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Homeopathic Vaccines Revisited

One of the core fictions of “complementary” or “integrative” medicine is that they are primarily offered in addition to science-based medicine and only to fill gaps in what SBM can offer. The original marketing label used to promote treatments that are not adequately supported by evidence , “alternative medicine,” was a bit more accurate in that at least it acknowledged that such treatments were being offered instead of SBM (the fiction being that they are a viable alternative, rather than just health fraud and pseudoscience). The switch to “complementary” and “integrative” did not reflect an evolving philosophy or practice, just an evolving marketing strategy.

Today proponents are likely to reassure the right people – journalists, regulators, and academics – that their offerings are not meant to replace proven therapies, but to complement them (the best of both worlds). (Mark Crislip is fond of pointing out that this is like mixing cow pie with apple pie. It doesn’t make the cow pie palatable, but it does ruin the apple pie.) However, behind closed doors practitioners of unscientific medicine generally prescribe their favorite pseudoscience instead of science-based treatments.

For example, Alice Tuff from Sense about Science investigated 10 homeopathic clinics in the UK.

In the consultations, Alice explained that she was planning to join a 10-week truck tour through Central and Southern Africa and that the anti-malarial drugs her doctor had prescribed made her feel queasy.

The results – all 10 homeopathy clinics offered homeopathic treatments for malaria protection, and none of them suggested this be done in addition to standard treatment. None of them referred Alice back to her medical doctor for further advice (in which case she could have been offered science-based alternative malaria treatments that she may have tolerated better). Only two homeopaths took a personal medical history.

Homeopathic vaccines are an excellent test case for the ethics of so-called CAM. In order to accept CAM one has to, in my opinion, disregard core scientific principles, or profoundly misunderstand them. It is therefore not surprising that proponents of CAM would generally not recommend science-based treatments, and may even advise against them. The more savvy practitioners understand that in order to get a foot in the door they need to publicly take the “integrative” approach, but this is often not what happens in practice.

Schmidt and Ernst surveyed chiropractors and homeopaths for their advice on the MMR vaccine. After gathering the data they disclosed that this was for research and offered them the opportunity to withdraw their responses. The results are below:

We contacted 168 homoeopaths, of whom 104 (72%) responded, 27 (26%) withdrawing their answers. We contacted 63 chiropractors, of whom 22 (44%) responded, six (27%) withdrawing their responses. No general practitioners responded. The table shows that only a few professional homoeopaths and a quarter of the chiropractors advised in favour of the MMR vaccination. Almost half of the homoeopaths and nearly a fifth of the chiropractors advised against it.

Only 3% of the homeopaths advised getting the vaccination, while 40% specifically advised against it. Meanwhile, 25% of chiropractors advised for and 19% against getting the vaccine. As interesting is the fact that more than a quarter of each withdrew their responses – indicating a desire to conceal their true beliefs and practice from the public.

In reaction to this study the Society of Homeopaths put out an official statement saying they do not advise against vaccines – but again, we are just seeing the disconnect between the public face and practice behind closed doors. This seems to represent a deception inherent in non-science-based practice.

As if it needs to be said yet again on this site – homeopathy is an unscientific philosophy based upon superstitious notions invented over 200 years ago. Homeopathic pills and potions typically are diluted beyond the point where any active ingredients remain. Not only do physics, chemistry, and biology dictate that homeopathic treatments cannot work, when studied clinically they in fact do not work. Specifically the scientific evidence does not support the claim that homeopathy is effective in preventive infectious illness and is a suitable alternative to proven vaccines.

In addition to offering an ineffective treatment in place of perhaps the safest and most effective medical intervention ever devised, vaccines, proponents of unscientific alternatives have a huge motivation to attack their competition. They therefore often make common cause with the anti-vaccine movement, as evidence by the fact that 40% of the homeopaths in the above study (that allowed their advice to be known) specifically advised against vaccination.

It is not difficult to find sites on the web both attacking vaccines and promoting an alternative, such as homeopathy. This is partly a product of scientific illiteracy, but also just brand competition. If you are selling an alternative it is in your interest to criticize the competition.

In some cases the conflict between homeopathy and vaccination takes on a legal dimension. A recent court case in Australia involves divorced parents fighting over whether or not to vaccinate their child. The mother is against vaccines, stating:

She told the court that she adhered to a ”simple and healthy way of life”, that included eating organic food, using non-toxic cleaning products and sending the child to a Rudolph Steiner school where the toys were made from natural products such as wool, wax and silk.

