Vaccines are like Russian roulette - we'd rather take a chance with the diseases, say parents who refuse to give their babies jabs
By KIRSTY ROBINSON -
6th April 2008
When Max Sullivan was born two years ago, his father Paul, a 41-year-old IT consultant, and his accountant mother Karen, 34, were prepared for their first foray into parenthood.
"We bought the best pram we could, a Bugaboo. It's like a tank," says Paul.
"We checked toys were safe and bought stair-gates and caps for the corners of the tables for when he started walking.
"And when he was two months old we followed the doctor's orders and took him for his first set of immunisations: the five-in-one jab that combines the DPT - diphtheria, pertissus (whooping cough) and tetanus, polio and Hib (haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccines.
Choice: Layla Evans has fought 'pressure' over her daughter Mya
"We took him for boosters at three and four months, as instructed."
The couple were model parents. But then Paul and Karen received a letter inviting Max to have the new meningitis C jab.
"It seemed like too much to be giving such a tiny baby," says Paul.
"We started to look into it online and read reports of headaches and swollen arms to meningitis-like symptoms that have put some children in hospital.
"The nurse did call and try to persuade us but she couldn't provide us with hard facts about how safe it was and we decided to call things to a halt."
The couple chose to stop vaccinating their son and instead use a healthy diet to boost his immune system.
They claim they were "unnerved" by the uncertainty surrounding the effects that vaccinations can have on children, in the wake of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR) scandal that controversially linked the triple jab to autism.
Max remains vulnerable to life-threatening diseases having not been vaccinated against meningitis C, pneumococcal - an infection that can lead to pneumonia or septicaemia - measles, mumps and rubella.
He will also not be given boosters to assure continued immunity to diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough or polio.
"We believe there is a problem with vaccines in general - the MMR debate just put a spotlight on the issue," says Paul.
Protection: Paul and Karen Sullivan stopped son Max, two, having more vaccination jabs and are boosting his immunity with a healthy diet
"I've heard stories from parents who believe that their child's asthma, skin allergies, eczema or autism has been triggered by immunisations.
"They've taken the mercury out of the jabs but I've read online that there's still aluminium in some.
"I accept science has made amazing progress in treating some very aggressive diseases, but injecting these things into a baby is instinctively wrong for me."
Thiomersal, a mercury-based preservative, was removed from inoculations in 2004.
The change was welcomed by anti-MMR campaigners who believed mercury in jabs was linked to developmental problems in children.
The evidence that thiomersal can harm the developing brain is contentious, with several studies producing conflicting reports.
The decision to remove it from new vaccines came after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it should be avoided on a "precautionary" basis.
"Of course I have wrestled with this and wondered whether we're doing the right thing for Max," says Paul.
"Even if there's a small risk, it still feels like playing Russian roulette with your child's health.
"We'd rather take our chances with the diseases than potentially damage our son for the rest of his life.
"I had measles as a child and my sister had rubella. We're both OK.
"We're trying to give Max a healthy diet so he's got a good immune system.
"If Max did get measles I'd give him a boost with Vitamin C and Vitamin A from cod liver oil.
"If we have a second child, there will be no vaccinations at all."
Because diseases such as measles are infectious, it's a view that many parents will see as selfish.
Anna Watson refused to let her son Sam have any vaccines containing mercury
But far from being alone in their concerns, the Sullivans are part of a growing number of middle-class parents ignoring NHS guidelines on vaccinations and doing things their own way.
For vaccination to work, however, enough of those in a community must be immunised against certain diseases so it becomes difficult for them to pass between those who have not been.
Diphtheria, for instance, has all but disappeared in the UK.
Fears that the MMR triple jab - introduced in the UK in 1988 - could lead to autism caused take-up to fall from more than 90 per cent in 1998 to less than 80 per cent two years ago, say the Health Protection Agency.
Currently, 81 per cent of children have the combined vaccine before they are two.
Last year, 971 cases of measles were reported in the UK, up 30 per cent in 12 months.
The disease claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy in 2006, the first death since 1992.
According to the WHO, more than half a million children under five die from measles every year - half the number claimed by the disease ten years ago, after successful vaccination programmes in developing countries.
In the UK, since the introduction of the MMR in 1988, the total number of infant deaths from the disease is four.
Layla Evans, 27, a music artist manager who lives in West London with her partner Sandy Rivera, 37, a musician, has spent £200 so far on immunising their four-month-old daughter Mya with single vaccines for polio, tetanus and diphtheria.
However, she has refused to give Mya the pertissus and Hib, meningitis C and BCG (tuberculosis) vaccines.
"I don't want to be pressurised to follow Government guidelines. I don't see why I should when there's nothing proven absolutely for every vaccination," says Layla.
"We waited until Mya was three months old before doing anything. By then she should have had the five-in-one shot but I felt she was too tiny.
"I've done a lot of research, mainly on the internet, and I'm doing what I think is the right thing for her.
"The things I didn't immunise her against are things I don't think there are 100 per cent effective vaccinations against, such as whooping cough."
