There is a slowly rising tide of uncertainty in Canada over the necessity and safety of vaccines for childhood infectious disease. While the safety and efficacy of vaccines is very well-established, doubt continues to be sown among parents just wanting the best for their child, and the leaders from this movement often find themselves in the ranks of those promoting dubious alternative medical treatments.
Homeopaths are among the worst.
This problem was highlighted this week in the United Kingdom, where there are still state-funded homeopathic hospitals and where homeopathy has been a common option for some people, promoted by no other than HRH Prince Charles of Wales. The BBC program In Touch investigated the sale of homeopathic alternatives to vaccines, called nosodes. These are manufactured using the diseased tissue, pus, or other discharge from an infected patient and diluted to such a degree that none of the original substance remains, save for some sort of vitalistic magical ghost that is supposed to wake the body up and have it fend off the disease itself. This, I think, is bunkum.
The British Advertising Standards Authority is an arms-length industry funded group akin to Advertising Standards Canada that is tasked with enforcing voluntary guidelines set up by the advertising industry to protect the consumer from misleading and false advertising. The ASA has made several rulings against complementary and alternative medicine manufacturers and practitioners over the past several years when they try to make claims that are scientifically unsupportable.
A more recent ruling was against homeopathic preparation producers Ainsworths and Helios for products that were labeled as a homeopathic vaccine and being offered as a replacement for the normal vaccine schedule.
Let us be clear, there is no good evidence that homeopathic vaccine alternatives work, and at the dilutions they are commonly offered, there would be no chance you could mount a traditional immune response to them: there is nothing in the remedy.
This has not stopped the promotion of these products in Canada, however. Though we have tighter regulation regarding homeopathic product labeling (you cannot make a specific claim on the label without a stronger standard of evidence) it is clear that when a homeopath is offering you influenzinum 9C, they are offering you an alternative to the flu shot, even though influenzinum 9C is not actually labelled as a vaccine.
The efforts in North America have been led by U.S. homeopath Kate Birch, who will, for a fee, train any homeopath as a "homeoprophylaxis supervisor" who can offer a complete replacement scheme for all of the childhood immunizations. There are several homeopaths in British Columbia and Ontario, including one who sits on the board of the new homeopathic licencing body in Ontario, who have taken Birchs's training and are offering homeoprophylaxis in Canada.
What is worse is that Health Canada, through the Natural Health Products Directorate, has approved well over 60 of these products for sale in Canada, including DTP toxinum, which contains pertussinum, made from the "Sterile lysate of expectoration of untreated patients infected by Bordetella pertussis." That's right -- it is made from the sputum of a patient, most likely a baby, infected with pertussis, or whooping cough. Outbreaks of whooping cough, an awful childhood disease that most often afflicts babies too young to be vaccinated, occurred in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and New Brunswick last year, with one baby killed by the disease in Alberta.
Besides a very flawed Cuban study concerning leptospirosis, there are few modern trials of homeopathic vaccines, and most of the evidence for their use predates the 1960s. These products are nothing short of a complete fantasy and do nothing to protect our children against a host of deadly diseases, some of which we had nearly eradicated, prior to the resurgence of the modern anti-vaccination movement in the 1980s.
We need to demand that our government stop speaking out of one side of its mouth about the importance of the modern, science-based immunization schedule, while the other side approves the sale of useless homeopathic hokum to be promoted as an ineffective alternative. If we do not, we risk a return of deadly childhood diseases like the 100-day cough of pertussis or the deadly, paralytic polio.
This is not a time to waffle, lest it risk the lives of our children over a silly sugar pill or magic water.
<strong>Fact:</strong> This myth just will not die. So let's clear this up: You <em>cannot</em> get the flu from your flu shot. Why? That vaccine is made from a dead or inactive virus that can no longer spread its fever-spiking properties. <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/cs-cold-flu-pictures-myths/colds-and-flu-whats-true.aspx#/slide-4">In rare cases, a person may experience a reaction to the shot</a> that includes a low-grade fever, but these reactions are not <em>The Flu</em>, Everyday Health reported. Note: Even though the flu shot cannot cause the flu, there are a number of other <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/cold-and-flu/flu-vaccines.aspx">reasons not to get the vaccine</a>, including for some people with an allergy to eggs or a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
<strong>Fact:</strong> Unfortunately, even after slapping a bandage on that injection site, you <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm">may only be about 60 percent protected</a>, according to the CDC. That means, yes, you <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/01/08/168814935/can-you-get-a-flu-shot-and-still-get-the-flu">can still get the flu after your shot</a>. Some people may be exposed to the flu in the two weeks it takes for the vaccine to take effect, reports NPR. Others might be exposed to a strain not covered in the vaccine, which is made each year <a href="http://www.flu.gov/prevention-vaccination/vaccination/index.html">based on the viruses experts predict will be the most common</a>, according to Flu.gov. (This year's batch seems to have been matched well to what is actually going around, NPR reports.)
<strong>Fact:</strong> Plain and simply, antibiotics fight <em>bacteria</em>, not viruses. The flu -- and colds, for that matter -- are caused by viruses. In fact, <a href="http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/ucm078494.htm">antibiotics kill off the "good" bacteria</a> that help to fight off infections, so that viral flu may only get <em>worse</em>.
<strong>Fact:</strong> Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, while often dubbed the "stomach flu," are <a href="http://www.flu.gov/about_the_flu/seasonal/">not typically symptoms of seasonal influenza</a>, which, first and foremost, is a respiratory disease, according to Flu.gov. The flu can sometimes cause these issues, but they won't usually be the <em>main</em> symptoms -- and are more common signs of seasonal flu in children than adults.
<strong>Fact:</strong> Younger, healthy adults aren't among the <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm#high-risk">people the CDC urges most strongly to get vaccinated</a>, like pregnant women, people over 65 and those with certain chronic medical conditions. The young and healthy will more often than not recover just fine from the flu, with or without the shot. But protecting yourself even if you don't think you need protecting can actually be an act of good. The <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/10/13/no-excuses-a-brief-guide-to-the-flu-shot/">more people are vaccinated, the fewer cases of flu we all pass around</a>, which in turn offers greater protection to those at-risk groups.
<strong>Fact:</strong> Mom or Grandma probably told you this one at some point, and while you might not feel so cozy if you head out the door straight from the shower, doing so doesn't exactly condemn you to bed. <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/flu-resource-center/10-flu-myths.htm">The <em>only</em> way to catch the flu is to come into contact with the virus</a> that causes it. That might happen <em>while</em> you are outside in the cold, and flu season does certainly happen during cold weather, but it's not because you're cold that you catch the bug.
<strong>Fact:</strong> It's not antibiotics that cure-seekers should be looking for. While the two antiviral drugs available to fight the flu aren't a quick fix, they <em>can</em> <a href="http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/features/top-13-flu-myths?page=2">reduce the length of your bout of the flu and make you less contagious</a> to others, according to WebMD. This year's earlier-than-usual flu season has already led to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/10/flu-vaccine-shortage-tamiflu-_n_2448519.html">shortages of one of the drugs, Tamiflu</a>, in the children's liquid formulation, according to the medication's manufacturers. However, a number of experts in countries around the world have questioned Tamiflu's efficacy in fighting the flu, and some have even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/12/tamiflu-evidence-british-medical-journal-cochrane_n_2117287.html">suggested a boycott until further data is published</a>.
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