Anti-vaxers, ME and desperate people

A cover of a book titled "No Vaccines for Me" by Kathleen Dunkelberger. It shows a young boy holding off a freaky-looking doctor with a white coat holding a syringe. In the background a cupboard says "Vaccines" accompanies by dollar signs.Recently there has been a major outbreak of measles in South Wales, thought to be largely the result of large numbers of parents not getting their children vaccinated during the MMR scare of 1998. Despite the scare, and its author, having been utterly discredited in the years since, there remains an industry seeking to ‘cure’ autism through purging the body of mercury, supposedly the agent (delivered in the MMR vaccine) that caused the condition. It’s not only autism: chronic illnesses in general are held up as reasons not to vaccinate and anyone with a chronic illness apparently triggered by a vaccine is seen as an easy mark, as I saw a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine, who has severe ME, sought the advice of an anti-vaccine group on Facebook (which also has its own website) to “detox” from the chemical in a vaccine she received which triggered her illness.

I do not have a problem with parents who refuse specific vaccines because they fear for their child’s safety (or individuals who fear for their own). The people I am against is those who promote the refusal of all vaccines, and they usually fall into two categories — one seeks to make money out of selling books about how harmful vaccines are or quack “cures” for people who have supposedly suffered vaccine damage (Andrew Wakefield and the Geier father-and-son team are examples), and the other consists of people entirely sold on the theory of vaccines being harmful and causing all manner of diseases in themselves, and that these diseases are worse than what they prevent (when in fact the diseases they prevent are often mass killers and inflict terrible suffering), and are unable to think past this when asked a question about a vaccine. The first group are definitely worse than the second, of course, but one can easily cross the line from the second to the first type and it is the second type you will mostly encounter in online anti-vaccination forums and they are just as capable of spouting harmful nonsense as the first.

My friend told them that she had had a vaccine more than ten years ago, as a pre-teen, and had suffered all the severe pain and disability associated with very severe ME since then. She asked them what she could do to “detox” from that vaccine. The answers included “CEASE Therapy” (which stands for Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression, when this woman is not autistic and ME is not an autistic spectrum disorder), chlorella and cilantro (for the elimination of “heavy metals”, which she had not mentioned), seeing a homoeopath (when she had already said that she had seen one, to no effect, and in fact the homoeopath had become “frustrated” at the failure of any of his remedies to remedy anything), along with suggestions to eat a lot of fresh vegetables — a perfectly healthy idea, but not a cure for ME. None of them disagreed with the need to “detox” from what was in that vaccine, or tried to put her off. The truth is, almost all of it is probably out of her body already, and her symptoms are caused by a virus, or her immune system’s reaction to it.

Anyone familiar with the ME community will know of a number of people who developed ME after having a vaccine, and the vaccine differs from case to case: Lynn Gilderdale famously became very seriously ill after her BCG and there have been cases involving the MMR and HPV vaccines as well. The strongest theory about the causation of ME is that it is caused by an enterovirus, a virus that lives in the digestive system but when it gets to other parts of the body, it has a ‘preference’ for nerve tissue. When an infected nerve is disturbed, as by the insertion of a needle, this provokes an escalation of the infection; there were documented cases of people developing paralytic polio (the polio virus is also an enterovirus) after receiving a polio vaccine. It is also possible that there is an auto-immune reaction to the deactivated virus in the vaccine or some other component, and either of these theories might better account for the degree of suffering over such a long period, which is greatly out of proportion to any ‘toxin’ (which, remember, does not appear to have poisoned anyone else) delivered in the vaccine.

I don’t, of course, blame my friend for wanting to get well, and for looking in whatever place seems to offer a cure. I blame the people on the forum who give her false hope, suggesting one pointless and expensive false cure after another. They do the same, of course (often making a lot of money) with parents of children with severe autism: selling them cures, often based on “chelation” (detoxing from minute quantities of mercury) which are often both cruel to the affected person (often a child) and expensive for the parents. Much as with multiple sclerosis and with so many other debilitating long-term conditions, you cannot detox your way out of ME. As with MS, we need a cure, or an effective treatment, for ME. Until there is one, quacks will continue to make money and well-meaning blinkered people will continue to point desperate people in the wrong direction.

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