Born and raised until the age of five in Belgium, like all children there Layla was vaccinated with individual shots.
She says her mother supports her choice not to give Mya certain jabs but admits many friends with children are concerned.
"Some have called me selfish, and even mad," she says. "But it's my baby and our lives not theirs. I'm not hurting her."
Action: Anna Watson has set up a parent network
Anna Watson, 42, a full-time mother who lives in Kingston-upon-Thames with her partner Jamie Asher, 43, a book publisher, agrees.
Her son Sam, four, is partially immunised and her two-year-old daughter Katherine is not.
"I caved in to pressure from the doctors to start Sam's vaccinations at about five months even though I wasn't happy about it and he had the ones for diphtheria, tetanus and Hib," she explains.
"I had done a little research and felt very strongly that he shouldn't have the live polio vaccine or any containing mercury, so I stood my ground on those.
"Very shortly after, the Government announced it was withdrawing live polio and those containing mercury and it gave me a lot of confidence that I was on the right track."
As a result of her experiences, in January last year Anna decided to set up Arnica, a support network for parents with concerns about vaccinations.
Eight Arnica groups have formed around the UK since the network began, each with several hundred members.
More established online parent groups, Jabs and The Informed Parent, whose numbers swelled during the controversy around the MMR, have more than 3,000 members between them.
"There are hundreds of us now and we believe passionately about the health of our children," says Anna, a former primary-school teacher.
"We've got two nurses in our group who find their position difficult as they have to vaccinate other people's children when they haven't had their own done.
"We have doctors in our group who don't vaccinate their own children either."
Instead, there has been a return to traditional pre-vaccination methods of protecting child health.
"I look at keeping my children well with lots of fresh air, exercise, sleep, nutritious food and lots of happiness," says Anna.
"I like to support my children to get well by themselves because the body can do it and the more you intervene with vaccines and antibiotics you suppress the body's own immune system."
Anna is well aware many parents would think she is cavalier with the health of her children but she disagrees.
"I've been called selfish by doctors and health visitors.
"In fact, I'm more vigilant than most parents - I've chosen to educate myself about immunity and how to deal with diseases, rather than blindly hand over responsibility to the State or doctors."
Despite prevailing medical opinion, Dr Richard Halvorsen, a GP in Central London and author of The Truth About Vaccines, shares many parents' concerns about what he considers the most complex vaccination schedule in the world, where by the age of 15 months, babies receive 25 doses of the various vaccines.
"When the diphtheria vaccine was introduced and when the vaccination trials for whooping cough began, those diseases were killing thousands of children every year and it made sense to look at something quite radical to prevent them. What I'm saying is, hang on, let's just stop and think."
Allergy-related illnesses such asthma and eczema are rising - in Britain, up to a fifth of school-age children are affected - and there is an argument that vaccines are playing a part, says Dr Halvorsen.
Recent research, published in the US Journal Of Allergy And Clinical Immunology, found children who have their routine vaccinations delayed by two months or more cut their risk of asthma by half.
The study, based on health records of 14,000 children, found that 14 per cent of children who received their first shot of diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus vaccine at two months, developed asthma - compared with only 5.9 per cent of children who were vaccinated more than four months after the scheduled date.
In response to demand for a more pick-and-mix approach, Dr Halvorsen is opening a private clinic, Babyjabs, this spring.
It will offer a comprehensive selection of vaccines for all ages in single or small doses.
"There are many mothers who have not had their child immunised at all, but would if they had the ability to get some and not others, or to have them spaced out," says Dr Halvorsen.
"By offering this service we're going to up the immunisation rate."
GP Michael Fitzpatrick is based at a surgery in Hackney, East London where there have been more than 150 cases of measles.
"When you've a young baby, you're not always particularly rational about it," he says.
"You read things in the papers and you want to protect them, but the only real way is with vaccines.
"It's amazing how people's memories fade and how they now perceive measles as only a mild illness. Doctors will always remember the deaths."
The 12 jabs that could save your child's life
Age given: Two, three and four months. The Department of Health says vaccines "stimulate the production of antibodies without us becoming infected with actual diseases, and our bodies can then fight those diseases if they come into contact with them". Officials say it is only through the success of the programme - a series of 12 injections between the ages of two months and 18 years containing vaccines against ten diseases including polio, meningitis C and measles - that incidences of childhood diseases are at an all time low.
Protects against: Diphtheria (D), tetanus (T), pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough (P), polio (IPV - inactivated polio vaccine) and haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib).
Age given: Three and four months.
Protects against: Meningococcal Conjugate (Men C).
Age given: Booster at 12 months.
Protects against: Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and meningococcal conjugate (Men C).
Age given: Two, three, 13 months.
Protects against: Pneumococcal infection, which can cause diseases such as pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis.
Age given: 13 months and three years, four months.
Protects against: Measles, mumps and rubella.
Age given: Booster at three years four months or soon after.
Protects against: Diphtheria (D), tetanus (T), pertussis (whooping cough) (P) and polio (IPV - inactivated polio vaccine).
Age given: Boosters at 13 to 18 years.
