One of the pervasive myths expressed by the anti-vaccine world is that one or all childhood vaccines can be replaced by breastfeeding. Somehow, these people believe that breast milk is such a powerful agent of the immune system that vaccinations are unnecessary. But that’s not based on any science related to human physiology, especially with respect to the immune system.
These beliefs represent a misunderstanding of how our immune system functions, especially regarding the role of passive immunity. Breastfeeding, of course, has a lot of benefits to both the developing baby and the mother. But we shouldn’t endow it with magical qualities, especially with regards to how it operates with the infant’s own immune system.
I want to take some of your time here to give a condensed version of immunology, especially the differences between passive and adaptive immunity. And I want to show how breastfeeding complements the developing baby’s immune system.
One thing you’ll notice from all science deniers is a tendency to overstate or overuse a fairly solid scientific principle inappropriately. The anti-vaccine crowd takes this to a whole new level. And what we’re going to discuss today is the hygiene hypothesis, which describes how early exposure to microorganisms may assist the immune system to avoid allergic reactions.
Although we’ll discuss the scientific evidence in support of the hypothesis later in this article, anti-vaxxers tend to abuse it. They conflate potentially beneficial organisms, such as the gut biome, with dangerous and deadly pathogens, like measles and polio. The former may be a critical component of the hygiene hypothesis, but the latter is not.
Immune system myths are one of the common claims of the junk medicine crowd, especially the anti-vaccine activists. The pseudoscience of the immune system is pernicious and possibly dangerous.
It’s frustrating that the pseudoscience from the junk medicine crowd claims that this supplement or that food is critical to boosting the immune system – hang out for a day on Facebook, and you’ll probably see way too many memes saying that all you have to do to boost your immune system is eat a blueberry kale smoothie. I still see that dumb banana claim that it cures cancer.
The problem with these immune system myths is that they overlook or ignore a basic physiological fact – the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevent invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens and other antigens every single day.
And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize the complexity of the immune system, it does not make it so. One can claim all day long that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it scientifically accurate. Nor does it create an accurate description of the immune system.
In a lawsuit filed with a court in Israel a young girl and her mother are suing, apparently (since I do not have the lawsuit, I’m reporting based on a news report that included an interview with the girl’s mother) claiming that the girl was negligently administered an HPV vaccine because the family was not warned that it can trigger an autoimmune disease, lupus. Because the evidence does not support the claim that there is a link between the HPV vaccine and lupus, the claim is unfounded, and should be rejected. The Ministry of Health is not required – and should not – warn parents about risks vaccines do not have: that would be misleading those parents.
In Australia, there has been a 50% increase in hospital visits for anaphylaxis from 1998 to 2012, the most severe allergic reaction. Infants and toddlers accounted for much of this increase. Anaphylaxis is the most serious allergic reaction to anything including food.
What stumps a lot of researchers is why the increase? Has our food supply become more allergenic? Some blame the addition of GMOs to our food supply, but that’s nonsense. In fact, some very good research may point us toward new recommendations to prevent child food allergies.
These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, tissues and biomolecules that prevent invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day.
And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize the complexity of the immune system by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it still doesn’t make it a scientific fact.
So let’s take a look at why “immune system boosting” can be considered a pseudoscience. And to discuss pseudoscience, we will have lots of real science.
One of the most ridiculous pseudoscientific claims that I keep hearing from the junk medicine crowd is that this supplement or that food is critical to boosting the immune system – it’s so prevalent that I believe I read it several times a day.
These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevents invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day. And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize how complicated the immune system is by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it science.
If you explore the dark and myth filled back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. I’ve covered and refuted many of the myths, although the vaccine deniers tend to rely on zombie myths that keep returning over and over again, never quite dying.
These myths range from outrageous, such as it’s a conspiracy of the government to control population (which I find odd, since the government is barely competent enough to build a post office), to scientific sounding, but ultimately pseudoscientific claims. There are a lot of great websites that debunk many of the myths, and they’re easy to find.
One of the most annoying legends of the antivaccination cult is that multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system of the poor baby’s tender physiology. About that immune system? It’s comparatively strong relative to almost every other organ system in the body.
Generally, the popular assumption is that the infant immune system is weak, making those children more prone to viral or bacterial infections. The antivaccine crowd uses this belief to either state that vaccines won’t work or might actually harm the immune system, along with some overstated magical properties of human breast milk to prevent infection.
One of the enduring zombie tropes of the antivaccination cult is that pathogens aren’t dangerous because the disease is not dangerous. Through a complicated, and thoroughly unsupported by evidence, revision of immunology to fit their needs, they think that kids with healthy immune systems don’t require vaccines, because their super immune systems, strengthened with homeopathic water and a handful of vitamins, will never succumb to diseases. In their arrogance, and pseudoscience beliefs, they think their kids have superior immune systems that can only be harmed by vaccines.
Of course, their beliefs are unsupported by anything in science, just putting children at harm. Plus we have evidence of how avoiding key vaccinations do put children at danger.
For a little background, meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but it can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–saving children’s lives from meningitis”