“We can’t suggest we become dirtier and expose our children to more bacteria,” said Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Montreal Children’s Hospital. Our determination to prevent disease may lead to more allergies, he believes, but if so, it would be worth it. “If the price of having fewer allergies is more infection, I don’t know any parent who would expose their child to more infection.”
Dr. Ben-Shoshan, lead author of a study just published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, is both wrong and wrong-headed. Wrong because parents in their thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, willingly expose their children to infection. Wrong-headed because he has no basis to assert that dirt and bacteria hurt children more than they help them. Evidence abounds to the contrary.
The parents that Dr. Ben-Shoshan seems entirely unaware of include those who have made headlines throughout the Western world. “Playing chicken: Some parents want children to catch chicken pox,” read a Vancouver Sun headline. “The return of the measles party,” announced the UK’s Guardian: “Popular in the 1950s before mass immunization, the measles party is making a comeback. If you’re worried about media reports of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causing autism, then you can join a network of parents who are trying to infect their children naturally with these diseases.” Those networks are now easier than ever to find thanks to social media, as visitors to the Facebook page, “Find a Pox Party in Your Area,” well know.
The parents leery of vaccines and other medications for normal childhood diseases are among a large majority: 89% of parents, according to a University of Michigan poll, cited vaccine safety research as their No. 1 health-care priority, followed by concern over the safety and benefit of medications. Many parents — about one-fifth — have questioned or refused a vaccine for themselves or their children, despite the immense pressure from health authorities to submit to medical dictates: In most jurisdictions, unvaccinated children are denied the right to attend school.
Dr. Ben-Shoshan, along with the majority working in his field, claim that concerns over the benefits of vaccines and antibiotics are dwarfed by the benefit of saving children from contracting serious allergies. Perhaps they’re right. But they have no way of knowing, because their mindset stems from faith, not science. Take HPV vaccines, which are now being widely administered to boys and girls as young as age 9, to prevent cancers that may be sexually transmitted in future. As of September, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a U.S. government agency, the vaccines have led to the reporting of over 20,000 adverse effects, most of them considered “non-serious,” which means the patients did not need hospitalization, did not face a life-threatening illness or succumb to a permanent disability, and did not die. But some 1600 reports were considered serious, including cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, and scores of deaths. The CDC says these “serious events may or may not have been caused by the vaccine.”
Parents are concerned, as much about the immediate consequences of vaccines as about their future consequences, about which little can be known. And why wouldn’t parents be concerned? The same health authorities that insist the benefits outweigh the risks have no explanation for the apparent epidemic of allergies, autism, asthma, immune disorders and learning disabilities that afflict ever-more Western kids.
But increasingly, the authorities do offer an explanation — the hygiene hypothesis, the view that today’s obsession with Purell, anti-bacterial soaps, antiseptics for minor scratches and other drivers toward a sanitized environment has unintended consequences. “We’ve developed a cleanlier lifestyle, and our bodies no longer need to fight germs as much as they did in the past,” explains Dr. Marc McMorris, a pediatric allergist at the University of Michigan Health System. “As a result, the immune system has shifted away from fighting infection to developing more allergic tendencies.”
Third World countries without this sanitization obsession don’t have our levels of food allergies, asthma, and autism and even within developed countries, allergic reactions depend on demographics. Dr. Ben-Shoshan’s survey found that Canadian-born respondents were twice as likely as immigrants to suffer from food allergies, and that people in homes whose respondent had graduated from a post-secondary institution were almost 2½ times as likely to have a sesame allergy, twice as likely to have a tree nut allergy, and 63% more likely to have a peanut allergy….”