24 March 2010
An interview with a mother who decided not to vaccinate her children.
One in four children aren’t fully vaccinated against measles in Brighton and Hove. Last year, the NHS issued warnings of an epidemic. Russell Honeyman asked mother-of-two Magda Taylor why people choose not to vaccinate.
According to Department of Health figures, in December 2009, only 76% of Brighton and Hove’s five-year-olds had received the recommended double dose of MMR vaccine. The national average is 82%. This was after the 2008 ‘catch-up’ campaign to get parents to vaccinate their children. Before that only 65% of the city’s five-year-olds had received the double dose of MMR. The NHS warned of a possible measles epidemic. Last year that seemed to be coming true when 69 people were diagnosed with measles. 56 of them were had no record of vaccination, five had one dose of MMR, one had both doses, and the vaccination status of the others was not known. The outbreak didn’t turn into an epidemic. The total of confirmed cases was 69, though the Brighton and Hove PCT estimated that more cases would not have been reported.
Despite the NHS warnings, mother-of-two Magda Taylor questions whether vaccination is an effective way of preventing disease. Magda, 50, lives in Worthing and edits a magazine and website called Informed Parent, which collates information and press reports about vaccination. She has been interested in alternative choices to vaccination since she read a 1991 article, by Andrew Tyler, in the Evening Standard.
Magda grew up on the outskirts of Harrow, in a house that didn’t have medicines in it. “We didn’t even have aspirin,” Magda said. “This was not the result of a belief in a holistic life. My family dealt with illness in a commonsense way.
“With my own children, Ruby and Nancy, I didn’t have any knowledge; I just wanted to be a good mum. I went along with what the doctor told me to do at first, and so my first child had some vaccinations including the first dose of MMR. Then I read the Standard article in 1991 and my second child didn’t get any MMR jabs.
“I don’t think either of them suffered long term complications from the vaccinations they did have, but when I look back on their growth charts, I can see that one stopped thriving after each vaccination. I don’t know if that was related. The other one developed eczema after the early vaccination, although there is no history of eczema in my family.
“I studied naturopathy and have learned much about the human body’s self-healing abilities. I don’t know all the answers, but I encourage people to start researching for themselves.“
Magda’s views might surprise some people. She said, “I don’t think vaccination gives immunity. Germ theory is questionable.”
Germ theory is the idea that germs cause disease. Germ theory has been around since the days of Louis Pasteur, and says, for example, that a specific virus causes measles. On the other hand, homeopathic practitioners think disease is caused by poor health, and that germs are a symptom of the body’s disease, rather than the cause. The disease itself might be caused by toxic living.
“In that sense, it can be good to have measles; the toxins are eliminated from the body via the skin,” says Magda. “Vaccination can’t prevent disease. If you promote your health you are unlikely to get into a state of disease.”
That is quite a radical claim. What if large numbers of people stopped taking vaccination, for measles say? Surely we would see large numbers of people coming down with the disease?
“No,” says Magda. “If we look at the decline of infectious diseases since the mid 1800s, they all declined before vaccination was introduced, due mostly to improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and living conditions. Scarlet fever is a case in point. There has never been a vaccination against scarlet fever yet it has declined to very low levels. And measles declined to a very low point as well, before vaccination was introduced in 1968. Even after that date, there was low uptake of the vaccination initially, and the decline still continued.”
Magda sent me a fact sheet about MMR vaccination, in which she says she cannot offer medical advice, but thinks people should investigate the risks of vaccination. She quotes examples where vaccination failed to protect some people, such as in the USA during the 1980’s and Ireland in 2000. She points to negative reactions associated with the vaccines, such as the experience of Japan, which banned MMR vaccines in 1993 after a rise in cases of meningitis linked to MMR.
She said: “Vaccines may be tolerated if you are reasonably healthy, but other than that, I believe that they can only have a negative effect on your well-being. This may be very minimal, just taking the edge off your health or it may be to a greater degree.”
What about developing countries, where epidemics of measles are said to cause casualties?
“Well,” she said, “that proves my point. There people live in poor conditions, often in conflict zones with poor food and dirty water. All those create an unhealthy body. If they brought living conditions up to our levels, they would have the same sort of measles as we do.
“You come across people who say we’d be back in the dark ages if we did away with vaccination. But if you ask them what research they’ve done, you soon find they’re just going on belief in the medical system.
“I believe we underestimate the body’s intelligence and how it’s trying to help us stay healthy. Symptoms such as fever are not the body going wrong; they are the body doing what is right for it. If you suppress acute childhood conditions, such as measles, that might lead to complications or more chronic conditions later.
“If you try to suppress disease symptoms, you can push it into a more serious complication. In the case of childhood disease, I have found that rest, plenty of fluids and no food during the fever, followed by a simple fruit diet for a few days, leads to a speedy recovery.”
For more information, visit: www.informedparent.co.uk
1001 Words (Corr 3 April 2010)
Follow-up 1 June. I submitted the above story to the Brighton Argus 3 April 2010. It was referred to Health Correspondent Siobhan Ryan, who asked me to supply the contact details for Magda. Siobhan then didn't reply to my follow-ups by phone or email. Sound familiar? (see my earlier vaccination article) Instead, she wrote this article warning of an epidemic of mumps if people don't vaccinate.
Now, I'm far from decided about vaccination. My personal opinion is that there are risks associated with vaccination, and I'm concerned that Department of Health does not supply data about these risks to compare with risks of measles in healthy children. I want to know more.
But my concern here is that I think it is standard journalistic practice to represent another point of view. It seems from my experience that the Argus will not represent alternative views on vaccination. Maybe this is understandable when we consider the furore over Dr Wakefield, who was struck off the Doctors (GMC) register last week. Anyone who talks about risks associated with vaccination is demonised as starting a scare about vaccination.