Fewer antigens, more injections

Many parents have concerns about the safety of vaccines for their children. Apart from the common side effects of

the first few days – fever, drowsiness or irritability – they are concerned about whether there are long term negative consequences from vaccines on the health of children or not. Several studies have been published lately, and they examine the safety of vaccines in the long run, without incriminating findings so far.  New research comes to confirm the absence of a relation between vaccines and the appearance of neurological diseases years later.

The study was elaborated in the USA by the Immunization Safety Office of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with state funding and without any conflict of interest with vaccine manufacturers. The researchers analysed the history of vaccinations for the first two years of life of 1047 children. Then, they examined these children at age 7 to10 years for neurological and psychological problems, using standardized tests for the calculation of intelligence, speech skills, verbal memory, fine motor coordination skills, behaviour regulation skills, attention span test. Their background concerning academic success, as well as tic appearance, was also evaluated. The tests included evaluation of memory, organization, design, problem solving, logic, mental flexibility, self-control, and multi-tasking.

Scientists concluded that during the first year of their lives children had been exposed to approximately 8 thousand antigens through vaccinations, while up to two years of life they had been exposed to10 thousand.  It was found that children had no difference in their neurological and psychological outcomes. That is, children that had the highest exposures – that got all the vaccines – compared to the children that had the lowest exposures – that got no vaccines or fewer vaccines – had no negative outcome concerning mental or neurological issues. Indeed, it was found that the children at the highest 10th percentile of vaccine antigen exposure, scored twice as high in attention and functional tests, compared to the children that were in the lowest 10th percentile of exposure. Of course, this positive finding does not automatically assume that the relationship is causative, meaning that the higher the exposure to vaccine antigens is, the better the performance.

Parents should therefore be informed, that evidence-based science has not yet proven any assumption for side effects of vaccines in the long run or for causing of chronic diseases.

Another widespread fallacy among parents is their fear that the exposure of their children to vaccine substances has dramatically increased, because current vaccination programmes have many more vaccines than they used to. They are worried because their children get more vaccines today than they did when they were children, and that this may “overload” their immune system.

The reality is exactly the opposite: vaccines contain antigens, meaning substances – proteins, components of a virus or a microbe, which, when entering the body, cause the mobilization of our defences, and the production of antibodies against them by the immune system. Older technology vaccines – the ones we had during the 80s and the 90s – were whole-cell, meaning that they contained the entire virus or microbe in a weakened form. This means that they contained many antigens, and explains in addition why the possibility of side effects – fever, allergic reaction – was significantly higher. The new vaccines, which have been used during the last decade, are of more modern technology, and they contain one or a few antigens from the microorganism, and cause our defences to produce antibodies in a targeted way. The result is that although the number of vaccine injections has increased during the last few years, the total number of antigens, to which the child is exposed, is much lower. So, the child’s body is not overly stressed by more vaccines. Besides, the body is designed in such a way, that from the first day of life it can deal with hundreds, thousands of antigens on the skin and the membranes of the body simultaneously. People therefore focus on the “evident”- on the number of injections- , which has increased, and not on the “non- evident”- the number of antigens that the child receives- , which has decreased. The number of injections may be misleading concerning exactly what children are exposed to.

Now for the essence of the issue with vaccine phobia: behind parents’ fear of over exposure, lies their phobia of painful injections. In a world where most infants and small children don’t have the misfortune to suffer frequently from serious diseases during the first years of their lives, to be admitted to hospital, to undergo extended intravenous therapies etc., in a world where most small children are healthy – and this is partly due to the vaccine coverage of the population – and only visit the paediatrician occasionally for precautionary examinations (well visits), the 15 or 20 vaccine injections during the first 2 years of their lives stress parents out. Yes, it is painful; I see it every day in my practice, watching babies cry after an injection. And for the children themselves it is painful and recurrent, in particular during the second year of life. Needles become a cause for intense stress when visiting the paediatrician, often before arriving at the practice’s door. This pain every month is stressful for many parents, as well as for doctors – no one wants to make a baby cry just by seeing him/her. But the point we are missing is, that it’s the procedure itself that is actually less concerning. More worrying is exactly that, which most parents fortunately don’t see around them today. Some unfortunate parents have to experience measles or whooping cough epidemics, septicemia from meningococcal meningitis or pneumococcus.  It is not the injections themselves, but what they contain – and the content is much better today than it was 20 years ago – and what they protect against, that we tend to forget about today. When you have in front of you a healthy infant which is growing normally and beautifully without unpleasant experiences, and he has to visit the paediatrician regularly and suffer pain, even if you consciously deny it, it creates a knot in your stomach, you want to avoid it. You may consciously deny it in an attempt to behave differently, but we are parents, and even subconsciously, the fact that our healthy and happy child has to go somewhere where he will feel pain affects us. But it wouldn’t be like that, if at the same time, you were to see his cousins or other babies in the neighborhood being hospitalised for something that your child could avoid after three seconds of pain.

And it is exactly there where the second parameter of the issue of vaccinations lies. The option of non-vaccination is relatively painless for parents –“so what if I don’t vaccinate my child and avoid the pain, aren’t all children fine?” This happens for a simple reason: others get their vaccines instead of us. Things with vaccines are simple: if 8 out of 10 parents get their children vaccinated, the disease from which they are protected is limited and no epidemics occur, resulting in a benefit for the other 2 out of 10. But if one day, 5 out of 10 parents decide not to get their children vaccinated, then epidemics, hospitalisations of many children, and injections for their treatment will return at a fast rate. Therefore the “safety” of the option of non-vaccination is a luxury, built on the backs of those who go through the ordeal and decide to vaccinate their children.

Let’s make sure that there are no diseases around our children, sometimes lethal, frequently painful and

stress provoking, with loss of working hours for the parents, and with hospitalisations. Without them out there, our children can grow up and develop to the maximum of their potential.


Source: Iqbal, S., Barile, J. P., Thompson, W. W. and DeStefano, F. (2013), Number of antigens in early childhood vaccines and neuropsychological outcomes at age 7–10 years. Pharmacoepidem. Drug Safe.. doi: 10.1002/pds.3482

Translation/Comments: Stelios Papaventsis MRCPCH DCH IBCLC 2013

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