry plan of action while research, which will undoubtedly take a really long time, figures out just what does cause autism spectrum disorders, not to mention asthma and other allergies which are also on a disconcerting rise. And birth defects; and cancer. The first debatable question involves genetics. Just in recent years, with the unraveling of the human genome, science discovered that, in addition to inherited variations that are genetic mutations (which is where the current research dollars are being spent), there are inherited variations that are slight differences in the sequence of the DNA in the genes (an underfunded area of research). It’s these kinds of variations, called SNPs, that determine why some children have green rather than brown eyes, or blood type A rather than O. And some of these variations predispose us, from the womb throughout life, to be more or less vulnerable to different environmental insults, from bacteria, viruses and toxic chemicals. (But keep in mind that even a vulnerable child might never get sick were it not for the toxic assault.) One type of variation can hamper the ability of a fetus or child or adult to metabolize and excrete heavy metals – that is, to detoxify their bodies. Normally, like all mammals, we humans detoxify ourselves through the actions of the anti-oxidants our bodies produce. But some people have a genetic variation that makes their immune system lower in the most powerful anti-oxidant — known as glutathione — and lower in the amino acid cysteine which produces glutathione. Add to that, the fact that, from conception through infancy, all children have low levels of glutathione. Glutathione is needed to detoxify heavy metals, such as lead or uranium. Or mercury. As you know, mercury is often added to vaccines as a preservative known as Thimerosal (which allows larger vials that can be used for cost-saving, profit-generating multiple doses). So it’s possible that, when a vaccine preserved with mercury hits a child with an inherited lower capacity to produce glutathione, that child’s body can’t detoxify itself thoroughly and reacts abnormally, for instance, by becoming autistic. The second question under debate is about the vulnerability of the fetus and immature child. The human body’s defense systems (the level of glutathione is only one type) simply do not fully develop until adulthood. That’s why, some studies find, that if a baby or child is under the weather, with for example a cold or ear infection, his immune system, busy using up his insufficient reserves of glutathione to fight off the illness, may be vulnerable to the assault posed by a vaccination. Continual, cumulative exposure, especially in the womb, to the huge array of toxins in the environment can also deplete glutathione in an otherwise ‘normal’ infant or child. Mercury is just one of the toxins that might weaken the child’s immune system and set the stage for greater vulnerability to harmful elements in vaccinations or other assaults to come. Might the children of Brick Township, weakened in the womb or as infants by a virulent mix of chemicals in the water, have been pushed over their threshold of resistance and succumbed to autism when vaccinated? It’s important to say that most research indicates that the neurological damage that leads to autism (and other illnesses, such as childhood cancer) takes place in the womb. That means we need to understand the exposures that occur during pregnancy to toxins such as pesticides, PCBs, and other endocrine disruptors (chemicals that upset the hormones in our bodies). Just recently, the nonprofit Birth Defect Research for Children found that combined fetal exposures to toxins can lead to birth defects plus autism (read Immunotoxins as Teratogens: www.birthdefects.org/research/immterat.php). Vaccinations are not the only bad suspects and perhaps not even the major triggers implicated in autism. Mercury can assault a fetus or child not only through vaccines but through its presence in the massive plumes of air pollution generated by coal fired power plants. It’s glaringly, grievously obvious that research needs to look at the cumulative impact of toxins in our everyday lives, not only to settle the vaccination debate but also to learn how to protect our children more broadly. In the 1940s, American children were vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. A polio shot was added in 1955, and measles, mumps and rubella added in 1971. In 1989, the full program of vaccinations totaled 11 injections of these vaccines by the age of 5. The injection of hepatitis B a few hours after birth was put on the schedule as of 1991. By now, children get 25 vaccinations by 12 months of age and 36 vaccinations by the time they are 18 months old. In most doctors’ appointments, the child receives six vaccines in the time span of three to four minutes. Ours is the most aggressive vaccination schedule in the world. The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine combines three live viruses. Some children react badly to this combination. Perhaps it’s those children who carry a variation that makes them more vulnerable, or perhaps they were slightly ill on the day of the injection. Or it could be those children who had, just a few minutes earlier, received a preservative-laden injection. No one has yet done research to find out the answers. As Thimerosal was reduced in vaccines, aluminum, used to boost immune response, was increased. But aluminum, a soft metal, is also toxic. What It Means For You 1. Consider a better-safe-than-sorry approach to vaccinations The basic advice from those who are wary of possible repercussions from the official schedule is to: –reduce the total number of vaccines, –start the vaccines later in your child’s life, –space out administering vaccines to one per doctor’s visit, –never allow a vaccine with a preservative; demand single-dose vials, and –never vaccinate a child who is not completely healthy; postpone the visit.
- Flu shots, recommended for pregnant women as well as for children, commonly contain mercury as a preservative. So do shots against the H1N1 virus. But both can be found without preservatives. You may want to receive flu and H1N1 shots on different days.
- The DTap vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) commonly contains aluminum, though some brands do not.
- The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is a combined, three-in-one-vaccine. Separate shots are thought to be safer, but these are not available now in the U.S. (they do exist in other countries) tho one company is said to be restarting separates, perhaps for distribution in 2012. (See NVIC, below, for up-to-date information.)
- The hepatitis-B vaccine is needed on the day of birth only when the mother is hepatitis-B positive, according to many researchers who add that you have the right to reject its administration then. They propose postponing that shot till shortly before your child starts day care or, if s/he doesn’t attend day care, until the year before kindergarten.
- To be doubly sure, once you’re in the doctor’s office, you may want to look at the vaccine fact sheet to determine whether it contains a preservative or other potential toxin.