August is National Immunization Month

There is a month for everything it seems. And August is the month for Immunizations Awareness.The perfect time to write the review of a book I received* months ago.

Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases
by Paul A. Offit, M.D

I began reading this book thinking that it was going to be dry, something I would suffer through like a text book. While I thought it would be interesting I could not see how it could be an engaging story. Turns out I was wrong. I loved this book.

From the Prologue:

But I’d bet not one of you knows the name of the scientist who saved more lives than all other scientists combined–a man who survived Depression era poverty; the harsh, unforgiving plains of southeastern Montana; abandonment by his father; the early death of his mother; and, at the end of his life, the sad realization that few people knew who he was or what he had done: Maurice Hillman, the father of modern vaccines.

Paul Offit was able to sit down with Maurice Hillman before his death in 2005 and discuss his life and his work. Those conversations eventually became this book.

It is a fascinating read… the use of chicken eggs to grow the virus that would eventually be turned into a vaccine; how Hillman used swabs from the throat of his daughter to develop the vaccine against mumps; the common practice of using institutionalized children with mental retardation to test the vaccines and the ethics involved in it.

Did you know that the pneumococcal vaccine protects against twenty three different infections? No? Me either, until I read this book. It was the first bacterial vaccination with the Hib vaccine following close on it’s heels.

The development of bacterial vaccines came just in time. The widespread use of a variety of different antibiotics has caused many bacteria, including pneumococcus, to become resistant to them. Unfortunately, pharmeceutical companies no longer devote much energy to making antibiotics. Vaccines may eventually stand alone as our last chance to fight bacterial infections.

The book spends a chapter discussing the claims that vaccines have caused autism and does a good job of delving into original source of the claims a Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and showing how he had changed data and mislead the public. Whether his observations have any truth in them is not for me to decide, but the fact that he was not completely honest and open with his study, changed data, and omitted data, does not inspire confidence in the study as a whole.

Unfortunately once this information was put out there there is no way to take it back, to make people stop believing it. It is human nature to want to have something to blame.

I never really discuss my own stance on childhood immunizations in an online forum. Mostly because I don’t want to be responsible for swaying anyone with my opinions. We do all the immunizations, but we delay them until after age two. And then we do them one at a time. Yes, it does take forever and require multiple trips (an co-pays). So why do I do it this way?

I have two children who had the severe reactions to their immunizations. You know the kind they tell you there is only a slight chance can ever happen? Yup, we got lucky twice. Interestingly, both of these children have ADHD which is a neurological condition on the same spectrum as autism. Did the vaccine cause this? Hell no. I can say it without a shadow of a doubt. They were both colicky babies. They were both extremely high maintenance before they ever had vaccines.

Here is what I think, an my pediatrician– who fully supports my decision to delay all vaccinations–thinks it is probably valid, children who already have neurological issues can react to a vaccine in a non typical way. But, I am not a doctor, or a researcher, as much as I like to pretend that I am. So my opinion is worth what you paid for it.

This book is not only a biography of Maurice Hillman, but also the history of immunizations.

The second half of the twentieth century witnessed an explosion in vaccine research and development, with vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, rubella (german measles), chicken pox, hepatitis a, hepatitis B, pneumococcus, meningococcus, and Hib. Before these vaccines were made, Americans could expect that every year measles wuld cause severe, fatal pneumonia; rubella would attack unborn babies, causing them to go blind or deaf or become mentally retarded; and Hib would infect the brain and spinal cord, killing or disabling thousands of young children. These nine vaccines virtually eliminated all of this suffering and disability and death. And Maurice Hillman made every one of them.

I was talking to my mother recently about childhood diseases. She grew up during the Depression and at a time when children routinely died or were disabled from diseases. She clearly remembers when both she and her brother had Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Her brother was much worse off and at the height of the illness he was not expected too make it through the night.

I had heard these stories before but since I was a child I identified with the roles of the sick child in the story. Now I put myself in the place of her mother. How that must have felt to stay up all night staring at your child. At a time when you couldn’t go to the hospital, were quarantined in your house, isolated and alone. Her father had left the house as soon as the children had shown signs of being sick. He couldn’t risk being quarantined with the family. He had to go to work.

