An article in the San Francisco Chronicle of Sunday May 25, 2003 explored the fact that a growing number of parents are not getting their children vaccinated against many of the diseases that have vaccines available. The article focused on a community in the Sierra foothills, which has a high percentage of "alternative" minded people who are questioning the risks of vaccines and are willing not to have their children vaccinated.

Vaccines are known to be one of the most effective methods of disease control and are held up as the pinnacle of health care prevention. Even though there is a growing body of evidence linking vaccines to various diseases and general health problems such as childhood development and even autism, most of what people here about vaccines is the extraordinary benefits accrued by vaccine policy.

However, one of the concerns of many parents is the number of vaccines given to children. The number is growing every year, and there are a number of doctors and scientists who are beginning to question whether the number of vaccines may have a deleterious effect on childrens health over time. This has been especially addressed in relation to the fact that small amounts of a mercury compound called Thimerosal is found in many vaccines, which may have an impact on the mental development of children.

Whilst not wanting to get into the ongoing debate between the risks and benefits of individual vaccines, another area of concern to many practitioners of alternative medicine is the lack of distinction between so-called natural diseases and unnatural diseases.

The former of these include measles, mumps, chicken pox and german measles. The latter group include whooping cough, meningitis, hepatitis B, Diptheria, Tetanus, Polio etc.

The first group of diseases have been experienced by children for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Many practitioners of homeopathy and other alternative therapies believe these are natural conditions that actually help children develop their own immune system. By getting these diseases, it helps stimulate a childs immunity and strengthens the child against more serious diseases. It is a concern that by preventing these diseases through vaccines, the bodys natural immune system is not stimulated and strengthened in the same way, potentially leaving a child more vulnerable.

When looking at the evolution of immunity to disease, this often happens over many generations of people, each generation passing on the acquired immunity to the next one. If homeopaths and others are correct in saying that measles, mumps, chicken pox and german measles are natural diseases that have always been around, then by giving a vaccine for them, we are interfering with a natural immunity that has been happening for countless generations. This may mean that if future generations get the disease, it will be all the more serious, creating a greater dependency on the vaccine to avoid getting the disease. Another consequence of this vaccine policy is that it can make it more likely that vaccinated children can get these diseases when they are adults, when they tend to be much more serious than if experience when a child.

Much has been said of the health problems and even fatalities due to these diseases, the article in question stating that measles used to kill 3,000 people a year, mainly through encephalitis and pneumonia. However, the vast majority of children do not get serious complications from the disease, and although measles is generally the most serious of childhood diseases, its effect is generally limited and often fairly mild. Granted, it is not pleasant but it is not as deadly as some people tend to state. The other childhood illnesses tend to be very mild. One important fact to state though is that those who are more likely to get serious consequences from measles are children whose immune systems are already compromised. Healthy strong children will not get serious problems from the disease. This is most strongly seen in third world countries, when due to malnutrition and other health issues, children have much higher fatalities of these childhood illnesses.

The so-called unnatural diseases should obviously be avoided. It does not serve the long term health of children to get these diseases and a stronger argument can be made for vaccinations for some of these conditions.

However, each disease should be studied in its own right and for parents deciding on which vaccinations to get, the issues mentioned above should be considered when choosing the vaccinations for their children.

For more information on vaccines check out the National Vaccine Resource Center on the web.