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Want to clear a room fast? Tell people your kids aren’t vaccinated. Then say, “Not only is that why they’re so healthy – it helps your kids stay healthier too.” Wait. What? Unvaccinated kids, healthier? Aren’t they walking cesspools of infection, recklessly spreading disease in their wake? Aren’t they leeches, getting a free ride away from infections, on the backs of all the good parents who vaccinate their kids?

The CDC maintains that they can’t ask whether unvaccinated kids stay healthy, that they can’t solve this question for us. Their reasoning is that it’s unethical to study vaccinated versus unvaccinated kids, presumably because it isn’t safe to not vaccinate anybody.

That’s okay, because some investigators have taken it on anyway.

Can unvaccinated kids stay healthy? This ongoing survey data show that unvaccinated kids are healthier. These more recent data found the same thing. Unvaccinated kids have fewer allergies and asthma, less autism, fewer gastrointestinal disorders, fewer chronic conditions, and are sick less often.

The ongoing survey data mentioned above for unvaccinated kids comes from an uncontrolled voluntary survey (over 13,000 participants worldwide and growing). Still, the differences are enough to give anyone pause – and plenty big to warrant formal investigation. By factors of double, triple, or tens of times, vaccinated kids show a higher illness burden than their unvaccinated peers, for conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, thyroid disorders, autoimmune conditions, autism, allergy, asthma, and more.

The more recent data set linked above was from controlled research. Instead of collating voluntary reports from parents, investigators culled data from a number of pediatric practices. They defined and verified vaccination status, and verified medical diagnoses in the children from medical records. It reflected the same findings as the parent survey.

Meanwhile, the argument that a pool of vaccinated kids is needed to quash a return of infections is starting to crumble, bolstering the position held by some that vaccines can’t confer herd immunity: Even with compliance for most immunizations at over 90% across the US –  well above the level considered necessary for successful herd immunity – we still have outbreaks of pertussis, measles, mumps, chickenpox, polio, and flu in  vaccinated groups. The global level of pertussis vaccine coverage was 83% in 2012 – pretty darn good – but, still: Outbreaks. In fact, vaccinated people may spread infections they are recently inoculated against, as they shed viral and bacterial material from vaccines – just as occurs with wild type, naturally acquired infection. This has been documented for those recently vaccinated against pertussis, polio, flu, chickenpox, rotavirus, and measles.

If vaccines are working less and making kids more sick, do we keep using them? How? Tough questions. Since we began using vaccination some two hundred years ago, we have fiddled more deeply than we know with how immunity travels from generation to generation. For an example, dive into this blog series on polio, which describes how this once mostly benign virus morphed into deadly and debilitating with sanitation, more exposures to heavy metals through industrialization, less breastfeeding, and the introduction of vaccines.

Long short: Immunizing our way out of infection hasn’t worked. “Vaccine preventable” infections are still around. And it certainly doesn’t work for covid. Remember those emphatic and early “do your part” assurances, that the new shots would prevent covid altogether? Nothing went as promised.

The magic bullet idea of vaccination is alluring (not to mention profitable beyond belief), but, perhaps the bill has come due. Vaccination as a one-size-fits-all path to disease eradication is undeniably magical thinking now. There is not a single disease on the planet that vaccines have wiped out, as was still being promised when I was a public health graduate student in the 1980s. Some infectious diseases (flu, pertussis, varicella) persist at same or even higher levels now than before vaccines were introduced for them. Not only that, it appears we have traded exposures to routine, typically benign childhood infections for chronic disability and illness, thanks to comprehensive scrambling of the immune system early in life with routine vaccinations and less breastfeeding, generation after generation.

When a debate gets this heated, and gobs of money are at stake for an entire industry, typically, more fear than fact starts flying. No exception here. There are pertinent facts from the realm of infant and child nutrition, as well as public health nutrition and basic epidemiology, that usually go missing from this conversation.

