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Vaccination and Self-Responsibility

Vaccination is not Immunization

Whooping cough has hit the Mission Valley again. By mid-March, seventeen people were known to be down with this alarmingly uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous disease.

All of these people had been fully vaccinated for pertussis. Seven had previous vaccinations that had presumably waned over time, and the remaining ten were current on their shots, in the time period of fullest protection.

The pertussis vaccine is not protecting everyone: 20-40% of fully vaccinated people remain vulnerable to the bacterium. When it does work as planned and wanes as expected by around 10 years, it leaves people with much less resistance than they would have had historically, when frequent exposure to the disease led to natural immunity.

Vaccination is clearly not immunization.

We all need to be aware of ways to protect ourselves from the rare worst effects of infectious diseases. This is important both for parents who have chosen to vaccinate on schedule, and those who have chosen instead a resiliency-based approach to health. It’s especially crucial for those caring for infants or elderly.

The Health Department is absolutely right in calling for hand washing, staying home when sick, and common courtesy hygiene. But they are missing the point when calling for “more vaccination!” in response to this emergency among the vaccinated population. We must all, vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, nourish our immune systems so we are not helpless when we do encounter germs.

Very simple changes can increase your vitamins A, C, E and zinc, which are all critical for basic defense. Toss broccoli in your eggs in the morning, a sweet potato in the soup, berries on cereal, sesame seeds on oatmeal, have a handful of almonds or a little red meat. Allow plenty of time for rest, and lots of play time in the fresh air (this goes for grown-ups too!). Cook old fashioned nourishing broth with the bones in, flavoring your soup with high quality spices and fresh herbs. Naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles are spectacular for the immune system, as are all mushrooms except the almost nutrient-free button mushrooms commonly sold at groceries.

Basic steps, repeated into habit, shape the bigger picture. Every meal is an opportunity; do try to savor every bite, both the healthful and the willfully indulgent. You are the person who gets to decide which nutritious foods are simple to add to the table, which unhealthy foods fill your tastiest cravings and are worth keeping around, and which unwholesome foods are easy to drop.

If you’re actively facing a virus, shift gears: Eat lightly. Avoid sugar as it greatly weakens the immune system. Breastfeed infants more frequently, and drink lots of water or even better, herbal teas with a little honey or juice for taste (Traditional Medicinal teas are well crafted and easily available, but just pick up any book on plant remedies to find a medicine chest in your tangled weed patch). If you have congestion or a runny nose, pay attention to the effects from milk and wheat.   More than anything, be responsive and notice small changes. Be willing to stay home.

In our family, we have found medicinal herbs and homeopathic remedies to be exceptionally useful in turning the tide of health situations before they ever call for major intervention. Common encounters like ear, sinus and deeper infections, for instance, are often simple to prevent and heal without even leaving your backyard. Homeopathic remedies, purchased at a health food store, are inexpensive and very safe in comparison to children’s aspirin. I encourage you to pick up one of the many fine introductory books on using homeopathy at home. And develop a relationship with a trusted holistic practitioner so you know what to do in emergency and illness, long before it turns into a hospital visit.

Vaccines can reduce incidence and severity of the illnesses they address, and have led to some real successes in humanity’s struggle with deadly diseases. But each one comes with a potential cost that must be weighed against several factors including the severity of the disease, efficacy of the vaccine, prevalence of infection, health of your child, and the methods available to you in easing them through the illness.

Science is poor at measuring subtle dynamic changes in a living system (like a human being), but the direct, measurable and officially acknowledged side effects do give pause. These pathogens ravaged generations before us, and throughout history have entered the body through a natural opening, triggering immune defenses in the lining of the nose and stomach; we now repeatedly inject the inactivated toxoids directly into the bloodstream, bypassing our scouts and sentries. They contain aluminum, mercury, antibiotics, MSG, and animal proteins, and the CDC recommends that babies have over twenty doses by the time they’re one year old. You don’t have to study the subtle forces in the human body to recognize pollution. If you choose for your child to have a vaccination shot, focus on building his immune system in the surrounding days so he can more easily handle the incursion.

The principle of “like cures like”, upon which vaccination theory is based, is sound and sophisticated. This crude application of the theory is not.

Remember that vaccination is one of many defensive strategies within your power. To support the health of our population it cannot stand alone. Don’t depend on a shot to protect your family. Our daily choices matter most in building health.

Cami Renfrow


A version of this article was published in a small Montana newspaper during a local pertussis outbreak. During this period of uncertainty about flu pandemic, I thought it might be useful food for thought.

Our first aid kit for swine flu? I’d expect to reach over and over for a delicate tea of elderberries, elderflowers, yarrow, lemon balm. If I had gathered elder this year I’d be deeply satisfied to have elder syrup on hand, but am considering calling my stone mason friend Jim in Montana to beg for some of his.

And for something completely different, flavor-wise: we have fresh chapparal tincture.

Elder is well known to have antiviral properties. The berries and flowers are an immune modulator rather than stimulator. This may be important, because those early swine flu deaths in Mexico may have been cause by over-active immune response, resulting in rampant cytokine storm and inflammation that brought down healthy adults.  Yarrow stimulates a bit of heat, aiding the body’s efforts at fever, causing the skin to sweat, which will in turn cool the body and reduce the fever.  Lemon balm has antiviral properties and an uplifting aroma.  This is a light, refreshing tea that guides the body quickly through a hot, sweaty process.  The chapparal tincture, with a distinctly strong and medicinal flavor, also is useful against bacteria and viruses and at the same time reduces inflammation, making it useful in avoiding a runaway immune response.

Beyond herbs, we have a small homeopathic flu kit on hand, among my eclectic apothecary of other homeopathic remedies. Visit Sally Templin at if you want to consider a similar kit. A fearful response doesn’t help anyone, however, and I catch a whiff of fear on the Flu Solution site, so don’t let it drag you down – just get informed, get your well-researched kit and get out!

We avoid Tylenol and aspirin during a virus, at least until the point when we’re just too uncomfortable to stand it.  These bring the fever down artificially and interfere with the body’s efforts to rid itself of the pathogen, leading to a much longer, more simmering, battle with any virus.  Not to say we won’t reach for the Tylenol if it’s just too painful, especially after the fever has already broken, but there are many other pain-reducing efforts to try first.  It’s a last resort because it unravels the body’s plan of defense and makes a bacterial infection more likely. Because sleep is medicine, there is an argument to be made for buying a little undisturbed sleep by using NSAIDS, Tylenol, etc. if you can’t find an alternative.

We know two families with small children who recently had the H1N1 (swine) flu and it turned out, for them, to be just a moderately bad flu.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2011 4:38 am

    Very well-written! It’s so important for parents to *fully* understand the risks of vaccination. I always keep in mind that there are risks to both choices… and researching the issue thoroughly, have come down on the side of keeping our immune systems healthy and strong via eating well (great that you mentioned bone broth!) and using supplements.

    On a side note, we’re fulltiming in an RV as well. Hope to see you on the road!


  1. Vaccination is not Immunization « Walkabout with four

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