Turns out Denise has blogged about this very same topic over BlogHer. If it interests you, you might want to head on over and check out the links she has on the the topic of immunization.

*I do not accept any monetary compensation for any book reviews that I write. The only thing I receive is the book. Because it is not yet possible to read a book telepathically.

36 Responses to “August is National Immunization Month”

  1. Jeana Says:

    Chris, this book sounds fascinating. Interestingly, my friend and I were discussing this just recently. Her son has Asperger’s and she was just listening to some tapes by a doctor who has done extensive research on Autism Spectrum disorders and their relationship to vaccines, and she is finding evidence of just what you said: that the children have a pre-existing neurological make-up that makes it hard for them to process the contents of the vaccines.

    I’ll have to check out this book. It sounds really interesting. Thanks!

  2. Deputy's Wife Says:

    Both of my parents became deaf because of childhood illnesses. My father’s mother had rubella when pregnant with him. My mother had scarlet fever that evolved to rheumatic fever when she was three.

    With my first child, I listened to a lot of theories about vaccines and autism. Most of it scared the crap out of me. Enough that I considered not having vaccines for my oldest son. Until my mom caught wind of it and slapped me up side the head. (Deaf people use their hands quite a bit, ya know…) She set me straight on why I needed to vaccinate him.

    I got so wrapped up in listening to theories, I forgot that I had the perfect examples of the nessicity of vaccinations right in front of my own face.

  3. sarah Says:

    Thank you, thank you! My son is immune challenged and there are vaccines that he cannot have. Because of the recent trend in believing in ” Intact Immune Systems ” and not vaxing, there are playgroups we cannot attend because the children aren’t vaxed… I have often though that should one child in that group come down with something serious, the entire group of children would be at risk. It would be a tradedy.

    My son won’t be a tradegy.

  4. Elaine Says:

    I am pro-vacine myself and have also witnessed those who’s lives have been forever changed because of a disease, one is completely paralylized from polio. Both my kids have had their shots, including for chicken pox. I don’t usually discuss this issue online for much the same reasons that you don’t. I’ll discuss it in person only if I feel the person is not speaking from fear or misinformation.

  5. Brigitte Says:

    I’ve never been a believer in the autism/vaccination link, but I’ve also figured that even if it were true, the chances of my vaccinated child being autistic were miles less than the chances of my NON-vaccinated child being crippled or dead of some old-timey disease.

    Then again, I’m so old that there was still a kid whose legs had been crippled by polio in one of my classes in school. Maybe some younger parents just can’t be made fully cognizant of the truly dreadful risks of childhood in pre-vaccination days, it’s just not real to them.

  6. HG Says:

    Chris - I too use a one at a time vaccination approach with my kids, though I don’t delay them until after age 2.

  7. Jennifer Says:

    Interesting and informative post, thanks for speaking out! My mom was a public health nurse over immunization clinics so I’m completely biased AND totally admit it!! :)

  8. marta Says:

    Thanks for such an intelligent post. I know many moms who consider themselves progressive and very well informed who do not vaccinate their children because it “weakens their immune system”, as one of them once told me.
    Incidentally, this woman completly refuses to give her 2 children antibiotics and once had her 11 year old with a high fever, severe sorethroat, vomiting and so on and getting worse for 3 weeks before she finally gave in and had the doctor give the kid antibiotics. Of course he had strep and as soon has he had had 48 hours of amoxicylin or whatever it was, he was fine.
    I hate these anti-scientific, pseudo-scientists who use homeopathy for any kind of malady…

  9. Christina Says:

    Very interesting. I’m pro-vax, although not for chicken pox. But I’m starting to think about asking the ped. to go one at a time. My older daughter had all her shots on the recommended schedule, and now we’re facing a possible diagnosis of sensory integration disorder. I also wonder if the vaccinations were too much for her to process at once.

  10. Elizabeth Says:

    Here’s a tangent for you. Dr. Martin Seligman (sp?) wrote a book on teaching your children optimism. The reason for this was that he wanted to find a way to “vaccinate” people against depression, even though it’s not caused by a germ. It was a very interesting study.

