By Samantha Hudgins
Vaccines are training wheels for the body’s immune system. They allow the body to learn how to fight symptoms and infections without risk of contracting the disease itself. They are an important part of keeping both individuals and communities healthy and though there has been some controversy surrounding vaccines, it is important to note that they are not at odds with complementary and alternative medicines (CAM).
Research on the rate of vaccinations among adults has shown an association between those who seek complementary and alternative medicine and a higher rate of vaccinations. However research on CAM-users and childhood vaccines is less clear. Rates seem to be lower but the reason is unknown. In response to these studies, the director for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, Dr. Josephine Briggs has written, “It is essential that we recognize the extraordinary success of childhood vaccination, and that we look to the abundant scientific evidence that documents the safety and vital role of vaccines in the health of our nation.”
How do vaccines work?
Instead of exposing the body to an infectious disease, an altered or weakened version of the disease is given either orally or through injection, just under the skin or into the muscle. This mimics the disease enough to cause the body to create anti-bodies, which overcome the vaccine. Where the body previously had no defense against the infectious disease, it now has the anti-bodies and the memory to fight exposure of a full-strength infection.
Are vaccines better than natural exposure?
Vaccines give the body an advantage because the disease being introduced is either weakened or dead. Natural exposure to infectious diseases in their active form can have serious consequences—from mental and physical disability to death. While vaccines do require boosters to keep the body in top-fighting condition, natural exposure does not always guarantee full immunity either. For example, someone who has had chicken pox is still susceptible to shingles, a reactivation of the virus that causes chicken pox.
What is going into the body?
The majority of a vaccine is made up of the antigen, or the weakened disease, the body is being trained to fight. The other components potentially in a vaccine are diluents like sterile water to get the correct concentration; adjuvants which are substances used to increase the body’s immune response to the vaccine; stabilizers to maintain the vaccine’s effectiveness while in storage; preservatives to prevent bacteria from growing in the vaccine and trace-components left from the manufacturing process. Every part of a vaccine serves a purpose. There are no fillers and sometimes it is possible to request vaccines that do not contain preservatives.
When it comes to the specific ingredients in vaccines, it is important to look at the quantity used. Things like aluminum, mercury and formaldehyde may seem frightening but we’re already exposed to much larger quantities in our everyday lives. Aluminum is the most common metal found in nature and there is more mercury in the meat of a tuna fish than in vaccines. The human body produces—and filters out—more formaldehyde as a byproduct of metabolizing natural alcohols in fruit and nuts than is used in a vaccine.
Should everyone vaccinate?
Vaccines are meant to be administered to healthy bodies. The rare instances of severe adverse effects are often associated with those who have weakened immune systems. There are also age minimums and maximums placed on vaccines. Family history and allergies are important factors to consider before vaccinating, as well. Some vaccines may contain trace amounts of egg, gelatin or yeast, which can enact adverse reaction to those already allergic to those components. Most often, the side effects of a vaccine are redness or soreness where the vaccine was given, fever or headache.
There are those who cannot receive vaccines. Therefore, it is important that those who are healthy enough to get them, do so. As more people have a defense against a disease, the less likely it will spread—especially to someone who cannot fight it.
Vaccines are an important part of preventive medicine. It is possible and encouraged to lead a lifestyle in line with CAM practices and follow a vaccine schedule. When choosing a vaccine schedule, take care to discuss health, family history, potential allergies, ingredients and any concerns or questions with your healthcare provider. Vaccines train the body to stay healthy so that severe illnesses don't have to.
Sam Hudgins is a mother, writing enthusiast and Outreach Director for Natural Awakenings.