Illustration of Mother Jones; Getty
Say it now: Vaccines are safe and effective! In the midst of the largest outbreak of measles since the disease was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, public health officials are working tirelessly to promote that message. However, people who oppose routine immunization continue to undermine their work. Antivax groups, which encourage parents not to immunize their children, have launched ambitious and successful disinformation campaigns.
And there is another group of people who spread dangerous rumors about immunizations: bloggers and businessmen who promote remedies that, they say, can free the body of the toxins that they claim come with immunizations. Some of them recommend home remedy "detoxification" regimens consisting of mixtures of essential oils, special juices and baths. Other hawks of real products. Two ounces of homeopathic drops for Childhood Immunization detoxification of Professional Formulas cost $ 18 online. A one-ounce bottle of Liddell's oral detox spray of vaccines costs $ 23.75.
All this may seem benign. What's wrong with giving your child a relaxing bath after receiving an injection? And unlike antivax activists, many of the people who promote vaccine detoxification remedies claim to have no opinion on whether parents should get vaccinated. "While I am not an epidemiologist or immunologist to offer guidance on how to specifically protect children against the diseases of the world, I did in-depth research on the ingredients of certain vaccines in this publication," says a recent publication on a website called Naturally Made Mom. Another blogger, Anya Vien, says: "Regardless of your position on vaccines for children or adults, you should know that the ingredients of vaccines are toxic to the human body."
But the public health experts I spoke with said these seemingly impartial statements pose a very real threat. They are concerned that the claim that people should "detoxify" after vaccinations could undermine public confidence in immunizations. "It's just sad," said Saad Omer, an epidemiologist who studies vaccine vacillation at the Emory Vaccine Center. "They are trying to make money with the parents' concern, and they are adding to this fearful environment." Ofer Levy, vaccine researcher and pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard University, agreed. "These people say they are helping people who decide to get vaccinated under pressure," he said. "But the message that is coming out is that the vaccines are toxic."
So let's take a closer look at that message. Many supporters of the vaccine detoxification regimes claim that the "toxic" part of the vaccine is not the vaccine itself, but the additives. They often point to the list of ingredients in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that are commonly added to vaccines. "I can summarize the effect that these ingredients have on the body in two words: carcinogenic Y neurotoxic,"Read the post of Naturally Made Mom.
That's not exactly true, said Cathryn Nagler, professor of immunology at the University of Chicago. The amounts of potentially toxic substances found in vaccines are small, and have been shown to be safe. One of the most common additions to vaccines is an aluminum form called alum that stimulates the body's immune response to make the vaccine more effective. Aluminum forms have been used in almost all vaccines for more than 40 years, and studies show that the small amount found in vaccines is safe; in fact, it is not even absorbed in the body.
Another ingredient is formaldehyde, a tiny amount of which is used to inactivate viruses in live vaccines. This substance, which occurs spontaneously in nature and even occurs within our bodies, is mainly eliminated during the vaccine manufacturing process. Toxicologists have shown that the residue that remains is not dangerous. Then there is thimerosal, the form of mercury used as a preservative in vaccines that the physician Andrew Wakefield fraudulently claimed to cause autism in a document published by the Lancet At the end of the nineties. (The document was withdrawn in 2010.) The small amount of thimerosal used in the injections "does not represent a risk to health", says the World Health Organization. Numerous studies have refuted any link between exposure to thimerosal and autism. "From the perspective of an immunologist, I am confident that these additives are very safe," says Nagler.
Street vendors of detoxification remedies also like to claim that children, because of their immature immune system, are especially vulnerable to the supposedly toxic effects of vaccines. "Even the body of an adult does not easily get rid of heavy metals," says the publication Naturally Made Mom. "A child's organs are even more incapable." On the contrary, the Harvard Levy sees infections like measles as the truly dangerous threat to children. Immunizations, on the other hand, are formulated to be well tolerated even by babies, as demonstrated. "Vaccines are some of the most rigorously studied interventions in all medications, and we know that their components are safe," he said.
The detoxification remedies, on the other hand, are almost totally unstudied. "People are talking about this oil and that oil, but they do not provide any evidence of any of these treatments," says Levy. "Are these oils being absorbed into the bloodstream, if so, what is the effect on your body? Who knows?"
In fact, the mere idea that an essential oil or mineral bath can somehow absorb toxins from your body has "no scientific basis," says Nagler. Humans have built-in mechanisms to filter out substances we do not need: the bacteria in our gut play a role, just like our liver and kidneys, he explains. "But drinking a tea or applying an oil will not serve this purpose."
Emmer Omer agrees. "There is absolutely no evidence that these remedies do anything," he says, "as well as eroding people's confidence in vaccines."
As the United States faces a record number of measles cases, Mother jones wants to hear from you: have you ever convinced someone in your community to get vaccinated? What was your experience and how did the person respond? Complete the form below, send an email to [email protected] or leave us a voice mail at (510) 519-MOJO.