Most parents at the school focused on ”building up the immune system of the child through homeopathics”, she told the court.

We see here the alliance of anti-vaccine sentiments, the naturalistic fallacy, and homeopathy.

The father and the girl’s stepmother took her to get vaccinated after she contracted whooping cough at age five. They were further concerned over risks posed to their newborn from their unvaccinated sibling. This led the mother to sue in court to keep her daughter from being vaccinated by her father. The news report of the case further reveals:

A doctor in homeopathic medicine told the court that homeopathic vaccination was safe and effective, whereas traditional vaccination had short- and long-term risks, including a link to ADHD and autism.

Apparently it is not difficult to find a homeopath who will testify to blatant pseudoscience in the courtroom.

Conclusion

It is apparent that there is a real and meaningful conflict between science-based medicine and what is offered by some as an alternative (interventions not adequately based on science) – how could there not be? The notion of “complementary” or “integrative” medicine is a marketing fiction, a political necessity for proponents of nonsense. In practice proponents of unscientific alternatives largely oppose science-based interventions, or will at least happily jump on the bandwagon of any criticism or denial of mainstream medicine, while falsely promoting treatments that are not supported by basic science or evidence of effectiveness.

This all gets filed under the category of “what’s the harm” of believing in and promoting medical pseudoscience.

Posted in: Homeopathy

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25 thoughts on “Homeopathic Vaccines Revisited

  1. Old_skeptic says:

    That survey of chiropractors and homeopaths by Schmidt and Ernst is 10 years old and British.

    Have there been any newer surveys like it? And have any been done in the United States?

    If not, a new, American survey of this type might make an interesting honors thesis or master’s thesis topic for a student.

  2. Jann Bellamy says:

    My post tomorrow will reference recent U.S. and Canadian studies on naturopaths and vaccination — one of the studies included chiropractors. The International Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics, a U.S.- based organization consisting of chiropractors purporting to specialize in treating children, solicits donations for the National Vaccine Information Council, a notoriously anti-vaccine organization, and has anti-vaccination speakers at its conferences.

  3. Quill says:

    Of all the things in this post, the disconnect between public statements and private practice by homeopaths is what bothers me most. If things in homeopathland are so indeed magically wonderful, why conceal them? If their system is superior to something else or everything else, why not shout to the rafters about it all?

    Upon reflection I don’t think I can be a shruggie about homeopathy anymore. It’s one thing to take water or sugar pills along with one’s actual medication and quite another to be told not to take the medicine or vaccines at all.

  4. Lesley says:

    This article is problematic for me. It makes some great points – the fact that 25% of homeopaths surveyed retracted their responses is interesting, however it could be argued that some initial dishonesty on the part of the researchers made those surveyed feel defensive and untrusting. Another fair point made in this article is the argument that homeopathic remedies give a false sense of security, despite lack of scientific evidence to support the methods work at all. I also enjoyed the author’s take on ‘complimentary’ and ‘integrative’ as marketing spin.

    That said, the article reveals itself as extremely biased in calling vaccines “perhaps the safest and most effective medical intervention to ever be devised”. Anyone who reads the manufacturer-produced product monographs for a vaccine knows that the risks are very real. In the case of Pediacel, given to babies at two months, they include diarrhoea and vomiting, high fever, extreme limb swelling, anorexia, gastrointestinal disorders, seizures and anaphylaxis. Also, vaccines contain known neurotoxins including aluminium phosphate, Polysorbate 80 and thimerosal.

    If the author was truly interested in influencing the opinions of people driven towards homeopathic alternatives (rather than just in getting applause from those who already share his point of view) this article would make at least minor effort to understand and mitigate the legitimate concerns of those who question vaccine safety.

    Further, the comment that “apparently it is not difficult to find a homeopath who will testify to blatant pseudoscience in the courtroom” is just spiteful. It’s not legit to, one one hand, take offence that homeopaths are not transparent and open in their beliefs (as the author does regarding the 25% retraction rate) and simultaneously take offence when they are confident and transparent enough to share their opinions proudly in a court of law.

  5. Narad says:

    Perhaps a modification would help:

    Further, the comment that “apparently it is not difficult to find a homeopath who will testify to blatant pseudoscience in the courtroom ooze out of the woodwork for no reason” is just spiteful voluntarily demonstrated with distressing regularity.

  6. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Anyone who reads the manufacturer-produced product monographs for a vaccine knows that the risks are very real.

