Barbara Loe Fisher is a pioneer in vaccine education and safety, and the co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). Over the past 25 years, she’s been appointed to several federal vaccine advisory committees as a consumer representative because of her leadership role in the area of consumer advocacy.
Here, she warns about the possibility of yet more doses of another vaccine being added to the routine infant vaccine schedule: the meningococcal vaccine for meningitis. Learn why this may not be a smart vaccine policy change and how you can, personally, give the CDC your opinion at public engagement meetings in Chicago and Denver this month.
Some parents have already spoken up at a recent forum on vaccines; some testifying for it, others riling against it. As reported by The Seattle Times:
"[W]hat poses the greater risk: vaccines, or the diseases they're made to prevent? Should all children undergo vaccination — and its risks — to prevent a relatively rare, but potentially dangerous disease?... For a full day, more than 100 people wrestled with questions of safety, cost and effectiveness of a vaccine for meningococcal meningitis, one of several types of the disease, which can cause inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord."
Yet another vaccine is now being seriously considered for inclusion on the childhood vaccination schedule: the meningococcal vaccine for meningitis. Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) recently attended a vaccine stakeholder engagement meeting sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), where this topic was discussed. She was one of the few consumer representatives at this meeting.
What is Meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges of your brain; basically, it's a brain inflammation. It can be caused by a few different kinds of organisms, including Neisseria meningococcal—which the meningococcal vaccine is geared toward—pneumococcal bacteria (Streptococcus pneumoniae), and Haemophilus influenza B. (The very first vaccines, smallpox, rabies vaccines, as well as other vaccines like pertussis, MMR and hepatitis B vaccine, can also cause brain inflammation in individual cases.)
Signs and symptoms of meningitis include:
|Severe headache||High fever||In babies: high pitched screaming and arching of the back||Rigid head and neck and extreme pain when trying to put your chin to your chest|
Meningococcal disease is a serious disease that can result in the loss of limbs, brain damage, and death. The onset and progression can be swift, and requires urgent medical attention. So when you notice the kinds of symptoms listed above, you need to get checked out immediately.
Fortunately, meningitis can be effectively treated with intravenous antibiotics if caught in time, but therein also lies the crux.
"Often it moves so fast that if you're not paying attention and you don't get to the hospital—and of course this has been the argument [for the vaccine]—it can result in brain injury and death," Fisher says.
"But we have to look at the incidence. Right now, 20 percent of us carry Neisseria meningococcal organisms in the back of our throat at any one given time, and we're asymptomatic. What is it about people who could go on to have invasive meningococcal disease? That's what they really need to be looking at. What are the risk factors?
The other thing is that most of us, by the time we are teenagers, already have natural antibodies to Neisseria meningococcal… But what's going to happen when we no longer have the natural antibodies—when children are getting vaccinated at two, four, six, and 12 months, and you have vaccine-induced antibodies, which are not the same? [Vaccine induced] antibodies are not the same as the natural [antibodies]. We potentially have to change everything."
This is a very important point because most people don't realize that there's a distinct difference between vaccine-induced immunity, which is primarily measured by the number of antibodies in the blood (humoral immunity), and the kind of immunity produced after exposure to and recovery from the disease, which qualitatively superior because it is both cell mediated and humoral.
How Meningococcal Disease Spreads
Educating parents and children about how meningococcal disease spreads and can lead to severe complications may be far more important than imposing a universal use vaccine policy for all babies.
First; understand how it spreads. For example, you cannot catch Neisseria meningococcal simply by standing next to someone who has it. In order to catch it and spread it, you have to have an intimate exchange of saliva, such as kissing, or sharing toothbrushes or cups. You won't catch it from someone coughing in an elevator.
"People just don't have the basic information that they need to make informed choices," Fisher says. "I hope that people will take a serious look at this and give the CDC feedback, either at these city meetings or by writing to the CDC. Again, availability of the vaccine is one thing, but recommending it for everyone, which then turns into a state mandate, is something else."
Meningococcal Vaccine Now Considered for Babies…
The meningococcal vaccine is already recommended for young teens, 11-12 years old, and again at 16 years of age or as college freshmen. Now they want to add anywhere from three to four more doses at two months, four months, six months and 12 months of age.