  11. Mayhem Says:

    You’ve tackled a difficult topic, and written it well! Thanks!

    I notice that parents sometimes feel frustrated with changes in the recommended vaccine program. Hep A is now on the universal vaccination list for our state, and lots of kids who didn’t get those two shots when they were younger are catching up. And there’s the meningitis vaccine, and now the HPV vaccine (Which, hey, a vaccine to prevent cancer? How cool is that?), and flu shots…

    I wish we could do more to encourage kids and parents to see vaccination as a continuing process, rather than just something you suffer through as a baby and then it’s over.

  12. Shannon Says:

    I really appreciate your review of this book. This is a tough topic to approach with moms since it is such an important decision and there are so many conflicting opinions out there.

    My oldest daughter followed the regular vaccine schedule with very poor administration and when she had a negative reaction, we didn’t know which vaccine was the cause. So, we now also vaccinate one at a time - with lots of trips and co-pays, but it’s a small price to pay.

  13. Daisy Says:

    I had pertussis two years ago at age 44. Oh, my, was that awful! I was sick for two months. I could easily see how in a baby or child this illness could be fatal.

  14. Christie Says:


    It’s great to see others families’ views on vaccines and how they vaccinate (or don’t) their kiddos. Our doc thought we were nuts when we had questions re vaccines as apparently, we are the only patients he has in our small town who do not want to blindly vaccinate, especially if our son is already immune.

    We did not know much about this controversy until the past year (our only son is 4 now) and so he had all his vaccines up until the 4 year ones on schedule. We had his titers drawn when he turned four, and he was already immune to all but the DTaP. So, we will be vaccinating with preservative free vaccines and doing one at a time, spacing them out at least 2 weeks. We also do Vit C, Omega 3 fatty acids and Zinc for a week before and after each vaccine.


  15. Susan Says:

    My mother, too, was a child of the Depression. In fact, she almost died as a young child from Rheumatic Fever. She was gravely ill for 6 weeks, during which time she sustained substantial damage to her heart valve. She used to hear her own mother crying herself to sleep at night; turns out, it was because the doctor had told her that her little girl wouldn’t live past the age of 6. My mother was 5 at the time; it was 1928.

    Because of her weak heart, she went to schools for the handicapped. She had the great honor of meeting FDR when he came to their school in Minnesota during his presidency. She even shook his hand!

    Interestingly enough, she did die… but not until 2001 at the age of 78. And, it was still linked to her heart valve; it was during the surgery when they decided it finally needed replacing, once and for all.

    Having gone to a school for the handicapped, MANY of her friends and classmates died. She used to always say that people today don’t realize what a blessing those immunizations really are…

  16. Anth Says:

    I think younger adults in America don’t comprehend how awful those illnesses were (myself included). I just finished reading On Agate Hill by Lee Smith. The main character watches helplessly as her 2-year-old dies of diptheria. It was horrifying and inspired me to continue to immunize my daughter!

  17. Not The Mama Says:

    I’ll definitely look for this book. I’ve been thinking a lot about vaccines lately but I try to avoid the topic online since it seems to be such a firestarter. Thanks for the great review, and I’ve loved reading everyone’s comments about the subject. Fascinating.

  18. Annette Says:

    I also find the whole vaccination topic fascinating. I had scarlet fever as a 6 yr old, and have a murmur as a result, and I had pertussis last year—kicked my butt for 4 months. And I was vaccinated as a child! My dr. said there are new strains from Asia coming to the US, and all of my nurse friends have been re-vaccinated for pertussis—think about it—it ain’t pretty!

  19. Midsummer Night Says:

    We vaccinate both our kids as well, but I have never thought of doing them individually. It never dawned on me that if they had a reaction the doctors would be unable to tell me which vaccine it was from. Thank you for the review on the book. I am going to add it to my list of books to read.

    As a side note, even if I did not do most vaccines I know I would still do the meningitis. I had a baby cousin that died from meningitis. He had gotten sick in the evening and died overnight. Awful.