    Real? Yes. Serious? Rarely. Safer than the alternative? Absolutely. Effective? Certainly, unlike homeopathy. A homeopathic “vaccine” will prevent the “risks” of vaccination – at the expense of exposing you to all the risks of the illness.

    Also, vaccines contain known neurotoxins including aluminium phosphate, Polysorbate 80 and thimerosal.

    So do fish. Except for polysorbate 80, which is found in pretty much any food.

    <blockquote.If the author was truly interested in influencing the opinions of people driven towards homeopathic alternatives (rather than just in getting applause from those who already share his point of view) this article would make at least minor effort to understand and mitigate the legitimate concerns of those who question vaccine safety.
    The people who question vaccine safety usually don’t have any appreciation of the risks of the diseases the present, and often frame their approach from a position of paranoia and absolutism rather than rational thought. If the risk of a rash from a vaccine is 1/1000 but the risk of say, permanent deafness from the disease is 1/10000, perhaps “risk” the vaccine.

    Further, the comment that “apparently it is not difficult to find a homeopath who will testify to blatant pseudoscience in the courtroom” is just spiteful.

    By being homeopaths, they embody blatant pseudoscience. Homeopathy is nonsense. It’s magic and wishful thinking, a form of emotion-focused coping for the worried-well (or cruel exploitation of the genuinely sick). Homeopathy is worthless at anything except enriching homeopaths.

  7. Scott says:

    It’s not legit to, one one hand, take offence that homeopaths are not transparent and open in their beliefs (as the author does regarding the 25% retraction rate) and simultaneously take offence when they are confident and transparent enough to share their opinions proudly in a court of law.

    It certainly is legitimate. The first point is that they’re dishonest. The second is that they’re wrong – and by any reasonable standard of professional responsibility, should KNOW that they’re wrong. (And perhaps at some level do, leading to the first point.)

  8. Lesley says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    William, do you have any information/sources on how many mcg of aluminum is in a serving of fish or everyday foods (average/ballpark)? I have tried to find this to no avail.

    I would like to better understand exactly how much aluminum is safe. One figure that gets a lot of play in the anti-vaccine camp is 4-5mcgs per kilogram of body weight as it has been found that premature babies and people with impaired kidney function receiving higher levels than this intravenously experienced severe bone and brain toxicity. Using this as a best practice guide (albeit a conservative one), a baby who weighs 10 lbs (4.5 kilos) could safely handle about 23 mcgs. Pediacel is the standard 5-in-1 shot where I live – it contains 1500 mcgs of aluminium.

    I appreciate that most babies are not premies, nor have kidney problems, and that this standard may be over-cautious for a healthy child. However I haven’t found more appropriate reference. Can anyone here point me to a better source?

    With respect to dismissing concerns over polysorbate-80, mercury and formaldehyde because they are found in some foods, I think it’s reasonable to question if there’s a difference between ingesting substances orally and injecting them into your blood stream. I consume a lot of things I wouldn’t dream of shooting into my veins.

    Thanks for your help,
    L

  9. Marc Stephens Is Insane says:

    Lesley,

    If your doctor injects vaccines into your veins, find another doctor.

  10. Narad says:

    With respect to dismissing concerns over polysorbate-80, mercury and formaldehyde because they are found in some foods, I think it’s reasonable to question if there’s a difference between ingesting substances orally and injecting them into your blood stream. I consume a lot of things I wouldn’t dream of shooting into my veins.

    Vaccines are not injected “into your blood stream.” Your body happily produces formaldehyde. Methyl mercury is not magically disposed of by the GI tract. You’re JAQing off.

  11. Chris says:

    Lesley:

    William, do you have any information/sources on how many mcg of aluminum is in a serving of fish or everyday foods (average/ballpark)? I have tried to find this to no avail.

    Try this: 1.3 How might I be exposed to aluminum?. It gives the amount you should encounter.

    You do understand that as the most common metal element on this planet’s crust aluminum is part of the minerals that compose soil. Plus in the water. I would love to know where you buy food that is grown with aluminum free soil and water.

  12. Narad says:

    I would love to know where you buy food that is grown with aluminum free soil and water.

    Don’t forget breathing a source of aluminum-free air.

  13. Chris says:

    Lesley:

    With respect to dismissing concerns over polysorbate-80, mercury and formaldehyde because they are found in some foods, I think it’s reasonable to question if there’s a difference between ingesting substances orally and injecting them into your blood stream.

