Shot In The Dark

Activists Claim Childhood Vaccinations Do More Harm Than Good

By Sam Boykin

There's a bizarre yet common custom practiced among certain cultures that has come under criticism as being unnecessary and potentially life-threatening. The procedure starts when scientists prepare a concoction of bacteria and viruses that are manufactured using a host of materials including aborted fetal tissue, dead animal flesh and formaldehyde. Samples of this toxic material are collected and shipped to specially designated stations. Parents bring their young children to these facilities where this strange virulent mixture -- by order of state and federal mandates and under threat of penalty -- is injected directly into the child's bloodstream.

Lisa and A.A. Jillani

Contrary to the way it sounds, this isn't some 1984-ish plot or a witch doctor remedy. It's the common practice of childhood vaccinations. In our culture now, it's seen as a cornerstone of preventive care and a necessary part of a child's medical treatment, needed to protect young bodies from a host of illnesses and disease. Vaccination shots are administered every year in schools, hospitals and health centers across the globe in nearly every part of the civilized world. In the United States, more than 80 percent of children are immunized by the time they reach school age.

Despite the widespread acceptance and implementation of vaccines, there are many people who question the need and, moreover, the safety and ethical implications of such practices and suggest that not only are vaccinations unnecessary, but are causing chronic health and mental problems.

One such organization is the Charlotte-based group, People Advocating Vaccine Education (PAVE). Its founders, Lisa and A.A. Jillani, said they started the group two years ago after they realized their oldest daughter had been "vaccine damaged" following a series of vaccination shots in 1994. About six months after receiving these inoculations, the Jillanis say, their daughter started exhibiting odd behavior and her grade school teachers noticed little "red flags" in her conduct.

"It was things like her gross motor skills, neurological tics, and a diminished attention span," Lisa Jillani said. Eventually their daughter was diagnosed at the Watkins Center as having sensory integration dysfunction.

"They couldn't adequately explain to me what that was so I began reading, and all of her symptoms kept popping up as a mild form of autism," Jillani said. "Autism is actually a spectrum disease; you can have full-blown classical autism or something as simple as a learning disorder, and I believe our daughter is on the lower end of this autism spectrum as a direct result of her vaccination shots."

Long before they started PAVE, Lisa Jillani said the seed of doubt concerning vaccinations had already been planted. Previous to giving birth to her first child, Lisa read about a young couple -- one a professional athlete, the other a model -- and how they chose not to have their children vaccinated because they considered it unethical, unhealthy and unnecessary.

"My first thought after reading that was I wonder what they know that I didn't. I started to think maybe vaccinations really weren't 100 percent safe."

However, not realizing there was other information available on the subject, Lisa went against her intuition and took her daughter to the doctor for her scheduled rounds of inoculations simply because that's what was expected. But after getting four of the five required sets of shots, Lisa said she couldn't bring herself to submit her daughter any longer to a process in which she had such strong doubts.

"It was such a traumatic experience I just decided I'm not going to do this anymore," she said. It was then that she began to research the topic in earnest, and eventually came across several sources of information that confirmed her worst fears concerning the adverse effects of inoculations.

She first came across a 1994 book, Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective, by Neil Miller who, among other things, said vaccinations are a form of genetic assault and claimed that the introduction of toxins directly into the bloodstream can potentially cause longterm and unforeseen damages.

"It was enough for me to know that I definitely needed more information before I ever used vaccinations again," Lisa said.

Miller's book led Lisa to a host of other sources including a series of studies conducted in the mid-90s that linked vaccinations to numerous chronic diseases (everything from autism, MS, diabetes, SIDS, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease). Dr. Andrew Wakefield, in a 1998 study that appeared in The Lancet, stated that the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine causes autism and inflammatory bowel disease. Dr. Vijendra Singa, in a 1996 study, associated vaccines with autism and multiple sclerosis. Numerous studies have also cited a connection between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and vaccinations, including a 1994 study by Dr. Viera Scheibner. In addition, both medical researcher Barthelow Classen, in a 1996 study that appeared in the New Zealand Medical Journal, as well as Harris Coulter in his book A Shot in the Dark, linked vaccinations to diabetes; and Dr. M.R. Odent indicated there was a connection between asthma and vaccinations.

