The Vaccine Book by Dr. Robert Sears Many parents I know are concerned about vaccines. For the most part, unbiased information about them is really tough to find. On the one side, people who claim that vaccines cause autism and reduce the ability of the immune system to deal with disease. On the other hand, mainstream doctors who say that this is pure hogwash and vaccines are absolutely safe, effective and necessary. This book, while not entirely neutral (Sears believes at least in the theoretical value of vaccination) does the best job I’ve seen of discussing the proven benefits and risks of vaccines. For each disease we vaccinate for, the book lists what the disease does, how common (in the US and abroad) serious and treatable it is, the ingredients and side effects of the vaccines, and where it falls in the recommended schedule. He discusses for each how important the vaccine is from an individual and a community standpoint. Do vaccines help prevent diseases? Yes. Can they have serious side effects? Indeed they can, and Sears includes discussion of and reference to studies published in mainstream medical journals, including any industry ties the authors had. The one vaccine I was surprised by his reaction to was the new HPV vaccine. That’s one that seems to me very little testing and a whole lot of money to provide a very limited amount of protection from an easily detectable and treatable disease – but he’s wholeheartedly in favor of it.
In later chapters, Sears discusses controversial ingredients and alternative vaccine schedules. He’s especially concerned about aluminum, which is known to be dangerous given intravenously and is regulated in IVs but not vaccines, where it is often present in much higher doses than allowed in IVs. Studies of aluminum in vaccines have looked only at short term, visible effects, when it’s known that the dangers need to be tested for and often effects show up later. This is even more concerning when multiple aluminum-containing vaccines are given at the same visit, and when newer combo vaccines include many times more aluminum than the sum of the old separate vaccines.
Sears avoids giving straight-out recommendations for the most part. He divides parents into three main groups (ignoring those unwilling to do any vaccinations): those who have no problems with the standard vaccine schedule, those uncomfortable with vaccines who are only willing to vaccinate for serious diseases that their child might get, and those who want to vaccinate on a schedule that spreads out the number and vaccines per visit as well as limiting the total amount of aluminum per visit. For the latter two groups he includes alternative vaccine schedules, putting vaccines so that they will protect from diseases as needed. For example, the minimal vaccine schedule skips the controversial MMR vaccine as well as chicken pox, since most parents in that group would prefer for their children just to have chicken pox. He recommends getting the pertussis and rotavirus during infancy, when they can be deadly, and postpones the sexually transmitted Hep B from birth until age 12. Similar changes are made in the “get them all, but spread them out” schedule, which does no more than two shots per visit and keeps close tabs on the total amount of aluminum per visit, including listing which brands contain less when relevant.
Given the limitations of research – looking only at mainstream studies and written by a busy practicing doctor – this book seems as good as one might hope. Sears is open about the fact that he went into vaccine education believing that fears about vaccines are overblown. He’s still in favor of the idea of vaccines, but has found things to be genuinely concerned about, such as the aluminum issue, that are not discussed in the many places that discuss vaccines from an either entirely pro or con standpoint. I looked for information and especially alternative schedules like this when LB was wee, and plan to make good use of it with New Baby.