"Here is the situation with this vaccine," Fisher says. "Neisseria meningococcal is only associated with about 1,400 to 3,000 cases [of meningitis] per year in the United States, out of 308 million Americans. There are five strains (serotypes): A, B, C, Y, and W135. A third to half of the cases of Neisseria meningococcal disease is caused by strain B. And that strain is NOT in the vaccine."
In children under the age of five, strain B is responsible for 66 to 70 percent of the cases of meningitis. Infants under the age of one are now the new target age group being considered for this vaccine recommendation—despite the fact that:
- The bacterial strain responsible for the vast majority of the cases is NOT included in the vaccine, and
- In the last nine years, there has been an average of 16 fatalities per year from the Neisseria meningococcal infection in children under the age of 12 months.
The proposed policy is now to vaccinate EVERY child at two, four, six and 12 months, and then again at 11 to 12 years of age, and at 16 years of age. That's six doses of a meningococcal vaccine that does not cover 30 to 70 percent of the cases that actually occur, depending on the age group!
"You really have to take a look at the cost-benefit analysis," Fisher says.
You also have to look at the insertion of another vaccine into a schedule that already contains eight vaccines to be given at two, four, and six months of age. Where is the evidence showing that it is safe for an infant to receive all these vaccines in combination within the first six months of life? Where are the studies showing it will be safe to add a ninth vaccine?
There aren't any!
Remember that Natural Immunity is FAR Superior to Vaccine-Induced Immunity
Many believe that an immunization induces the same type of immunity that you would get from natural exposure to the infection. But that's simply not the case. This is well-documented, and I don't think any respectable scientist, who understands basic immunology, would dispute it. Natural exposure is far more likely to lead to permanent immunity while vaccine exposure almost always creates a temporary and typically far inferior immunity or fails to stimulate any immunity at all. This is why one dose of a vaccine doesn't work and why "booster" doses are needed to try to extend vaccine induced immunity.
"This is something that's not being looked at either," Fisher warns. "Are we going to become vaccine dependent? Are you going to see a mutation of this Neisseria meningococcal organism into a more virulent and a more prevalent form?..."
The primary reason why most outbreaks of meningitis occur among college students is that many freshmen, away from home for the first time, don't live a healthy lifestyle. There is usually a decline in their nutritional status combined with the stress of a new environment and disrupted sleeping habits—all of which can have a dramatic and detrimental impact on the healthy functioning of their immune system. A depressed immune system is going to be far less able to resist infections.
Is Six Doses of Yet Another Vaccine Within the First Year of Life Warranted?
The proposed vaccine policy change would be to recommend six doses of the meningococcal vaccine for every American child, with four of those doses given under age 12 months, for a disease that in the last nine years killed an average of 16 children per year under age 12 months in this country. Do those mortality statistics warrant spending multi-millions of scarce health care dollars to purchase four doses of meningococcal vaccine for every single child in America under 12 months old?
Meanwhile, at least 106,000 people die each and every year from taking properly prescribed prescription drugs. Why isn't something being done about prescription drug use if they're truly concerned about saving one life every two years?
I have to say that this proposed vaccine policy change does not appear rational —unless your primary justification for this recommendation is a financial one, for the benefit of the drug companies.
"I think the vaccine should be available for anyone who wants to use it," Fisher says. And I agree on this point. "The issue I have with a universal use recommendation by the CDC for meningococcal vaccine, for children under one, is that every time the CDC recommends a vaccine for universal use for children, in the last quarter century almost all of those vaccines have turned into state mandates. Meaning that, you don't have a choice.
That's really the overarching issue that has many parents concerned… It's not that the vaccines are being recommended; it's that the vaccines are being mandated. They are being forced on you. When anyone tries to make an educated voluntary decision, they are then thrown out of the doctor's office. They are harassed. They are threatened."
This is a situation with the potential to get explosive…
Has Anyone Done a Cost to Benefit Analysis?
"If you take an objective look at this potential universal-use recommendation by CDC for the [meningococcal] vaccine, you have a couple of issues," Fisher says. "First, you have a cost issue… The cost depends on if you get it in a public health clinic or in a private pediatrician's office, but we're looking at… about $60-100 per dose."