    The phrase “injecting into your blood stream” is often an indication that someone’s research into vaccines has been limited. You might try catching up by reading SBM’s collection of vaccine articles.

    Once you get more educated, and find out how to find scientific papers on PubMed, I need you to read this article: ‘It was hideous’ – family’s tetanus agony. Then explain very carefully with actual scientific references which ingredients in the DTaP is more dangerous than tetanospasmin. It would be quite interesting that something used as an emulsifier in ice cream is considered more dangerous than the second most deadly toxin (it comes after botulism).

  14. Lesley says:

    Hi Chris – thanks for the resources. I trust that you shared the New Zealand Herald article with me because you thought I’d find it interesting and not because you assume that people who ask questions about vaccines are ignorant of the diseases that vaccines fight. If I thought that vaccines were without merit, I wouldn’t be here reading articles.

    With respect to the issue of injection vs. ingestion – I very much welcome all of your assistance in furthering my education in this area (no sarcasm intended). Are folks here suggesting there’s no difference? Some of the comments above are entirely dismissive of this as a concern. You obviously know something I don’t. Can someone please point me to studies that specifically address the issue of how much aluminum is safe when injected? I am equally interested in the same point for other vaccine preservatives/adjuvants such as formaldehyde and polysorbate-80. Have these studies been done? I am genuinely interested and not advocating a position by asking the question.

    Thanks folks.

  15. The Dave says:

    Hi Lesley,

    Brian Dunning over at Skeptoid did a good podcast looking at many of the ingredients of vaccines, and he even includes links to help further your investigation. I highly recommend reading the transcript here: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4180

  16. Chris says:

    Lesley, did you not find the SBM vaccines articles sufficient? Did you even read this one? Then it is up to you to go to PubMed and use the search window on adjuvants. Avoid anything written by Dorea, Shaw and Goldman. Also remember anytime you scrape your knee in dirt or scratch your arm on an aluminum chain link fence you are getting aluminum injected into yourself.

    I shared the article with you to illustrate the danger of tetanospasmin. Now answer my question: What in the DTaP is more dangerous than the toxin created by the three bacterial diseases, like tetanospasmin? Use your PubMed research skills to find the answer.

    In the meantime, between 200000 and 300000 die from pertussis, and close to 200000 die from tetanus on this planet each year. If you believe the DTaP is more dangerous than those diseases, then provide an alternative affordable way to prevent those diseases, with actual evidence it works (hint: not homeopathy!).

  17. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Hi Chris – thanks for the resources. I trust that you shared the New Zealand Herald article with me because you thought I’d find it interesting and not because you assume that people who ask questions about vaccines are ignorant of the diseases that vaccines fight.

    Actually, this is usually the case – one of the frequent fallacious arguments made by those who oppose vaccination is that the risks outweigh the benefits. Most people who do not vaccinate their children or oppose vaccination often are quite ignorant of the diseases protected against. Because vaccination is so effective at preventing diseases, most parents have never seen a case of tetanus, polio, smallpox or even pertussis, and never had a child die of such diseases.

    If I thought that vaccines were without merit, I wouldn’t be here reading articles.

    The fact that you are questioning the ingredients of vaccines, that you are treating them as a reason to vaccinate or not, suggests an inappropriate trust of your ability to assess the evidence. The CDC vaccination schedule and ingredients were assembled by genuine experts, people who have spent their lives, thousands of hours, dozens of years, learning everything they can about their particular sub-sub-sub specialties. If you really think that you can discover more in a couple hours on the internet, such that you are informed enough to question their judgements, then you are subjecting yourself to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Trusting experts is an absolute necessity in the modern world. Amateurs who think they have reason to mistrust them are often victims of their own arrogance. I am interested in learning about vaccines mostly to refute the superficial criticisms of ignorant antivaccinationists; I recognize that I can never, will never, amass enough knowledge to be able to in any way contribute to the discussion of genuine experts on the subject. To do otherwise is to dive deep into the arrogance of ignorance.

    With respect to the issue of injection vs. ingestion – I very much welcome all of your assistance in furthering my education in this area (no sarcasm intended). Are folks here suggesting there’s no difference? Some of the comments above are entirely dismissive of this as a concern. You obviously know something I don’t. Can someone please point me to studies that specifically address the issue of how much aluminum is safe when injected? I am equally interested in the same point for other vaccine preservatives/adjuvants such as formaldehyde and polysorbate-80. Have these studies been done? I am genuinely interested and not advocating a position by asking the question.

