Arguably, my primary intellectual concerns around modern day infectious disease management and “prevention”, is an acute awareness of how little we know about our relationship to microbes in and around us, and about our immune system. We are just beginning to appreciate the role of the several trillion bacteria that inhabit our guts, dictate our immune responses, and synthesize nutrients. Add to this very steep learning curve, multiple layers of epigenetic expression and biochemical individuality and we have a recipe for disaster with a one-size-fits all vaccination schedule and rampant application of antibiotics.
Antibody-Response: Is that Immunity?
We have been led to believe that antibody-response to vaccine administration is in any way equivalent to protection from illness. This sadly rudimentary model of “immunization” is antiquated beyond acceptability, and in no way encompasses what we have learned about the relevance of the innate immune system, cytokines, and the role of nutrient sufficiency in vulnerability to infection. Beyond the well-documented incidence of outbreaks of illness such as pertussis, mumps, measles, tetanus, polio, rotavirus, and chicken pox, in highly vaccinated populations, we have also learned that antibodies often play no role in the course of infectious diseases such as lethal vesicular stomatitis virus, discussed here. We also know that agammaglobulinemics (those born without limited capacity for immunoglobulin antibody production) contract and recover from measles in the usual fashion. So, it seems like we may have fundamentally misunderstood the role of antibodies in immunity.
This would be an excusable and understandable step in the evolution of biological sciences if we weren’t wielding the application of this misunderstanding in a lethal and morbid way. Room for primary vaccine failure based on fundamental misattribution of disease-protection to antibody production (which is always temporary) is one thing, but inducing chronic disease, atopy, neurodevelopmental delay, inflammation, autoimmunity, and death as a part of this effort, is quite another.
Auto-immunity and Evolving Theories of Immune Function
We are witnessing epidemic rates of autoimmunity in the American population and we are learning that vulnerability is more than genes + environment. In fact, theories of immunity have evolved considerably since the 1950s when it consisted only of self vs non-self mechanisms. The most all-encompassing theory is called the Danger theory, which posits that the immune system targets self-tissues when there is a “danger signal” or inflammation from the tissue itself. Here is where the role of oxidative stress and inflammation play into immunity and autoimmunity in a significant way, and why the “terrain” is, in fact, everything and the germ is, in fact, nothing.
Evaluating the Safety and Efficacy of Vaccines and Medications
The fact that there is such an evolving conceptualization of immunity and one that only begins to account for the role of diet, environmental toxins, and gene expression variation should serve as a serious wake up call to those who believe that modern-day physicians and pharmaceutical companies are in any position to make recommendations, let alone mandates, about how we, as individuals, should manage our risks of infection. The truth is, once interventions such as vaccines and antibiotics have perturbed our natural mechanisms, there is very little that Western medicine can to do help. Chronic disease and autoimmunity are not the forte of the average doc, so gambling with that potential risk should certainly be done with thought and care.
To that end, there are so many tremendous resources out there, but the latest and greatest is Dissolving Illusions, which takes you on a meticulously documented tour of the role of hygiene and diet in the epidemiology of infectious disease and the misconceptions surrounding vaccinology and health.
For more practical tips, Saying No To Vaccines is an important guide for new parents to educate yourselves about each and every vaccine, because each and every one is a major medical intervention that should be scrutinized independently.
We need to remain humble about what we don’t know, measured in our assumptions about the safety and efficacy of our pharmaceutical interventions, and reliant on time-tested ways to support natural immunity through nutrient dense diet, minimized environmental chemical exposures, and stress reduction. We need to lose the fear we have been conditioned to bring to conversations about infectious disease.
After all, germs are all around and within us, we need them, and they need us. We’ve spent quite a long time developing a sophisticated language with which to communicate, and we are only beginning to decode it.
About the author. Dr. Brogan is an M.I.T/Cornell/Bellevue-trained psychiatrist specialized in holistic women’s health. She is a mother of two and has a busy practice in Manhattan. A passion for understanding the intersection between health, nutrition, and the environment are the bedrock of her wellness approach with patients and at home. Visit her site at: Kelly Brogan, MD, Holistic Women’s Health Psychiatry.