An Herbalist’s Opinion on Vaccines

An Herbalist's Opinion on Vaccines

Early Feelings Towards Vaccines

During my college years, I double majored in Pre-Pharmacy and English. Also during that time, I went through the training I needed to become a pharmacy technician in the state of Arkansas. I worked within the pharmaceutical industry for 2 years and have written numerous pharmacology articles/reports during the past 5 years, in which I have worked as a freelance writer. In 2012, I embarked on the journey to become an herbalist. I now practice as a clinical herbalist specializing in women’s health. I’m not a doctor, but I have experienced both worlds of holistic and conventional medical practices. Most importantly, though, I’m a parent.

I have gone through periods in which I have been pro-vaccines, skeptical of vaccines, fearful of vaccines, apathetic towards vaccines, and so on. My husband and I started having children during the period when vaccine skepticism was huge (a.k.a. right now) and it caused me to question what I had been taught during my pharmacy training.

When we had Big A (our oldest), my husband and I chose to follow the recommended vaccination schedule put forth by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics, but we did choose to skip a few vaccines (Chickenpox, Hep B, and Influenza) for the time being. We had various reasons for not obtaining those particular vaccinations right away and we had a wonderful pediatrician who supported our decisions.

With Little a (our youngest), we chose to completely delay vaccinations all together. Part of our reasoning for doing that was because we had moved and we no longer had our wonderful pediatrician. The primary reasoning behind this decision was we were scared and wanted to thoroughly research vaccines before injecting them into our children’s bodies.

Little a is now 18 months-old, so I have had quite a while since her birth to research this topic. The measles outbreak that has occurred recently has certainly fueled my desire to research into vaccines and try to find out what is best for my family. As someone with a pharmacology background, I cannot deny the fact that vaccines save lives and are needed. As an herbalist, I cannot deny the fact that a healthy immune system can help you combat nearly any infectious disease you might come up against and that natural immunity is always best. So, how can these two modes of thinking meld together into informative, evidence-based decision making that is beneficial for my family, my community, and my environment?

Can Herbalism and Modern Medicine Work Together for the Greater Good?

Some would say the worlds of conventional medicine and holistic medicine simply cannot work in a cohesive manner for the good for both ourselves and for the rest of mankind. I disagree. Without our early knowledge of herbal medicine, many scientists would not have had the means to research active chemicals that are now used in modern-day medications. In that same token, without modern medicinal concepts (such as germ theory), fewer of us would be able to live the long, healthy lives that many are fortunate enough to have today.

The way I see it, both worlds need each other in order to survive and to help further create scientific advancement. If we ignore herbal medicines and call it quackery, what might we possibly be missing out on?  And if naturalists and purists ignore the scientific advances we have made and their benefits (pharmaceuticals, therapies, etc.), in what ways might they be hindering themselves from living long and happy lives? Both sides have their place and both sides deserve a voice. To denounce the benefits of either would only cause science to regress, not progress.

So, how does all of this fit into vaccines? Quite well, actually. For myself and my family, I plan on utilizing both worlds to achieve optimal health for my family, while also providing protection for my community.

Immune System, Germ Theory, and Vaccines

During my training to become a clinical herbalist, one of the first things I was taught was that in order to achieve optimal health, you must first try to build your immune system up to peak efficiency. Early medicine men and women knew that those who got more sleep and kept their bodies nourished tended to be healthier than those who didn’t. Today we know that these are both factors that contribute to a healthy immune system. A healthy immune system is vital in order to fight off infectious disease and to help you achieve a long and healthy life. Both worlds grasp this concept.

Additionally, the application of germ theory has also helped us to learn how to achieve optimal immune function that our ancient medicine men and women ancestors didn’t necessarily know about. In their defense, though, the doctors during that time also didn’t know about this valuable theory.