Can we afford to omit that stuff any longer? I don’t think so. It’s time to get solutions oriented, and consider kicking Pharma out of the conference room. Profitability is the driver of the vaccine pipeline, and as long as people fear that only vaccines can save them, they’ll keep buying them. This worked really well to sell covid shots, which ended up working poorly. Not only did they not prevent covid, as the public was initially sold, they have become all but legendary for adverse effects, from triggering shingles to jump starting cancers to deadly cardiovascular and cerebral vascular events (strokes).

We don’t need fear mongering, or bigger profits for already-bursting-with-cash Big Pharma. We need a shift in the belief that all infections are bad, and more vaccines are better. We need effective, safe tools that do not leave kids disabled or saddled with chronic illness.

There are pearls from maternal and child nutrition, plus some nutritional epidemiology, that belong in the mix. These aren’t the only factors in play. Environmental toxins, sanitation, living conditions, and even the vagaries of climate change are exerting their influence on our global microbiome. But for sure, host immune response is dependent on nutrition – which is a variable we can leverage.

First on my list? The Cycle Of Nutrition And Infection has been well understood for decades, but it’s virtually absent from general pediatric practice today in the US. It goes like this: When a child is malnourished, they get sick more often; and, when they get sick, they become more malnourished. The lower nutrition state invites more infection, and the infection lowers nutrition status. It becomes a dangerous and deadly downward cycle, especially for infants, children, and elderly persons.

This cycle is active even in mildly undernourished kids – like many I meet right here in my pediatric nutrition practice in the US. They get sick repeatedly, their infections last longer, and become more severe – because they don’t have the nutrient and tissue stores to mount a good fight. Then, once they’ve battled an illness, they’re left even more malnourished, having exhausted whatever stores they had. In this weakened nutrition status, they get more sick, again. Then they deplete nutrition further. And so on it goes, in a vicious cycle that can quickly become deadly for infants and young children.

unvaccinated children

Malnutrition begets infection and vice versa

I’ll say it again as I’ve seen it so often in my clinical practice: This Cycle is active even when kids are only mildly to moderately malnourished.

In poor countries, or in poor regions of the developed world (including in the US), malnutrition starts in utero. Children who don’t have enough high value food will get sick and die more often, whether they are vaccinated or not. Nutrition status is so intertwined with immune function that UNICEF priorities for global health don’t separate the two. This doesn’t just apply to severely malnourished kids with ribs poking out, stick-like limbs, sunken eyes, and pot bellies.  Many kids I’ve encountered in my pediatric nutrition practice meet nutrition failure criteria. A child who is below 90% of his ideal body weight is mildly malnourished. An example of this would be a four year old child with an expected weight of 40 pounds, who weighs 36 pounds or less. Or, a thirteen year old whose body mass index is hovering around the sixth percentile. Or, an eight year old whose progress for stature has flattened from 40th percentile last year, to 15th this year. Or, a child with chronic loose wet stool, or chronic constipation. Is this your kid?

Keeping kids in strong nutrition status matters. The single most powerful indicator of nutrition status in a child is their growth pattern. If this has begun to slip downward, a child’s immune system begins to slip too. None of this is engaged in pediatrics today, where doctors focus on prescription drugs, giving shots on schedule, and making referrals for anything beyond either of these. Kids have become saddled with chronic conditions in modern society, as well as frequently sick, despite faithful use of these conventional pediatrics tools.

When was the last time your pediatrician asked you for a food diary, to show exactly what your child eats day in and day out? Has s/he ever assessed grams of high value protein taken in on most days? Weak protein intake means weak immune response. Anyone do testing to rule out food allergy and sensitivity, or instruct you on how to feed you kids if these are active? Food allergies can tax the immune system with chronic inflammation and faster consumption of energy and nutrients. At your last office visit for your child’s colds, flu, or ear infections, did anyone check status for vitamins A or D, intake of varied healthy fats and oils, or look at zinc and iron – or advise you on how to use those? All are critical for vigorous immune response, and for ideal responses to vaccines. Nutrition is a symphony, not a single note. All pieces need to be present at the same time, doing their jobs. But our pediatric providers are not trained to use nutritio, therapeutically or prophylactically.

unvaccinated children

How much not-food do your kids eat?