  20. amy Says:

    I have heard that this is an excellent book. Thank you for your review which I felt was sensible and reasonable. I am definitely a “scientific” type person, and I can say that the fear of vaccines in this country is a result of people being unaware of the real dangers of disease. I also would like to urge all of your readers who have preteens or teens (age 11 and above) to speak to their physicians about revaccinating for Pertussis (whooping cough). Our daughter came down with it the summer she turned 17 (2005), and it is a nasty, horrible illness. If we had known that the vaccines she had as a child are now known to “wear out”, we would have had her revaccinated, but it was too late. We were fortunate that she finally recovered after 3 months and that she did not get it at college - it was the summer before her senior year in high school. It can run rampant in college dorms as it is extremely contagious and virulent. I can see why babies and toddlers die from this illness. Personally, I do not recommend waiting on the pertussis vaccine unless you live in a remote area and do not travel or per your physician’s advice. I would make sure that my child was vaccinated as soon as my physician says it is the proper time to do so, AND I would double check about revaccination. Thank you for writing about this important issue.

  21. Cate Says:

    My nephew is autistic, and my sister and her husband as well as my parents have spent thousands and thousands of dollars treating him with alternative therapies. ABA, the only recognized therapy, did nothing for him. Today, he is a very high functioning and gifted nine-year-old in an normal elementary school classroom, but it has been pure hell bringing him back from the moaning, flapping child he became shortly before his second birthday.

    I think you’re right on Chris. My nephew is immune compromised and showed a few symptoms before his shots but deteriorated rapidly after his MMR. He never developed an immunity to those diseases and had active measles virus in his gut and brain fluid when tested FOUR YEARS AFTER HIS SHOT!!! He also
    had heavy metals poisoning (including mercury, lead, and arsenic). I think there is also something environmental going on, and between that, the genetic problem, and the vaccine load, it has caused the rates to sore.

    With my children, I’m selective about which vaccines I give, and my children don’t get any shots until after age two. I’ll slap any doctor who comes near my kid with a flu, chicken pox, rotavirus, or Hep B vaccine. We only do one shot at a time, and I look at every single dose before it’s injected.

    Bottom line, don’t vaccine blindly.

  22. Qalballah Says:

    We’ve had hoo-hars over here with vaccines especially the combined Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR). I dislike the fact that mercury is a preservative over here (I think that is illegal in the USA) and I also dislike some of the crap the vaccines are made from. I compromised and went for single shots of MMR which I had to pay for myself because the government doesnt fund free choice here and give them on the NHS. It was a lot of money.

    I think people need to do their own research into vaccination. And you have to know your family history and know your child. What works for one can be disaster for another and no one wants to take chances with their kids, either way.

  23. Stefanie Says:

    Very interesting. I’ll have to check that book out. I too delay vaccines for my children. I also tier them. Yes, pricey. What we do for our kids…

    I was interested in knowing that two of your sons have ADHD. My oldest son was diagnosed with ADHD in 2nd grade. My youngest just started kindergarten and is exhibiting some of the same ADHD behaviours & symptoms. Incidentally, they both had bad reactions to their vaccines. My daughter did too - but she seems to be a typical (hate that word!) learner. I know you homeschool. Was the ADHD a factor in that decision? My oldest is having a hell of a time in public school & his self-esteem is suffering as a result. I’m seriously thinking of homeschooling both boys. Any thoughts?

  24. joe Says:


    Based on what I have read, it doesn’t prevent cancer. It *may* help you to develop antibodies to two (out of a possible 15) oncogenic viruses that *may* lead to cancer. Most sexually active women have been already exposed to HPV viruses. 80% of these viruses clear on their own. Those that don’t aren’t necessarily cancer. They may be precursors to cancer. There are over 100 HPV viruses. 30 are common and 15 of those oncogenic. The HPV vaccine may protect against two that can be oncogenic and one that is not oncogenic. Better idea? get regular Pap tests, which will detect most, if not all, cancer and precursors to cancer–not just two types of virus.