A growing number of parents, concerned citizens and doctors are questioning a medical practice that for a long time has been taken for granted and gone largely unchallenged.

After becoming convinced that the anti-vaccination movement wasn't just some fringe society comprised of crazies, Lisa expressed her trepidation to husband A.J. Initially he didn't take it very seriously and laughed it off, but that attitude started to change when he began to look into the issue himself, and even more so after seeing the surprisingly strong reaction by the medical community after he and Lisa expressed their reservations.

"What finally did it for me was when the pediatrician we had been seeing for three years threw us out of his practice," A.J. says. "Suddenly he sends us this certified letter out of the blue saying I don't treat unvaccinated children, you'll have to find another doctor."

By the time Lisa became pregnant with her second child, the Jillanis had become convinced that vaccination was an unnecessary and dangerous tradition.

Now, with their youngest daughter almost three, the Jillanis said she hasn't received any vaccination shots, nor has she been sick. "We're completely comfortable and confident in her health," Lisa said.

The Jillanis are part of a growing number of parents, concerned citizens and doctors who have begun to question a medical practice that for a long time has been taken for granted and gone largely unchallenged. Although the medical community admits there are some minor risks associated with the use of vaccines, such as fever and soreness, only recently have far more dangerous side effects and consequences been discussed on such a wide scale within both grassroots organizations as well medical studies and books.

The basic goal behind organizations like PAVE isn't to discourage others from vaccinating, but to encourage people to look into the matter for themselves in order to make a more informed decision regarding their health and the health of their family. An integral part of this philosophy is the assertion that the fundamental theory supporting vaccinations is flawed.

Today's medical science uses the same basic methodology in implementing vaccinations that was originally discovered in the 1700s. Vaccinations were first attempted in England in 1718 when healthy people were inoculated with a tiny amount of material from smallpox sores. Those who survived the inoculation became immune to smallpox. Toward the end of the 1700s, British physician Edward Jenner discovered that he could immunize patients against smallpox by inoculating them with material from cowpox sores -- a far milder disease.

The same basic principles are used today. Modified or weakened forms of bacteria or viruses are injected into the bloodstream which trigger or stimulate the body's immune system to build a defense mechanism that continuously guards against the disease.

But what the Jillanis and others who subscribe to their views maintain is that unless you're an immune-compromised child or adult, your body can naturally fight off most diseases without the aid of vaccinations. Furthermore, they say that by introducing these artificially manufactured viruses into the body you are corrupting the body's natural defense system and putting millions of people at risk.

"When a virus is injected into your bloodstream, it's already bypassed several of your body's natural defense systems," A.A. Jillani said. "If you were to come into contact with a bacteria in a natural setting, it is first introduced into the body through the throat and nasal passages, but with a vaccine it's injected directly into the system."

"Basically you're chronically sick all your life," Lisa Jillani said. "You may not feel bad, but your body will always see that virus in your bloodstream. If you got the measles naturally, it would only be in the bloodstream for the length of the illness, but once you're injected with it, the body will detect that germ for the rest of your life."

This theory also touches upon the growing acceptance and popularity of Eastern or alternative medical practices. More people have started putting emphasis on their spiritual well-being and the value of a balanced, harmonious lifestyle including exercise and a sensible diet as a way to promote health and fortify the body as opposed to some chemical or pharmaceutical created in a lab.

Judith Coates, a homeopathic physician in Charlotte, said she was inspired to pursue the field of homeopathic medicine after its practices cured her from a deadly illness she sufferered from as a result of a swine flu vaccine in 1976.

Coates said she received the swine flu vaccination because of governmental "propaganda" that there was going to be an epidemic. Within days of the shot she became violently ill. She said she was just one of 589 documented cases that occurred as a result of the vaccine. Coates added that many people who got the vaccine died within 10 days, but their cases were never documented.