These are first world examples. Kids can grow, more or less, and still be eating pretty horrible diets – especially with the bounty of processed, vacant, genetically modified food heavily marketed here. After many years evaluating food intakes of kids across the US, I can tell you this: Most kids I’ve encountered have suboptimal food intakes, bad enough to impair growth, behavior, learning, sleep, focus, attention, and infection fighting. And, nobody noticed – not their pediatricians, gastroenterologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, functional medicine doctors, naturopaths, or most any other specialist they’ve been to. Nobody actually looked at the food, quantified it, or evaluated if it was what that child needed.

Nutrients and food, not vaccines, provide the building material that we use to build and operate an immune system, regardless of vaccination status. The physical components of an immune system come from whatever nourishment a child got in utero or takes in himself. Eating well builds up the savings account for the rainy days when the immune system needs to make a big withdrawal. It takes a lot of energy, and unusual amounts of certain nutrients, to mount a fever and fight infection – especially when you are growing, a demanding daily metabolic task for every cell in the body of a child.

This is why unvaccinated children in strong growth status who eat healthy, well-rounded diets will fight infection better than vaccinated peers who are underweight, in growth failure, have chronic diarrhea, or constipation, or who eat picky limited diets. The nutritionally sound child may get infections and get sick, but will have a more vigorous response, will be sick for a shorter period of time, and will then have stronger, longer-lasting immunity than vaccines give. This process of naturally developing immune competence may be crucial to averting allergies, asthma, or other chronic disease later in life.

Vaccines don’t alter the cycle of nutrition and infection. The only way to interrupt this cycle is with food (and supplements in some cases). Without it, malnourished children get sick and die more often, period.

Which begs the question: Do malnourished kids need vaccines even more? I’ve met many families with frail underweight children or children with chronic conditions who are loyal to the vaccine schedule. Their children still get sick often, even for some of the diseases they are vaccinated against. They’ve been told at every turn that their child needs vaccines most because they are more vulnerable. True, those kids are. But do more vaccines help or harm in these cases? Even routine shots demand  a response from the immune system. This response will consume more nutrient stores, and if the demands made by a vaccine overwhelm the body’s capacity to respond, we will see a sicker child – or worse, an adverse event that is life threatening or permanently disabling.

Vaccines rely on toxins and adjuvants – such as aluminum compounds – to jump start the body’s immune response. An already weakened system may not be able to manage additional toxins. Immune response is impaired in children with compromised nutrition, and this will be true from both injections or naturally occurring exposures. Children may be more vulnerable to adverse vaccine events if they are vaccinated while sick; because they are already moving available resources to manage the illness underway, response to an injected antigen plus toxins may fail. Instead of dosing weak children with multiple shots, it may be safer and more effective to resolve their poor progress for weight, height, and food intake.

Besides overlooking the power of food and nutrients, breastfeeding is another missed opportunity in pediatric practice. While most any pediatric provider will support it, they support vaccination a lot more enthusiastically. Breastfeeding may trump vaccination for preventing infections in babies, depending on mom’s immune status. It is so potent an immune booster that it somewhat disables rotavirus vaccine, and possibly others. But now, thanks to vaccination, childbearing women in the industrialized world may have never experienced natural infections for measles, mumps, chickenpox. If they breastfeed, these mothers don’t pass the immunity to their babies that my mother would have – born in 1926, she had all of the above, including scarlet fever. (At 97, she’ has still never had a flu shot, is pretty sharp, and enjoys life. She continued driving and working until age 92.)

Can unvaccinated kids stay healthy? The balance of data from the last century reflect that nutrition status, not vaccination, has had the more profound impact on illness severity and frequency in infants and children. Better sanitation and food security lifted health for US children in the 20th century. As poverty, food insecurity, and reduced nutritional quality of food gain a foothold for more and more children here in the US in the 21st century, their health has faltered. Vaccines won’t save them from this, and it has already been over a decade since on our children have been visible.

Have vaccines as we now use created a bigger, costlier burden of chronic disease and disability for children? After a quarter century in pediatric nutrition practice, and despite my training in public health, I believe they do. At the very least, we can use the well pedigreed body of evidence in child nutrition to support robust immune function and overall better health for our children, any time we are ready.