I’m a recent convert to the benefits of chiropractic for back pain — was suffering for months before I finally decided to give it a go. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also lists from persuasive scientific evidence in favor of use of chiropractic for certain conditions.
Now, my chiropractor is a nice guy and does an excellent job at spinal manipulation– but he’s about to venture outside what I consider to be the appropriate boundaries of his profession by giving a lecture at our local tea shop/herbal apothecary about childhood vaccines — the title of the talk is vague, but it’s clear from the description that he’s not in favor of them, suggesting that they overwhelm the immune system. This, I think, goes too far — after all, chiropractors are not trained in immunology — and this crackpot theory has not been scientifically proven. [see the CDC website for mythbusting on this issue]
What is very clear, though, is the impact of declining vaccination rates on disease incidence in certain communities in the United States. Take Colorado, where the rate of vaccination (75%) is below what is needed for herd immunity. Between 1996 and 2005, 208 adults and 32 children in Colorado died of diseases that could most likely have been prevented by vaccinations. The state spends millions of dollars per year caring for children and adults with diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), influenza, and measles that could have been prevented by vaccination. California has also seen a sharp increase in rates of childhood diseases — e.g. a recent epidemic of measles in the San Diego area.
Now, some might say, well these childhood diseases are harmless — when we were kids, we just all got the measles at the same time and we were fine. Well, historical facts show a different story — before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, there were typically 250,000-500,000 cases of measles per year, resulting in 500 or more deaths.
All this leads me back to the work I’m doing on HPV vaccines, which I’m revising for the Society of the Social History of Medicine conference in Glasgow this September. Our Bodies, Our Blog recently posted a critique of “fearmongering” in a CNN report on the HPV vaccine. I like the moderate and sensible position they take: they state that “of course we should keep watch when a new drug, vaccine or product is approved and is targeted to women” but “incomplete and inaccurate reporting and misrepresentation of the science does nothing to assist women and families in making decisions about vaccination and safety.”