So that's upwards of $500-600 per child for this one vaccine alone. In the end we all pay for it one way or another since it's paid by either the parents or the government, who takes it from federal income taxes. Again, looking at the disease statistics, and the current cost of US health care as a whole, are four more doses of this vaccine truly warranted for every single baby under 12 months old in the US?
Vaccine Mandates Violate Health Freedom
The second issue is the potential for this recommendation to turn into state mandates. Texas recently mandated the meningococcal vaccine for freshmen college students. Fortunately, Texas has a conscientious belief exemption courtesy of the amazing work of Dawn Richardson, who is NVIC's Director of Advocacy and also founder of the Texas-based Parents Requesting Vaccine Education (PROVE).
"It's all about protecting our right to choose," Fisher says. "That is, if a mother wants to give her children – say there has been meningococcal disease in the family and the mother believes that her child may be at risk for meningococcal disease—certainly she should have the right to have access to a vaccine. But we should not be forced to use a vaccine that we do not believe is either safe, effective, or necessary for our children. We need to have that right.
I am very concerned about this proposed policy. That's why we have put out information that the CDC is holding public engagement meetings. There are meetings in Denver, in Chicago, and in Seattle. They have already held one in New Hampshire, to get input from the public about what the public thinks about the addition of this meningococcal vaccine to the under one-year-old recommended schedule.
I hope everyone weighs in, and if you can't get to the meeting that you will write to the CDC… Because again, it's one thing to make the vaccine available, it's quite another to recommend it for every child, and then force it."
It's important to take into consideration the very real possibility that the meningococcal vaccine most likely will become mandated, because the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is part of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). So if the CDC recommends it, then that federal government recommendation will likely be relatively quickly turned into state mandates.
At that point, unless you live in a state that allows you to file and receive either a conscientious belief, philosophical or religious exemption to vaccination or you are able to find a medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) to write a medical exemption, your child will be required to receive four to six doses of the meningogoccal vaccine. If you don't receive your health care in a public health clinic, the meningococcal shots for your child may cost you as much as $500-600 dollars, in addition to the dozens of doses of other vaccines that are already mandated in states, in order for your child to be allowed to attend public school or many private schools, as well.
Protect Health Freedom—Get Involved Now
If you feel as strongly as we do about the right to exercise voluntary, informed consent to vaccination, and I hope you do, then I strongly encourage you to take an active role in voicing your opinion to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There are a few ways you can do this.
- Write to the CDC to express your opinions on the proposed addition of more doses of meningococcal vaccine to the childhood vaccination schedule. Send your letter by July 30, 2011 and address it to:
Centers for Disease Control
c/o Michael Hughes
The Keystone Center
1600 Broadway, #1920
Denver, CO 80202
You can also email a copy of your letter to NVIC at ContactNVIC@gmail.com. Let NVIC know if you give permission for your letter to be publicly posted (without your address) on NVIC's website at NVIC.org.
- Attend one of the public meetings sponsored by the CDC and facilitated by The Keystone Center at the following locations (Admission is free but to participate, attendees must be willing to stay for the full day):
Thursday, July 21 in Chicago. Holiday Inn, Chicago O'Hare Airport, 5615 North Cumberland Ave., Chicago, IL. 9:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Registration begins at 9 a.m. Online registration: http://keystone.org/registration/chicago Phone 1-866-276-7083, Fax: 970-262-0152. Event flyer: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22CLZMMQ2B9/
Monday, July 25, Denver. Mt. Yale Conference Room, Children's Hospital of Colorado, 13123 East 16th Ave., Aurora, CO 80045. 9:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Registration begins at 9 a.m. Online Registration: http://keystone.org/registration/july25denver Phone: 1-866-276-7083. Fax: 970-262-0152. Event Flyer: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22CM4FWRRF7/
- Sign up for the free NVIC Advocacy Portal, which will help you take action in your state to protect your right to know and freedom to decide which vaccines you want for yourself and your children. NVIC is educating citizens about how to stand up for the human right to informed consent to medical risk-taking, specifically the legal right to make informed, voluntary vaccine choices.
Get involved and protect your right to file and receive legal exemptions to vaccination, including medical, religious and conscientious or philosophical belief exemptions, which you will need even more in the future if meningococcal vaccine and many other vaccines are added to government vaccine recommendations and mandates.