Coates says a substantial number of her patients are vaccine-damaged children and adults. Usually by the time they come to her for help they've exhausted all the traditional medical avenues and have progressed to advanced stages of whatever disease or illness they suffer from.

"I never get anyone because they have blisters on their fingers, they're dying," Coates said. "The biggest problem with vaccine-damaged people -- adults or children -- is the disease that is identified doesn't follow the traditional pattern, it has a lot of deviations, so it is very difficult to diagnose."

Not all critics of vaccinations are within the alternative medical field. Some scientists and doctors who practice within traditional channels have begun to question vaccine's safety as well.

Clarence Norris, MD, who has been a practicing physician in Charlotte since 1994, is one of the very few local doctors who will speak out against vaccinations.

"I may lose my license but I think people should be aware of the risks and be allowed to make their own individual choices," Norris said.

Norris said he first began to question the validity of vaccination while living in Texas during the mid-80s and the two-year-old son of a neighbor died of SIDS following a series of vaccinations.

"I'm not downing the medical field but the American Medical Association (AMA) is going to do whatever they can to protect their interests," Norris said. "It's a money thing. And even if it costs you your life, you will be part of the package that goes down. Most physicians are afraid for their licenses."

Organizations such as the NC Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dispute this position and maintain that vaccinations are an absolute necessity.

According to the CDC, the vaccines and bacteria that cause vaccine-preventable death still exist, and it has only been through the use of vaccines that we have been able to dramatically reduce the number of people who get infectious disease. Furthermore, if we were to discontinue their use the result would be widespread epidemics, illness and death. Diseases that are almost completely eradicated or well under control such as polio, measles and pertussis would experience a substantial resurgence, resulting in dramatic costs in terms of both human lives as well as doctor's visits, hospitalizations and missed work.

Dangerous Tradition It was during the 1950s, following the introduction of an injectable polio vaccine introduced by American physician Jonas Salk, that vaccines became widespread and drug companies started to export vaccine policies globally. Technology within this area of science continued to evolve and by the 70s other vaccinations were available including one to help combat measles. By 1980 a worldwide vaccination program was said to have resulted in the global eradication of smallpox, and in most developed countries immunization was said to have essentially eliminated such diseases as diphtheria and neonatal tetanus. The number of cases of Hemophilius influenza type b meningitis in the US is said to have dropped 95 percent among infants and children since 1988, when a vaccine for the disease was first introduced. In an attempt to continue these global successes, the World Health Organization has set the year 2000 as a target date for the immunization of all children.

Despite this evidence of medical science at its most effective, opponents of vaccines say that this particular version of history is more about a successful public relations campaign than an accurate account of the facts. Most anti-vaccine groups take issue with just about every medical milestone attributed to vaccinations, including the assertion that vaccines were responsible for the near global elimination of polio.

According to the Jillanis, over the past 15 years the vaccine has caused all cases of polio in the US itself. Furthermore, no cases of non-vaccine-induced polio among US residents have been detected in the last decade.

Alan Phillips, an independent investigator and author on vaccine risks and alternatives indicates in his report, Dispelling Vaccination Myths, that after years of steady decline caused by the body's natural defense system, vaccinations caused substantial increases in polio. According to Phillips, ever since the polio vaccine was introduced by Salk in 1954, the rate of polio steadily increased. Phillips also indicates that in 1985, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the vaccine caused 87 percent of the cases of polio in the US between 1973 and 1983.

The CDC asserts that in 1996, as a result of global immunization efforts to eradicate polio, there were only 3,500 documented cases of polio in the world, as compared to between 13,000 and 20,000 which were reported each year in the US alone prior to the polio vaccine.

Furthermore, the CDC insists that cases of polio that groups like PAVE attribute to the vaccine itself are actually caused by importation of the virus from countries such as India. It has only been the use of vaccines, they say, that has prevented it from spreading into the US population.

The pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine in particular has been singled out as being the main culprit in many SIDS deaths. It's asserted by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) that "hot lots" of this vaccine -- those that appear to be associated with more injuries and death than others -- have been responsible for thousands of cases.

A study by Viera Scheibner, Ph.D., called, Vaccination: 100 Years of Orthodox Research Shows that Vaccines Represent a Medical Assault on the Immune System, found peak incidences of SIDS occurred at the ages of 2 and 4 months, precisely when the first two routine immunizations are given. In the mid-70s Japan raised their vaccination age from 2 months to 2 years after a rash of SIDS deaths and lawsuits from grieving parents; their incidence of SIDS dropped dramatically.

The CDC denies the existence of "hot lots" and insists that the newer pertussis vaccine that has been available since 1991 is associated with fewer mild and moderate adverse reactions when compared with the older vaccine that received negative publicity during the 70s. As a result of this publicity and the public concern over the pertussis vaccine, the CDC indicated that several countries drastically reduced their use of the vaccination, which resulted in a resurgence of the disease in several countries including 13,000 cases and 41 deaths in Japan between 1974 and 1979.

Although many of the benefits of vaccinations continue to be challenged, the Jillanis say the real issue isn't even that of the vaccine's effectiveness, but rather the lack of scientific proof supporting their safety and longterm consequences.

"The medical community has no science behind what laboratory engineered viruses do to the body," A.A. Jillani said. "You are taking this incredible risk of introducing viruses into 100 percent of the population. You drastically multiply the problems associated with that particular virus."

Some say it's America's quick fix propensity (also evidenced in the skyrocketing popularity of over the counter drugs to treat everything from depression to stomach aches) and the promise of immediate and permanent protection that explain our willingness to subject our children and ourselves so willingly to vaccinations. That quick-fix mentality has continued despite the fact that inoculations' initial promise -- a single shot would provide lifelong protection -- has proven to be false. Now, booster shots for such diseases as diphtheria and tetanus are routine in order to maintain adequate protection. For example, it was discovered that a single injection of measles vaccine, first licensed in 1963 and administered to children at the age of 15 months, did not confer protection through adolescence and young adulthood. As a result, in the 1980s a series of measles epidemics occurred on college campuses throughout the US. This prompted health officials to recommend that a booster dose of measles vaccine be administered at 4-to-6 or 11-to-12 years.

"It's short term thinking," A.A. Jillani said. "America is an instant results society. If vaccines interrupted the diseases permanently it would be another matter. But they interrupt it in the short term and you only move certain diseases from childhood into adolescence or adulthood."

Furthermore, critics say that the protection provided by vaccines aren't worth the harmful side effects that emerge later. But because these consequences oftentimes do not manifest themselves until years after the vaccination, the cause and effect relationship is often diminished.

"To me it's not even a concern if these products are working," A.A. Jillani said. "My concern is do I want to take my chances with whooping cough, chicken pox and measles now, or brain damage, cancer, autism, asthma or diabetes later. There will never be an official cause and effect relationship attributed to this unless the kid drops dead in the doctor's office immediately after receiving a shot."

Skewed System While short of an X-Files type of conspiratorial plot to inject the children of the world with an insidious solution, vaccination critics say the government has established a system that is relatively impervious to recourse.

There are two main federal organizations in the US that deal with the consequences and compensation of immunization-related illness or death: the Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System (VAERS), and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), which is part of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS).

These two organizations -- both started in 1986 -- work in tandem and were designed to provide both compensation to individuals or families of individuals who've been injured by childhood vaccines, as well as a centralized surveillance system to which adverse vaccine events can be reported.

By law, people injured by vaccines must apply for compensation with the NVICP before suing drug companies or physicians. The NVICP has paid out over $900 million to the families of vaccine injured or killed children since the program officially went into effect in 1988. They have received over 6,000 petitions, including over 700 for vaccine-related deaths, and there are still thousands of total death and injury cases pending.

