After the strawberry plants started forming berries in my garden this spring, I bought some bird netting and carefully covered the plants. In past years, the birds had helped themselves to the berries and I was determined to protect this year’s crop for my own consumption. The netting was a pain to maneuver around, but I congratulated myself on this clever solution as I harvested a bumper crop of perfectly formed juicy strawberries.
The self-congratulatory party came to an abrupt halt this morning, however, as I bent to lift the bird netting to pick the last of the season’s berries. There, tangled in the net with its head dangling down, was a five foot black snake. I recognized it as the one who lived curled under the plank in front of the compost pile, the one who I relied upon for rodent control around the shed that held my chicken feed. The magnificent and unassuming, albeit rather creepy, reptile that quietly patrolled our property to keep things in check, was dead.
Looking at the limp body, I had to come to terms with the fact that my well-intentioned effort to protect my crop from birds resulted in the unintentional, and presumably agonizing, death of this creature and broke our delicately balanced ecosystem. When I selected this netting at the garden center, it never occurred to me that it might harm other animals. I just wanted to protect my strawberries, and a preventive net I could barely even see seemed harmless enough.
My bird net “success” story shares much in common with the “success” of vaccination. Widely heralded as one of the most effective public health interventions, vaccines are unequivocally credited with the eradication of disease and a decrease in infant mortality across the globe.1 No one can argue with the noble goal of preventing death or diminishing the burden of disease, but what if, like my bird net, it comes with a hidden cost?
Vaccine Failures and Vaccine Escape
I think of the effects of vaccine failure,2 either primary failure because the vaccine failed to induce immunity at all or because of waning immunity over time and how, for example, it can shift the disease to an older population where it becomes more serious. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 70 percent of young adults who contract mumps, for instance, have received the recommended two doses of Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.3 Acute inflammatory infections like mumps are generally well tolerated by children, but complications are more frequent and serious in adults,4 and measles complications are also more serious in adults.5
The pneumococcal vaccines are a story of vaccine escape and antibiotic resistance. The first pneumococcal conjugate vaccine targeted the seven most prevalent of the 100 pneumococci streptococcus bacteria strains but, within a few years, other non-vaccine strains flourished as a result of pressure being placed on the bacteria to evade the vaccine. In a whack-a-mole type exercise, new pneumococcal vaccines were developed to cover the strains, which became predominant in response to the old vaccine
While invasive pneumococcal disease has decreased since the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, the pneumococci strains have continued to adapt to evade the vaccine and this has resulted in the ongoing emergence of antibiotic resistant non-vaccine strains that have reduced susceptibility to penicillin and third-generation antibiotics commonly used to treat life-threatening, invasive pneumococcal diseases.6 The use of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines has also caused an increase in other serious pathogens such as Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis.7
Vaccine Ingredients and Autoimmunity
Aluminum is used as an adjuvant in many vaccines to create a stronger immune response in people receiving the vaccine.8 Aluminum is used in vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis A and B, Pneumococcal, Meningococcal B, Diptheria/Pertussis/Tetanus (DTaP), Tetanus/Diptheria (TD), Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis (TDaP), and others, and has been tested for safety.9
Yet experts link exposure to aluminum with Alzheimer’s disease,10 11 which is the most common cause of dementia that affects 5.8 million Americans today.12Aluminum adjuvants have also been implicated in Autoimmune/Inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA),13 and with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) in particular.14
Increases in Chronic Illness and Increases in Child Vaccinations
Perhaps most tragic of all, six in ten U.S. adults now has a chronic disease, and four in ten have more two or more chronic diseases.15 Approximately 27 percent of U.S. children live with a chronic condition, and six percent live with more than one condition.16 According to the CDC, one in six children in the U.S. is developmentally delayed.17
The childhood vaccine schedule increased from 23 doses of seven vaccines given between two months and age six in 1983 18 to 69 doses of 16 vaccines in 2020 given between the day of birth and age 18.19 Are more vaccines making our children healthier? In our eagerness to eradicate infectious diseases have we simply shifted the disease burden from acute infections from which most children recovered, to a lifetime of chronic illness?
A 2020 study20 comparing the health of vaccinated to the health of unvaccinated children using the relative incidence of billed office visits sheds some light on that process. The study compared office visits related to six categories of health concerns and found large increases in office visits among the vaccinated for autoimmune respiratory illnesses (allergy, allergic rhinitis, asthma, sinusitis and breathing issues), attention deficit/hyperactive disorder and behavioral issues, compared to the unvaccinated. Increases were noticed in the vaccinated group for ear pain, otitis media, and eye disorders, autoimmune conditions of the skin and blood (eczema, urticarial and dermatitis), and in gastroenteritis, weight/eating disorders and seizure.
