I have been warning the public about the indirect dangers of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for a very long time. It is now 25 years ago, for instance, that I published an article in the ‘European Journal of Pediatrics’ entitled “The attitude against immunisation within some branches of complementary medicine“. Here is the discussion section of this paper:
… certain groupings within COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE (CM) may advise their patients against immunisation. Within these groupings, there is, of course, a considerable diversity of attitudes towards immunisation. Therefore
generalisations are difficult and more detailed investigations are required to clarify the issue.
The question arises whether the level of advice against immunisation as it exists today represents a real or only a potential risk. One study from the U.K. demonstrates homoeopathy to be the most prevalent reason for non-compliance with immunisation . The problem may not be confined to naturopathy, chiropractic and homoeopathy. Books relating to CM in general [e.g. 19] also strongly advise against immunisation: “Vaccination may provoke the illness which it is supposed to prevent. People who are vaccinated can transmit the illness, even if they are not ill themselves. The vaccine can make the person more susceptible to the illness … The vaccinated child is a contaminated child”.
At present, our data is insufficient to de®ne which proportion of which complementary practitioners share this
attitude. The origin of this stance against vaccination is largely unknown. For instance, there is nothing in Hahnemann’s writings against immunisation . It may therefore stem from a general antipathy toward modern medicine which seems to be prevalent within CM [7, 19, 23]. A more specific reason is that immunisation is viewed as detrimental, burdened with long-term side effects. It is also felt that it is not fully effective and unnecessary because
better methods of protection exist within CM .
Anti-immunisation activists are often unable to argue their case rationally, yet they place advertisements in the daily press warning about immunisation. In Britain, one tragic case has recently been publicised. A physician advised parents against measles vaccination for their child who was suspected of suffering from convulsions. Five years later, the child suffered severe brain damage after contracting measles. The doctor was sued by the parents and found guilty of negligence and ordered to pay £825,000 in damages .
In medicine we must, of course, always be vigilant about the risks of our interventions. Each form of immunisation should therefore be continuously scrutinised for its possible risks and benefits. Most forms of immunisation are clearly not entirely free of risk [e.g. 22] – in fact, no effective intervention will ever be entirely risk-free. Therefore the risks have to be discounted against the benefits. It follows that any blanket rejection of immunisation, in general, must be misleading. It endangers not only the individual patient but (if prevalent) also the herd immunity of the community at large. Such unreflected rejection of immunisation, in general, will inevitably do more harm than good.
It is concluded that the advice of some, by no means all complementary practitioners in relation to immunisation represents an area for concern, which requires further research. Complementary practitioners and patients alike should be educated about the risks and benefits of immunisation. Paediatricians should be informed about the present negative attitude of some complementary practitioners and discuss the issue openly with their patients.
I suspect that, had we heeded my caution, researched the subject more thoroughly, and taken appropriate action, the current pandemic might have produced fewer and less vocal anti-vaxxers, and fewer patients might have died.