When germ theory became a widespread concept, we began to see a decrease in infectious disease rates. However, during the time that germ theory was becoming mainstream, so were vaccines. It’s really hard to pinpoint which side helped more (although, people on both the anti-vax and pro-vax sides will cite sources to claim one was more vital than the other), but what we can conclude is that the application of germ theory and vaccines are likely both necessary in order to prevent and eradicate infectious diseases.

Vaccines & Immune Health: How They Work Together for My Family

How does all of this work out for someone who practices alternative medicine, but also understands the importance of conventional Western medicine? To sum it up in a few words: I utilize both vaccines and natural medicine to protect my family against infectious diseases.

Now for the longer summary…

The first line of defense I do to protect my family happens during pregnancy. During each of my pregnancies, I try my very best to keep my immune system operating as best as it can. I eat healthy foods during my pregnancies, take supplements, take my herbal supplements and remedies as I need them, exercise, get plenty of sunshine, etc. etc.

Additionally, I work towards having the best birth possible for my children. Typically, this leads me to having a non-medicated home birth, but obviously there are situations in which that just isn’t possible. Once my babies were born, I immediately set about breastfeeding them, practicing safe co-sleeping, babywearing, and other gentle parenting practices that benefit both my babies and I in regards to bonding and ideal health.

Each of my babies have been breastfed exclusively for at least the first 6 months of life, as is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). I have also tried my best to offer breast milk to each of my babies until they reach 2 years of age (but I’m not opposed to going longer), which is also recommended by WHO. There are numerous studies linking breast milk as the best early option for optimal immune system function and overall health for children. Some doctors even suggest that breastfeeding can possibly reduce a child’s risk for adverse vaccine reactions and can also assist their bodies in responding better to vaccines.

In addition to all of this, my children eat fairly healthy, exercise, get plenty of sunshine and fresh air, and take supplements (both herbal and food based) – all of which are great for building up their immune systems. But are all of these things enough to fight off infectious diseases? Yes and no.

For my children alone, building up their immune systems likely will be enough to fight off an infectious disease if it comes there way. Along with their strong immune systems, I always tend to my children’s illness immediately and I never take them around others outside of our home until they’re better. If my children were to get chickenpox, measles, or any number of other childhood diseases, their little bodies would likely be able to fight off the disease because they’re strong and healthy and I would be taking care of their health needs. The issue with these diseases arise when you encounter people whose bodies cannot naturally fight them off.

The Immunocompromised & How To Prevent the Spread of Preventable Infectious Diseases

For people with a compromised immune system, such as someone who is pregnant, suffers from a chronic illness, the elderly, and the very young, contracting an infectious disease could mean serious complications and even death. While someone with a compromised immune system can sometimes fight off these diseases, fighting off the disease is extremely taxing to their bodies and can cause more harm than good. While the immunocompromised should do their best to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is also the job of those who are not compromised to do their best to keep those who are as safe as we possibly can. The best ways to do that are to maintain our own health and to vaccinate.

One of the best things you can do when you are sick, or if your child is sick, is to STAY HOME. Far too many people send their children to school with a fever and a rash and are later ‘shocked’ to find out that measles is now running rampant through their school district. It doesn’t take an immunologist to put two and two together…

And honestly, I get it, it’s hard to take off from work, skip school, or whatever. I’m a working mom, I know how that goes. But seriously, skipping a day or two of work or school is far more important to personal and community health than ‘pushing through’ the ailment and ending up spreading the disease throughout your community. So, when you get sick, stay home, take care of yourself (and/or your family member who is ill), and avoid interacting with others until you’re fully recovered. These are some of the best things that you can do to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Should I Vaccinate?

Now onto one of the more complicated questions… should you vaccinate and should you get every vaccine available to you? Honestly, this is a decision that should be decided upon between you, your family, and your family doctor. A mommy blogger can’t make that decision for you, nor can a pro-vax forum, nor can I as an herbalist make that decision for you.