    3700 women in the US die annually from cervical cancers–the vast majority because the cancer progressed from mild cervical dysplasia to invasive cervical cancer–a process that often takes quite some time and is detectable through annual exams. That is why, vaccinated or not, you need to go every damn year to the doctor.

    But don’t take my opinion. Read and read carefully. I think a vaccine like the HPV is helpful if you do not or cannot go for regular Pap tests. But for anyone with access to regular gyn visits, the annual manual is the best way to go in terms of detecting cancer and pre-cancerous lesions.

    great discussion.

  25. Erin Says:


    I wasn’t vaccinated as a child for what ever reason my parents just didn’t. Come to find out I was allergic to egg whites. So the doctors told my parents never have me vaccinated and I had a medical exception as a result.

    When I was 4 I had the whooping cough, this was in the early 80’s. Not one of the doctors my parents took me to knew what was wrong with me. I remember how bad the coughing spells were. I would cough so bad that I would eventullay throw up. We always carried something I could be sick in when were out. I had a bucket beside my bed because I’d wake up in the middle of the night coughing.

    We started out with my oldest daughter letting her get them but one at a time. I wanted to know if she had a reaction what one it was from. She had a slight reaction to one, HIB. It scared my husband and he said no more. So she isn’t fully vaccinated. We are considering getting religious exceptions for both of our girls since the state we live in we are able to do that.

    For some reason I am more scared of the reaction from the vaccine that I am of them actually getting the disese.

  26. carrien Says:

    I have the exact same approach to vaccinations. I read that that’s what they do in Japan and it seemed safer to me, as well as avoiding the combination shots. I just ran into some stats about the number of vaccines a baby receives before it’s first birthday in the US. It’s over 25, 30 years ago it was only 5.

    Personally I find it irritating that everyone is vaccinating against chicken pox. I would rather my kids get that one and live through it as it isn’t life threatening and their immunity will be stronger, won’t require a booster and they’re less likely to get shingles as adults. Since that vaccine is mandatory for public school now, I may have to get it for them, just because they can’t contract it normally.

    Given my preference I would only vaccinate when the disease can be fatal.

  27. Qtpies7 Says:

    I am very open with my way of doing things because I am very, very pro-choice on vaccines. However I will not do them until my children are much, much older.
    I have done research on vaccines for college. I have a son who is vaccine injured. I have worked for someone who is as injured from a vaccine than people who are injured from polio, and more injured than most polio vicitims.
    It is proven that mercury in vaccines cause autistic disorders in animals and was therefore forced to be removed and never used again in animal vaccines 10 years before it was “suggested” to be removed from human vaccines.
    The Amish community that does not vaccinate does not have autism. The nearly 100% immunized community has 1 in 156 kids with autism. This speaks volumes to me.
    All, and I mean ALL, research proving that mercury does not cause autism was done by people who have monetary ties to the vaccine industry. Across the board, completely biased researchers.
    People need to know that this is out there. That autism did not exist until 4 years after mercury was added to vaccines, the time it takes to diagnose it, coincidentally.
    Yes, most kids seem fine. Yes, the risk seems small. But it is a risk. And every parent needs to know the truth. That the diseases are rare, and not all because of the vaccines, but because of the water purification, the sanitation improvements, and better medical care.
    Every parent needs the facts so they can make an informed decision because noone else is going to be taking care of their sick and injured child. The nurse/doctor who jabs your kid with the vax is not going to be praying over your child or caring for them daily. You will. And only you can decided if you can live with your child being injured by the vax you had injected into them, or live with your child getting a disease that could have been prevented with a vaccine.
    Neither sides information is 100% truthful. Both sides skew information. One has money involved, the other a vendetta, maybe? Who knows, but neither side is all right. Make a choice based on truth, truth you can see by the evidence, and a choice YOU can live with.
    And stop laying blame on other people’s choices, because you see one side and they’ve seen the other. You do not know what someone has seen or experienced before you judge them on their choices. I do not presume to know enough to make that decision for another parent.
    In the meantime, I am going to continue to treat my vaccine injured child and help him to have as normal a life as possible.