Despite the assertion that the NVICP was established to help the public, the Jillanis say it actually acts as a shield to protect drug companies and doctors. They maintain that it's structured to make it so taxing on individuals in terms of financial restraints, time limitations or fortitude, it becomes extremely difficult to win a case and collect for damages. Although the NVICP has awarded millions over the past decade, more than 60 percent of the cases are rejected.

VAERS receives about 11,000 reports annually, some one percent of which are deaths from vaccine reactions. But many say this is merely the tip of the iceberg and such statistics don't reflect an accurate portrayal of vaccine reactions because VAERS is a voluntary, self-policed system.

Another criticism facing VAERS is the disease or injury table which they consult in order to determine if injuries meet the criteria which enable people to receive compensation. According to program figures, the average time for successful applications is three and a half years.

One woman who knows first-hand the nightmares of facing NVICP and the VAERS restrictions is Robin Miller of Statesville, whose son died in 1994 after a yearlong period of convulsions and sickness following his first round of vaccination shots when he was two months old. Since her son's death she's been engaged in a legal battle with NVICP. Her case is now going into its fourth year.

"He was sick immediately after the shots and had a high fever," Miller said. "About a week later he started having convulsions and he was never the same after that."

In trying to diagnose her son's symptoms, Miller said doctors went from one extreme to another, prescribing countless medications and performing endless tests, but never acknowledged the possibility of vaccine damage, despite the fact that her own pediatrician had indicated that was a possible cause of the child's death. Miller continues to haggle with NVICP over the medical issues, which she says is an overwhelming experience.

"It's almost impossible," Miller said. "They make it so difficult. Even since I filed my case they've changed the rules again."

Big Brother Is Vaccinating You Since January 1995, it's a Class 1 misdemeanor if a person violates the rules adopted by the local board of health concerning vaccinations. Starting in 1939 with the diphtheria vaccine, North Carolina law has required vaccinations. Throughout successive years other vaccines have been made a requirement by NC law, the latest being the hepatitis B recombinant vaccine in 1994.

Although vaccines are legally mandated and are required for many necessities such as enrolling your children in schools, camps, etc., there are actually three exemption possibilities in most US cases. You may be exempt from vaccinations under medical, religious or philosophical reasons, yet these exemptions are usually downplayed. This writer was actually pulled out of class as an undergraduate student at UNCC because I had not yet received my measles booster shots, but was never told about an exemption option.

A call placed to the Health Center at UNCC also revealed that students may be exempt if their classes are all after 5pm; if you have less that four credit hours; if all classes are off-campus; or if you attend weekend classes only. Also, students who were enrolled in the NC University system prior to 1994 may be exempt from second measles shot.

There is also an immunization registry being coordinated which will establish an immunization tracking record and link all 50 states. Currently the North Carolina Immunization Registry uses a statewide monitoring system to help ensure the timely immunization of infants and children. The purpose is to give parents, health care providers and child care facilities timely access to complete immunization data. It will also allow officials to evaluate the immunization status of parents and identify children who are past due for immunization, as well as help communities assess their immunization coverage and identify area of under-immunization.

While the debate over the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations is sure to become even more heated as the popularity of alternative medicine grows, advances within the system continue to be made. There are currently over 250 new vaccines being developed, many of which focus on sexually transmitted diseases and even one which would temporarily prevent pregnancy.

While these advances may seem like a godsend to most, the Jillanis and an increasingly growing number of others say they're even more cause for concern. The Jillanis indicate that the increase of additional "mandatory" vaccinations and developments such as an immunization registry based on "implied consent" with no provisions to opt out are alarming signs of governmental control run amok and blind adherence to a system at the expense of children.

"The bottom line is true science is being suppressed so as not to compromise the immunization programs," A.A. Jillani said. "But anytime that [the idea that vaccines are harmful] is presented or suggested to government agencies or vaccine companies it's shot down. There's a billion-dollar treatment behind every chronic illness that is caused by vaccines, so it is not the medical community's concern what is causing them. My point is, let's err in favor of the kids rather than the vaccine companies."