Speech, language, social and learning delays showed variable but non-significant response as vaccination increased. The probability of a vaccine-targeted diagnosis in the unvaccinated was 0.0123 among 13 conditions, with zero deaths. The study authors ended by stating, “We can conclude that the unvaccinated children in this practice are not, overall, less healthy than the vaccinated and that indeed the vaccinated children appear to be significantly less healthy than the unvaccinated.”21
Genetically Engineered mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Long Term Effects Unknown
In our understandable urgency to crush the COVID-19 pandemic, we have turned to genetically engineered mRNA-based vaccines, which currently have no long term safety profile. Will these experimental vaccine products cause infertility? Cancer? Autoimmunity?
In a published article, immunologist J. Bart Classen, MD, writes that, “RNA-based COVID vaccines have the potential to cause more disease than the epidemic of COVID-19.” He warns that the new vaccines using synthetic mRNA could create “new potential mechanisms” of vaccine adverse events that may take years to come to light.22
How Much Collateral Damage is Acceptable?
In the same way that I only focused on my bumper crop of strawberries and never considered the possible consequences to wildlife when I installed my bird net, is it possible that our excitement over our well-intentioned “success” in suppressing acute infection through vaccination leads us to overlook the inadvertent costs associated with that success? How much collateral damage is acceptable, and is that our only option?
I have now learned ways to prevent birds from eating my berries, while also protecting the snakes and other wildlife in my garden. Why can’t we find ways to minimize the risk of illness that don’t also do harm?
When I posted my snake experience in a garden group on social media, many people affirmed the dangers of bird netting, and those who didn’t were grateful for the warning. Others offered alternative suggestions for preventing birds from pilfering the crop, or suggested a different frame of reference for dealing with birds.
If only public discussions of the unintended consequences of vaccination were received in such a thoughtful way.
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1 Greenwood B. The contribution of vaccination to global health: past, present and future. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2014; 369(1645).
2 Wiedermann U, Garner-Spitzer E, Wagner A. Primary vaccine failure to routine vaccines: why and what to do? Hum Vaccine Immunother 2016; 12(1): 239-243.
3 Marin M et al. Recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for Use of a Third Dose of Mumps Virus–Containing Vaccine in Persons at Increased Risk for Mumps During an Outbreak. MMWR Jan. 12, 2018; 67(1): 33–38.
4 Johns Hopkins Medicine. Mumps in Adults.
5 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles (Rubeola). Nov. 5, 2020.
6 Kaur R et al. Rising Pneumococcal Antibiotic Resistance in the Post-13-Valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Era in Pediatric Isolates From a Primary Care Setting. Clin Infect Dis Mar. 1, 2021; 72(5): 797-805.
7 National Vaccine Information Center. How effective is Pneumococcal vaccine?
8 Shardlow E, Mold M, Exley C. Unraveling the enigma: elucidating the relationship between the physiochemical properties of aluminum-based adjuvants and their immunological mechanisms of action. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology 2018; 14(80).
9 CDC. Adjuvants and Vaccines. Aug. 14, 2020.
10 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Human Exposure to Aluminum Linked to Familial Alzheimer’s Disease. Jan. 20, 2020.
11 Tomljenovic L. Aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease: after a century of controversy, is there a plausible link? J Alzheimers Dis 2011; 23(4): 567-98.
12 CDC. Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias. Oct. 26, 2020.
13 Watad A et al. The autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA)/Shoenfeld’s syndrome: descriptive analysis of 300 patients from the international ASIA syndrome registry. Clin Rheumatol February 2018; 37(2): 483-493.
14 Watad A et al. Autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (Shoenfeld’s syndrome) – An update. Lupus June 2017; 26(7): 675-681.
15 CDC. Chronic Diseases in America. Jan. 12, 2021.
16 O’Neill Hayes T, Gillian S. Chronic Disease in the United States: A Worsening Health and Economic Crisis. American Action Forum Sept. 10, 2020.
17 CDC. Increase in Developmental Disabilities Among Children in the United States. Sept. 26, 2019.
18 CDC. Recommended schedule for active immunization of normal infants and children 1983.
19 CDC. Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for Ages 18 or Younger, United States, 2021. Feb. 12, 2021.
20 Lyons-Weiler J, Thomas P. Relative Incidence of Office Visits and Cumulative Rates of Billed Diagnoses Along the Axis of Vaccination. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2020; 17(22): 8674.
22 Classen JB. COVID-19 RNA Based Vaccines and the Risk of Prion Disease. Microbiol Infect Dis 2021; 5(1).