  28. t in hd Says:

    We delay and selectively vax. What I lament most really, is how damned near impossible it is to find any good, unbiased information out there on the subject. I’ve yet to come across literature that wasn’t written by someone with a strong bias. It makes fact gathering a nightmare. I won’t tell others how or when or if they should vax their children and I resent when others (through literature or pushy people/peds) try to push their opinions on me. In the end, it is I and my children who will pay any consequences for the choices I make for my children, so it will be I who make the choices (where the kids can’t). For the same reason, I won’t tell others what choices to make for their kids.

  29. Qalballah Says:

    Regarding Chicken Pox, I know, total waste of money. It isn’t fatal. But for us I am looking for the shot, simply because NO children I know have had it since I gave birth 5.5 years ago and secondly as my Dh has steroid injections I would like to avoid them actually contracting it, as it can be serious for him.

  30. Susan Says:

    In kindergarten, my son’s friend spent 4 MONTHS in the hospital, gravely ill and having several surgeries, due to infections from chicken pox. (They had to remove a large area on her chest where the pox had become infected.) And her hospital roommate, also 5 years old at the time and ill from the chickenpox, DIED from it. So, yes, chicken pox most certainly can be fatal. It amazes me how many people take chicken pox/the vaccine so lightly. Hardly a “waste of money” in my book.

    Also, another commenter said they’d rather have their child have chicken pox so they don’t get shingles later in life. My daughter had chicken pox as a baby (too soon to be vaccinated), and then had a nasty case of shingles in 1st grade. Two years later and she still has a huge scar on her back left from the shingles. It can reoccur at any time the rest of her life.

  31. Kitty Says:

    For serious illness, VACCINATE!
    Do we honestly need the chicken pox or the rotavirus one though? I really appreciate being threatened by my (previous) Dr. that ten children die in the US die from the rotavirus every year and then to add more die in undeveloped countries.
    I now make myself informed on all the vaccinations first and delay most until after 2.
    These are MY children NOT yours!! If you want to have the government start forcing people to vaccinate, you might want to think about where that can lead. I do have some thoughts on what people should and should not do when they have kids ie. be married, stay married and minimal daycare …..when I become Queen of all, watch out!

  32. Kelly Says:

    Um…chickenpox can be very dangerous. My grandfather lost his hearing after chickenpox. He was 23 when he came down with it. I got it when I was 20. My sister was 19. She was hospitalized. When you get it as an adult, it is terrible. I missed a semester of college and had pox inside my digestive tract. I can’t express how painful that was. Worse than childbirth, if that’s any indication.

    If you have any family history of delayed chickenpox infection (as we certainly did), then you really should vaccinate against it. It’s quite dangerous for adults.

  33. Carolynn Says:

    I agree, Chicken Pox is a very dangerous illness and can kill. Many things that were once considered as ” Simply Childhood Illnesses” and just accepted as such have since been realised to be very dangerous that is why vaccines are available.

    Here in Australia ALL children must be vaccinatd prior to gaining entry to school.

    Measles for example, a child can appear to have a mild illmes and a bit of a rash and nothing else but unfortunately it can lay dormant and cause Measles Encephalopathy where it causes significant mental and itellectual deterioration in the earlt teenage years leading to death NASTY>

    Also even if yo had Chicken Pox as a child you are still very much at risk of getting Shingles as an Adult Believe it.


  34. dcrmom Says:

    Chris, THANK YOU. I have read a lot recently about not vaxing, and I have wondered if I’ve been irresponsible with vaxing my children. I am very interested in this book b/c I’ve been wanting to see information from the other side. Thanks for offering some balance to the issue.

  35. Carrie Says:

    Wow, so many good points of view from so many people. I don’t vaccinate my children but I may in the future. I don’t believe in the governments one-size-fits-all schedule of vaccines.

    I think the important thing is that we make an educated decision instead of just doing what our ped tells us too. We need to play an important role in the health of our children and perform our own research.

    Here is an article with a great video to watch about the development of vaccines. It’s a long video but its worth watching.

  36. Latest Book Reviews Says:

    Latest Book Reviews…

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…

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