The response we received to the columns on homeopathy, psychiatry and vaccinations was incredible. It is clearly an issue that resonates with many of our readers. As I do not consider myself an expert in this area, I turned to someone who is and asked Dr. Susan Schulman, a well-regarded pediatrician in the frum community, to address the topic. She was gracious enough to share her time with us and address some of the concerns raised.
Why we sometimes need to utilize non-natural methods to keep our children healthy.
I believe in a “healthy” lifestyle. Those who know me know that I am a very vocal advocate for giving our children the best chance at good health. I have always advocated feeding our families wholesome food, balanced diets with few, if any, packaged snacks. I believe we should all be exercising, every day. I truly believe that we must respect our “normal flora,” the ubiquitous population of germs that populates every surface of the body that connects to the outside world. There are, however, some medical interventions which might seem non-natural and yet, are critically important.
For example, antibiotics can definitely alter this population of healthful germs, but allowing infections to go untreated can take us back to a time when death from infection gave us a life expectancy of 40 years. Obviously these life-saving medications should be used judiciously, with concurrent usage of probiotic germs and yeast to restore the flora that they alter.
Vaccines, however, are natural. In our own immune systems, we produce antibodies that protect us from invasion and illness on a consistent basis. Each germ causes the production of specific antibodies. Edward Jenner in the 1700’s observed that immunity (now understood to be specific antibodies) can be stimulated against a deadly disease, for example, small pox, by inoculating a person with a similar but less dangerous disease, cow pox.
His discovery saved millions of lives and since then we have been searching for a way to stimulate immunity without actually causing a person to contract the deadly form of a disease. The development of vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella in the 20th century has made the actual diseases so rare most physicians have never seen them.
Unfortunately, the germs are still there and the negative effects of the actual diseases are life threatening. There is no treatment for most of them and diseases like HIB meningitis can cause irreversible brain damage in the first few hours of infection.
The HIB germ is always in our community; it does not come in epidemics, it lives in the throats of healthy people. Until 1986, it was so common that every ill child with fever under one year of age was suspected of having it. Emergency room visits and spinal taps to rule out meningitis were daily occurrences. Then in 1986 a vaccine was licensed that virtually eliminated it. Instead of seeing 7-10 cases a month, we see none! I am terrified that there are people who are not giving this life-protecting gift to their children.
The anti-vaccine movement is based on poor understanding of the epidemiology of disease. Arguments against giving any vaccines are naive and hollow. Vaccines take advantage of our natural ability to develop immune antibodies. Stimulating this system is not harmful – it merely makes our own body produce the natural protection it needs.
I am all in favor of increasing our intake of the powerful nutrients found in wholesome foods. I would love to see people preparing basic foods at home and not feeding their families processed and packaged foods. I feel, however, that this urge to be natural and “organic” has led some people to mistakenly turn their backs on necessary beneficial modalities like vaccines.