Regardless of herd immunity, our understanding of vaccines, natural immunity, and the like, vaccines are still a personal decision. Your family’s health history, personal convictions, personal research, and numerous other factors will need to be considered before jumping on the pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine wagons. Personally, I’m pro-choice.

We live in a time in which information, evidence-based information, is freely available to us by means of the internet and libraries. Each and every parent has the accessibility to research vaccines and come to their own conclusions based on information the scientific community has provided us with. It is the right of every parent to look at the facts and draw their own conclusions, without the threat of imprisonment or bodily harm.

As a parent (or someone researching into vaccines), please research all of the data you can find on both the pros and cons of vaccines. Look at legitimate sources, sources beyond anecdotally derived conclusions (although, these do provide good questions to ask your doctor). Discuss with your family health care provider what they think would be the best option for your family. If your healthcare provider shuns your concerns and refuses to discuss the things that are worrying you, then seek out a different provider. Explore all your options and make the best decisions for you and your family.

How My Vaccine Stance Has Shaped My Herbal Practice

I have actually met very few herbalists who disagree with my conclusions on vaccines. The people who tend to try to burn me at the stake are those who are extremely against vaccines. I hear a few mutterings from the pro-vaccine crowd in regards to clinical herbalism being ‘quackery’, but not much more tends to be said. I think many people amongst the anti-vaccine group feel that someone in my line of work with my thinking has betrayed everything that is so dear to herbal medicine.

In regards to how my business has been shaped around my feeling towards vaccines, I’m certainly driven to find as much evidence-based research as I can on herbal medicine, but I was like that before I was pro-vaccines. My work hasn’t really changed much, except that I do encourage my clients to discuss with their primary care provider about vaccines and if they’re right for them. I still work with both those who choose to vaccinate and those who choose not to. Never will I turn down working with either, because health (both herbal and Western practice) is a basic right every human is entitled to.

How My Family and I Vaccinate

The way we have chosen to vaccinate isn’t the standard schedule set forth by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics. My family and I follow what is best for us and what is recommended by our health care provider.

There are many reasons behind why my family and I do not follow the standard schedule, but the primary reasons are that some members of my family are immunocompromised and others suffer from allergies to certain ingredients within particular vaccines. These reasons have lead us to delay and selectively vaccinate. If we didn’t have these health concerns, we might possibly consider the standard schedule, but for our family, the standard schedule just isn’t compatible to our overall health and wellbeing.

What Are Your Options?

Many options exist for those who are leery of following the standard vaccine schedule. Discussing your concerns with your family doctor is one of the best ways to discover evidence-based information to help ease your discomfort.

If you’re like my family and have complications that prevent you from following a standard schedule, then that is also something you should discuss with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to help create a schedule that works best for your family, your health concerns, and your general fears over vaccine-related issues.

One vaccine schedule you could discuss with your doctor is Dr. Sears’ alternative vaccine schedule. His schedule doesn’t begin vaccinations until 2 months of age and it only uses 2 vaccines per visit. There is no evidence to conclude if an alternative schedule is safer or more effective than the standard schedule, but it is an option that might work for you.

Conclusion

My ultimate goal as a clinical herbalist is to see happy, healthy, thriving people. I believe that with the combined efforts of both modern and herbal medicine, we can see that happen. But before we can make that kind of progress, we must first realize that it’s okay to disagree. People are going to draw different conclusions, they’re going to get different advice from their care provider, and they’re also going to have convictions that lead their decision making.

What’s important to remember is that nearly every one of us has the same goal: to be healthy and happy. We especially want that for our children. The best way to do that is to keep your immune system functioning as best as it can, be mindful of others when you’re ill, research the evidence, and discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider. Through these practices, we will be able to treat and/or eliminate preventable infectious diseases.

What’s your opinion on vaccines? 

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. The information provided in this article is merely opinion and shouldn’t take the place of the decisions you and your primary health care provider have determined to be best for you. Do your own research, present it to your doctor, and together come up with the best action that is right for you.