Protects against: Tetanus (T), diphtheria (d) and polio (IPV) inactivated polio vaccine).
Age given: Non-routine. Given to babies and older people who are most likely to catch the disease.
Protects against: Tuberculosis.
I would vaccinate my kids for tetanus, because of how
easily that can be picked up around where we live, but not for meningitis C
- Riley, UK
Doctors are not out to kill our
children. They're out to protect them. Of course vaccinations can sometimes
have adverse effects - but they are a damn sight safer than raging
epidemics, that used to mean one child in four died before reaching the age
We all rely on parents getting their kids vaccinated, to protect our own. Not every vaccination will work, so that vulnerable child who isn't immune relies on never being exposed - which is what mass immunisation offers. Smallpox is extinct thanks to an immunisation strategy, and so could all these diseases be if everyone took the jabs. As for not getting rubella jabs... rubella causes horrendous birth defects if the mother catches it, so how dare these idiots risk other babies' getting terribly damaged because of their own inability to understand basic science? As a pregnant woman, their selfishness is horrifying to me.
- Kate, London
Idiots, I guess
when their little darling is blinded by measles, paralyzed by polio or bites
their tongue off with lockjaw they will sue the 'dumb' doctors that failed
to force then to look after their children.
People die of these diseases (sometimes really nasty deaths) orange juice will not save them (its only useful against rickets).
- D Brown, Southend, U.K.
People who refuse to pump in all
this vaccination muck are very sensible. All medications depress the immune
system. Vaccination is NOT a proven science; in fact the opposite is true.
The best way to bring up healthy children is to give them proper food and
additional (natural) vitamins and minerals. Vaccination, in my view, is
child abuse, pure and simple.
- Phred, UK
Well done for not making concerned
parents seem irrational or ill-informed! Also for reporting on the Asthma
link in the vaccinated. Asthma kills 1,300 people each year (200 children)
and leaves the health of many more compromised and reliant on life
This shows that at the very least we should be delaying vaccines, for possibly more than 2 months.
- Anna Watson, Kingston-upon-Thames
When my children
were small, the doctor refused to give them the measles jab because they
both suffered from eczema. They then caught the measles which was very mild
and left no ill effects. My grandson had the MMR jab, and whilst he did not
have a reaction to it, he is on the autistic spectrum. I cannot help but
wonder why there are so many children with autism today. I do not believe it
is down to better diagnosis.
- Lynn, Northants
"We started to look into it online
and read reports of headaches and swollen arms to meningitis-like symptoms
that have put some children in hospital."
That can be a side-effect of any vaccination. It's a hell of a lot better than losing a child to meningitis when you know you could have easily prevented it.
The medical profession is not trying to harm babies - which seems to be the belief among a certain section of the bourgeoisie - but PROTECT all children from preventable disease by giving their immune systems the tools to cope with it. How many of us would simply not be here if we had been born 100 years ago?
- Anna Walters, London, UK
My son is 4.5
and hasn't had a single vaccination yet. It doesn't mean that he won't ever
(in fact, we are now looking at getting him the DTP), but we chose that it
would be by far better to let his immune system strengthen on its own first
(which it has - he has far less colds an infections than any of his
- Sylvia, Greater London
I can only speak from experience.
My son got his first vaccine at 12 weeks and that night became seriously ill. I began to read up on the vaccines in 1985. Then I took him to allergy specialist as he was fading away.
He explained that the base of vaccine was egg and not suitable for my child.
He also told me not to jab any other children if I had any.
My daughter was born 5 years later and I did not jab her at all.
She is 18 today and she has never been inside a doctors surgery.
My son on the other hand has been ill and even had a stroke at 22.
The both had the same healthy diet and upbringing, and the only difference was the vaccines.
However, I was persecuted at one point by social services for refusing to jab.
Even the letter from specialist was not enough for them, so we had to move area, in order to be left alone in peace.
- Catherine Mills, London, UK
should go an visit a 3rd world country, where there are orphanages full of
children who were not given the jabs, 100s and 100s of cots full of sick
dying babies and toddlers, TB, Polio, Meningitis, then they might realise
how important this is for their chid.
- Liz, London
Forty years ago, educated friends
of mine, including doctors and dentists, used to have 'measles parties' if
one of their children got measles, to ensure they were ALL exposed to the
disease at an early age. Anything wrong with that?
- Norman Scarth, Bradford, West Yorkshire, England.
Luddites, I suppose they would rather go back to the stone age of medicine.
Of course there are a few unlucky cases where the vaccines fail, but
overwhelming majority of cases they actively protect our children. They are
risking the lives of their children of misinformed decisions made with the
aid of a hysterical media.
- Steven Gund, Boston Manor, England
While it is not proven that these
jabs do harm, it is not proven that in some cases they may do harm.
The individual jabs do not have the same apparent threat so why can those parents who choose to have their child immunised that way, not have their way.
Is it that Nanny state cannot be wrong?
No one made any claims over the single jabs, that I know of, so why not give them as required?
- John Sizeland, Norfolk