Word to My Chiropractor

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.”

4 thoughts on “Word to My Chiropractor

  1. Hi KC–glad you had a good vacation! It sounds like it was wonderful.

    Chiropractors do a lot of good, but I wish they would stop peddling dangerous woo about vaccines. It makes me very angry and upset to hear about anyone fostering hostility or skepticism to vaccination. As you point out, my state is now at a point where we have no herd immunity, because of the interesting confluence of poor children who don’t get vaccinated because they don’t have appropriate preventative medical care, and of wealthy and middle-class children whose parents take their children to physicians but refuse to immunize them! It’s absolutely bananas, and as you point out, unsupported by the historical record. But because no parents of young children today had classmates stricken by polio, or saw a brother or sister die of diptheria, people believe that these diseases are imaginary or something.

  2. Thanks. Are you back from your travels or are you still in New England (any chance you’re coming to the Nutmeg State?)

    The irony of today’s parents — i.e. folks our age or younger — is that they/we are the first generation to be largely free from the classic “childhood” diseases — including measles, mumps, rubella, as well as more recent vaccines such as chicken pox. I’ve heard that some parents will at least vaccinate their daughters against rubella — apparently the risk of birth defects is “real” enough to them to motivate that — and their sons against mumps so they won’t become sterile (a major complication of mumps in men, especially if they contract the disease during adolescence/young adulthood). All parents and teachers who work with young children should get the chicken pox vaccine if they haven’t had the disease already, since the older you are, the more likely you will die or suffer serious complications.

    Maybe some of these parents should do a tour of the developing world, where half a million children per year die of measles alone, and where folks consider us insane for not vaccinating our children if we have the means and access to do so.

  3. Pingback: Back-to-school report: just the vax, m’am : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  4. My daughter’s co-op preschool was mostly families from South Asia. Believe me, they vaccinated–because they DID know what could happen otherwise. My kid doesn’t spend time in India or China or Latin America, but other kids in her school do, often. The world is too small a place to think vaccinations are unnecessary.

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