Vaccinations: Are They Helping Or Hurting?

Written by Lissa Rankin, M.D.

Okay. I’m about to write a risky post. This is like writing about abortion. Or gun rights. Or gay marriage. Any blogger who likes to play it safe wouldn’t start a firestorm like this, but those of you who know me know that I’m not afraid to stir things up, as long as the ground rules are clear. So first, some ground rules:

  1. Everyone has the right to his or her own opinion.
  2. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate.
  3. The world is more gray than black or white.
  4. A belief in natural healing does not preclude conventional medicine.
  5. We should be able to hold differing opinions without getting personal or mean.
  6. Your truth is your truth, and we all have the right to our truth without fear of how others will perceive it.
  7. We shouldn’t be afraid of discussing controversial or volatile subjects just because we’re afraid of offending someone.
  8. I love you all! And I know that you love each other. And remember, any polarizing beliefs that threaten to separate us into us/them are merely illusions, because we are ALL ONE.

In short, everyone play nice in the sandbox, please.

The Choice Not To Vaccinate

The local San Francisco PBS website recently posted an article stating that 26% of the kindergarteners in my daughter’s school are unvaccinated, a statistic I found interesting and a bit worrisome. I, for one, chose to vaccinate my daughter. I respect those who choose not to do so, but what I found most interesting about this topic is that when I posted about this on my Facebook page, responses were so polarizing. People were either staunch pro-vaccinators or passionate anti-vaccinators.

As I said before, nothing wrong with healthy debate. We can agree to disagree on this. But what struck me is how personally we take it. Why can’t someone make a choice you wouldn’t make without it triggering us to get all up in arms?

When It’s Right Vs. Wrong

Sure, sometimes there are issues we think are simply right or wrong, and we stand up for what we believe because it’s part of being in integrity with ourselves to speak up. I, for one, think Civil Rights issues are pretty clear. I think racists and misogynists and homophobes are just propogating hate, and so while I have compassion for these people, it’s hard for me to stay silent when they spout hateful things.nI can disagree with what they believe without labeling them as "bad" people.

I understand when people get all up in arms because they believe something is “right” or “wrong” and they have little tolerance for anything in the middle. But many of the things we get bent out of shape about are simply not black and white.

Like vaccinating our children.

Medicine In Moderation

Many of the people who commented on my Facebook page seemed shocked that I'd vaccinate my child when I wrote a book called Mind Over Medicine. I joked that I should have called it Mind + Medicine, but it’s not nearly as catchy!

People like to try to woo me into one of two polarizing camps—either (1) the Western medicine camp that thinks all things holistic are bunk or (2) the “natural medicine” camp that thinks we should ditch modern medicine. But I belong to neither. As I stated in my latest TEDx talk, Is Medicine Killing You?, medicine is both killing us and saving us. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

So when my friend who is a big believer in holistic medicine called me from the ER when her 42 year-old husband was having a stroke and they wanted to give him a clot-busting drug, I recommended he get the drug. And he did. And he left the hospital with almost no residual deficit a few days later. Thank God.

For me, standard childhood vaccinations fall into the realm of inventions that have saved more lives than they’ve hurt. One look at all the children with polio in other countries will sober you to the tragedy of how preventable infectious diseases can disable children. Does this mean I vaccinate for everything? No. None of us get flu vaccines. But Siena has gotten every other childhood vaccine. Does this mean I look down on those who choose not to vaccinate? No. It’s a personal choice. I have a right to my choice. You have a right to yours.

Let’s Not Throw Out The Baby With The Bathwater

I agree that modern medicine is broken, that the pharmaceutical industry is way out of line much of the time, and that as physicians, we’re potentially harming patients by slapping pharmaceutical or surgical Band-aids on every symptom rather than trying to help patients diagnose what might lie at the root of the symptom. And patients who want a quick-fix pill are just as guilty!

Yes, I am convinced from the medical data that, at least a percentage of the time, spontaneous remission are possible for almost every diagnosis out there. I’m a huge supporter of mind-body healing and we practice the 6 Steps to Healing Yourself that I teach in Mind Over Medicine in my family. In fact, Today is the first airing of my National Public Television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine. (You can watch the trailer here.) It debuts on KQED in San Francisco at 7:30pm tonight and will be aired on public television stations nationwide in September.

But none of this means that I turn my back on modern medicine. It's a delicate dance that each of us must tread lightly, to discern for ourselves which parts of modern medicine we will add to the Prescriptions we write for ourselves and our children, and which parts we choose to forego.

It also doesn’t mean I'd withhold Western medical treatment from my child or myself. And that doesn’t make me a hypocrite. It makes me a critical thinker.

Should we risk progression of an illness like cancer or potential death from an illness like heart disease by waiting for spontaneous remissions when effective, potentially curable treatments exist? Well…that’s an individual’s choice and I respect the individual’s right to choose.

The point of my work is not to suggest that we should turn our backs on technology, but to do our homework, gather data, and then look deep within and ask: What is true for me? What is best for my family? and trust our intuitive knowing.

What troubles me is seeing how people tend to become zealots, unable to see both sides of the issue. On my book tour, an energy healer came up to me and said, “I used to be in the anti-medicine camp until my teenage son was in a car accident and modern medicine saved his life.” Another told me she used to be anti-vaccination until her son almost died of tetanus because he hadn’t been vaccinated.

I also heard from the other side, from those who were firm believers in Western medicine until a family member died from a hospital-acquired infection. I, for one, had a healthy young brother who almost died of liver failure from Zithromax, the antibiotic he was taking for a minor sinus infection.

Yes, modern medicine is messed up. Yes, we overmedicate people. Yes, vaccinations may have some risk, but so does polio. All I’m suggesting is that we not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s think gray, not black and white.

And please…let’s respect each other’s right to listen to our own Inner Pilot Lights.

What Are You Thoughts?

I hope that I can share what I believe and what I choose to do in my own life without worrying that I will alienate those of you I’m trying to help. Some of the people on Facebook seemed disappointed in me for coming forth with my own choice to vaccinate my child, as if it discredits all the work I’ve done to share the science behind natural healing.

But frankly, I don’t understand this. Why would anyone judge me for doing the best I can to make the best choices for my family? For that matter, why would any of us be disappointed in any other among us for making choices that are in alignment with our own truth?

I have done my own research on this subject. I feel confident in my choice. I’m not here to sway you to my side or to have you sway me to yours, because there are no sides. We’re on the same team, dear ones. I respect you, and hope you return the favor.

I encourage you to share your thoughts—about vaccination, modern medicine vs. natural healing, or any other thoughts this post triggered for you. But please: be kind to each other!

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure,...
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Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Lissa Rankin, M.D.
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