    If you really want to know, why not dig into some of the sources and review articles yourself? Go to pubmed or google scholar, or look into results found on the CDC website. If you are really concerned, perhaps undertake a 12 year program of research on the toxicology of these substances, earning a PhD in the topic. Because otherwise, it’s very easy to assume that just asking questions is a stealthy way of seeding doubts rather than honestly seeking answers. By looking for answers on reputable websites such as pubmed, you can find the answers yourself and without having to wait for a response and perhaps realize just how complicated the questions (let alone responses) actually are. Even with the many doctors and PhDs who frequent this website (and I’m not one of them, I “specialize” in addressing logical fallacies and antivaccination tactics simply because it requires very time and effort – any scientifically detailed comment is well outside my experience and knowledge and even my responses to logical fallacies has more value due to persistence than any genuine merit) you are unlikely to find someone with the extremely specific knowledge you would require to answer even one of these questions, let alone the half-dozen you have dropped on this page.

    Modern society is too complex and specialized to seek absolute knowledge. We must trust that when real experts say something, they know what they are talking about. Asking for serious, detailed responses about the ingredients of vaccines is akin to asking for a complete analysis of the safety of every bridge you drive over. To know the real answers would require decades of study of civil engineering, materials sciences, hydrodynamics, atmospheric science, geology, geography, statics and dynamics, chemistry and physics.

    If someone who studies vaccines for decades thinks the ingredients are safe and the vaccine effective, who are we to question their analysis? Why are we questioning their analysis? More often than not, it is because a non-expert has (incorrectly) assumed the issue is simple and easily understood, and that they have an answer. The peer review process ensures that actual experts ask meaningful questions and challenge their peers regarding questionable assumptions. Often the very fact that someone is asking questions is because they’ve read something from a spurious website that assumes harm rather than demonstrates it, and is sufficiently ill-informed of the process to determine vaccine ingredients that they don’t see how nutty these questions are. Polysorbate 80 is an emulsifier, it’s used to prevent fats and water from separating. It’s not making people go sterile, and to take a step back, why would the CDC or Big Pharma, the traditional villains, want people to go sterile? For the Evulz?

    Anyway, that’s my little rant, perhaps the other contributors can give you something more substantial.

  18. The Dave says:

    @WLU:

    Holy crap, I think you just won the thread with that comment. Your reward is all the internets!

    I wish I could explain all that as eloquently as you have. (to irreverently use a common SCAM cliche) you didn’t just treat the symptoms there, you got right down to the disease of the argument, so to speak.

  19. Chris says:

    WLU, I did have something else to contribute. Thanks for telling her to actually do some research, and use the resources we have suggested. One thing is to search this blog for mentions of aluminum and vaccines. With that I found this article, which included a few paragraphs about aluminum. It included this link:
    Aluminum in Vaccines Poses No Harm.

    My point is that she is ignoring the relative risks of the vaccine versus the actual diseases. If a child can get tetanus in a first world country like New Zealand, then Lesley had better have a good solution to that instead of random questions. Though it looks like she is starting at the bottom floor in her research perhaps she should find this book and read it: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vaccinations by Michael Joseph Smith M.D. M.S.C.E. and Laurie Bouck.

  20. Chris says:

    The Dave, I also wish I could be as precise as WLU.

  21. Dr. Paul Offit also offers his UPenn survey course on the history of vaccination on Coursera. It’s a little light (it is a survey course after all), but it is balanced and does address the concerns of the anti-vax movement.

  22. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    The Dave, the secret to good writing is to conceal your sources. I’ve taken an extra step and forgotten them. Almost all of my comments, either in whole or in part, have certainly come from this very website. I am indebted to Drs. Gorski, Hall, Novella, Crislip, Atwood and all other contributors here. I am at best merely paraphrasing their previous works with some minor adjustments to make it specific to this comment thread.

  23. BillyJoe says:

    ” the secret to good writing is to conceal your sources. I’ve taken an extra step and forgotten them”

    Good for you. That means you have actually understood them. No need to offer links and quotes from others. You can say it in your own words. There are posters who seem to do nothing else but offer links and quotes without even attempting to summarise what these links say that is of relevance to the topic at hand or to offer any explanation that demonstrates they actually understand what has been linked to or quoted. Often all we get is wild goose chases. I generally refuse to read any links or address any quotes where the poster himself has not done any work himself to show relevance or understanding.

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