The extraordinary controversy that swirled around gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield and his suggestion that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine might trigger autism has overshadowed the debate about vaccine safety in general for years. His detractors believe that discrediting his research—and Wakefield himself in the process—proves that vaccines are safe, while his defenders continue to argue that a conspiracy is hiding the truth that vaccines do indeed cause autism.
While the world's health agencies reassure parents that vaccinations for their children are perfectly safe, three studies published this year—and ignored by the mainstream media—suggest that the 'vaccine-deniers' or 'conspiracy theorists', as Wakefield's supporters are variously called, might have a point and that vaccines are far from safe, even if none could establish a link with autism.
Although autism isn't on the list, one of the new studies has discovered that vaccines can cause a range of other 'neuropsychiatric disorders' such as depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
Another found that the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccine increased the risk of death in African children inoculated in the 1980s.
The third study explains why vaccinations may be more dangerous than the manufacturers and health agencies are telling us: microscopic contamination is taking place during the vaccines' manufacturing process.
Not that it's exactly news that vaccines aren't entirely safe. In 2011, a US Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) report stated that "vaccines are not free from side effects, or 'adverse effects'".1 Also, 29 governments around the world have accepted liability for any damage caused by their national vaccination programmes and have created taxpayer-funded compensation schemes. The US scheme has paid out $3.5 billion since 1988 for 16,616 cases of vaccine injury and 1,219 vaccine-related deaths. Among the injury cases, more than 1,300 relate to brain damage, or encephalopathy.
Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine think that vaccines may be interfering with a child's maturing immune system, which plays a key part in healthy brain development. They point out that the H1N1 'swine flu' vaccine caused a sudden rise in cases of the sleep disorder narcolepsy, an autoimmune problem, in 2009.
While any link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been "convincingly disproven", they say the same cannot be said for the MMR and other vaccines and a range of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anorexia, anxiety, nervous tics, ADHD, depression and bipolar disorder.2
Using a health-insurance claims database, which covers around 56 million people, the researchers looked for neuropsychiatric cases that were newly diagnosed between 2002 and 2007 in children aged six to 15, as well as new cases of bone fractures and open wounds—which clearly couldn't have been caused by a vaccine—to serve as controls.
They found that children with anorexia were nearly twice as likely to have been vaccinated in the preceding three months, while the hepatitis and meningitis vaccines increased the likelihood of OCD, anorexia and tics nearly one-and-a-half times.
But even though the problems arose soon after vaccination, the researchers say this doesn't necessarily mean that the vaccine was the cause.
Deaths in Africa
Other researchers aren't quite as circumspect. A team working for the Bandim Health Project, which vaccinated children in Guinea-Bissau in Africa in the 1980s, discovered years later that the children who'd been given the DTP vaccine were around five times more likely to have died.3
The children, who were aged from three and five months at the time of vaccination, had officially died of 'any cause', but the researchers suspect that the vaccine made the children more susceptible to other infections not related to the ones covered by the vaccine.
Ironically, the children who hadn't been vaccinated were more frail, more malnourished or sicker—so weren't considered well enough for the vaccine—and yet they didn't die prematurely, which adds credence to the idea that the vaccine was to blame.
Other studies in Africa had come up with similar findings. In one, children in the Congo were more likely to have died if they'd been given the MMR vaccine; these results have also been confirmed by larger community studies and before-and-after trials in several countries.
Health workers were recruited to the Bandim project because of the alarming death rates in the region, with half the children dying of malnutrition. As part of the project, the health workers were only vaccinating the children who were considered healthy enough: of the 1,057 children included in the project, 55 per cent got the DTP vaccine, while some were also given the oral polio vaccine.
The polio vaccine seems to have had some protective effect, but the children who received both vaccines were just over twice as likely to have died. "All currently available evidence suggests that DTP vaccine may kill more children from other causes than it saves from diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis [whooping cough]," the researchers concluded.
The deadly effects of vaccines may be due to contamination that's happening in the manufacturing process. When researchers used special scanning electron microscopes with an X-ray microprobe on 44 kinds of vaccines being manufactured in processing plants in Italy and France, all but one were found to be contaminated. Some vaccines had just one contaminant, but several—including GlaxoSmithKline's Fluarix, the seasonal flu shot, and Sanofi's version of the MMR vaccine—contained 11 inorganic particles. Such contamination must have happened during the processing or filtration stages, reckon the researchers from the National Council of Research of Italy.4
These contaminants aren't biocompatible—which means the body doesn't see them as 'friendly'—and they're also biopersistent, which means the body can't get rid of them. In many cases, they may not have any noticeable effect other than to cause swelling in the part of the body around the vaccination site, but in rare cases, they can circulate within the body and become lodged
Contamination may explain why some people report an almost instant reaction after vaccination, while others say nothing happened until a few weeks later. In some cases, the contaminants may have reached the brain, which could result in neurological reactions.
This could explain the large number of febrile seizures—epilepsy-like fits that are seen when someone has a high fever—noted by independent Cochrane Collaboration reviewers on assessing the safety record of the MMR vaccine. While such seizures are already common in children, the vaccine appeared to increase the rate fourfold in children aged 12 to 23 months, and nearly sixfold in those aged 12 to 35 months, within six to 11 days of the vaccination.5
More worryingly, the Cochrane researchers—who had reviewed studies involving nearly 15 million children—found that the MMR jab increased the risk of aseptic meningitis (brain inflammation not caused by bacteria) by an average of 14 times, although some studies estimated that the vaccine increased the risk 25 times. Although most cases are mild and are quickly resolved, some cases can be severe and even life-threatening.
So, if you see claims on the UK's National Health Service (NHS) website that childhood vaccinations are "safe", or on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site that they're "very safe"—which is shorthand for 'no, they don't cause autism'—you'll know they're being somewhat economical with the truth.
Is it safe? #1
Soon after the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP) Tripedia vaccine was deemed safe by its approval trials, parents started to report a wide range of side-effects that their children were experiencing. The adverse reactions included: idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (an immune disorder that causes easy bleeding and bruising); SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome); anaphylactic reactions (severe and sometimes fatal reactions caused by the immune system going into overdrive); cellulitis; autism; convulsions/grand mal seizures; encephalopathy (brain disease, damage or malfunction); hypotonia (reduced muscle strength, sometimes called 'floppy baby syndrome'); neuropathy (nerve pain); somnolence (sudden sleepiness); and apnoea (sudden inability to breathe).
Although the reactions are all listed on the product sheet, Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine's manufacturer, said the reactions hadn't been seen in large studies.
Is it safe? #2
The campaign group Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) is calling on health agencies around the world to stop describing vaccines as 'safe'.
By claiming that vaccines have no serious or lasting adverse effects, governments, doctors and other health professionals are misleading parents.
They are also in breach of human-rights laws, and parents can't be giving their true informed consent if they're not being told about all the possible side-effects, says the ANH. Informed consent means being made aware of all the possible benefits and risks, as well as of any effective alternatives.
"While the risk of permanent injury from vaccines following any single vaccination is small, the overall risk of the full vaccination schedule to any child is not well understood, and thousands of people have suffered long-term injuries and even death that have been attributed to vaccinations by courts in the USA and elsewhere," the ANH says in its campaign.
The ANH has launched a petition on its Change.org website: www.change.org/p/centers-for-disease-control-stop-health-authorities-claiming-that-vaccines-are-safe.