I would like to start this post by saying that I am not a doctor, or a scientist, or an astronaut. Although I do know many, many doctors (seriously, I have seen close to 50 different MDs in the last 4 years) a few scientists and one guy who did a summer internship at the Air and Space Museum- so by internet article standards that pretty much makes me an expert. I mostly get my news from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and since his show returned a few days ago (hooray!) with a giant expose on doctors taking gifts from pharmaceutical companies I have seen even more articles pop up in my newsfeed about the dangers of “Big Pharma.”
I get that the pharmaceutical industry is a big money making machine and needs a lot more oversight in place. What worries me, however, is how this discussion feeds into the paranoia that leads people not to vaccinate their children because they believe doctors are only giving vaccines to get huge kickbacks. The doctors John Oliver is talking about are making bank pushing things like Viagra and Anti-Depressants. The Polio vaccine is not a big moneymaker, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have any off-label uses!
I will be the first to say that I truly understand that drugs can have horrible side effects- this is coming from a 35-year-old who has full blown Osteoporosis from all the Prednisone I took in the past few years. But I will also say that Prednisone was the only thing that actually controlled my Ulcerative Colitis. My doctors kept trying to get me off it, but without it, my flares were debilitating- I got Osteoporosis, but I didn’t bleed to death, so I count that as a win.
I would like to highlight here that I also tried everything else possible to control my disease. If you aren’t familiar with Ulcerative Colitis, it is an auto-immune disease where your body attacks your colon and causes these horrible ulcers that are intensely painful and come with digestive problems that I am sure you don’t want to hear about. It was like living with food poisoning for several years. Oh yeah, and I bled- a lot. So as much as I knew that steroids were not a long term solution, I kept begging for them because it was only when on a high dose that I got any sort of relief. I went through 6 or 7 other prescription drugs, multiple specialists, tried all sorts of diets, acupuncture, some wack-a-do thing called Total Body Modification (which did absolutely nothing and was stupidly expensive btw,) and spent months in treatment with a woman who is a highly regarded naturopath.
I did my research and found someone with excellent credentials, wonderful reviews and great recommendations. This woman was lovely and kind and I am sure that her methods work for some people, but it was the holistic supplements that she gave me that sent me into the worst flare of my life, and down the path where I eventually had to have my colon removed.
This is where I get really worried about people who choose to use Complimentary Alternative Medicine instead of the opinions of actual doctors. Because medical specialists exist for a reason. I have a GI Specialist, Colon and Rectal Surgeon, Endocrinologist, and a guy who just focuses on Osteoporosis in young patients because no one person can possibly be a true expert in all of these fields- there is just too much information.
When I went to the naturopath and asked if she had ever treated anyone with Ulcerative Colitis, she said “I treat the whole person, not just the disease,” and then gave me some water that had been blessed by a Shaman to drink. But I bought into it because I wanted so desperately for something to work. Her months of treatment never helped me (she convinced me that all my problems were because of diet, but after 4 months on her strict and gluten free meal plan, my symptoms were no better) and when I got a cold, she gave me some herbs that probably work fine for people without a diseased colon. But because of my medical conditions, something about them triggered a life-threatening flare for me.
And then when I went on prednisone again, it no longer worked. So we pulled out the big guns and I went on Remicade. This is an iv immuno-suppresent with a host of nasty side effects but at this point I was willing to do anything to get some quality of life back. It looked like I was getting a little better for a few months and then it just stopped working. That was the point at which my GI had a long sit down with me to discuss options.
At that meeting he told me that if I wanted to continue to try various perscription drugs there were many left that we could attempt to use. But he flat out told me that in his experience patients that have proven resistant to multiple treatment options often don’t find a drug that works for them, and he referred me to a surgeon to discuss removing my colon. At first I was horrified by the thought, but after a lot of research and discussion with my family and doctors, I realized that this was the best option for my long- term health. I am happy to report that a little more than a year after the first surgery, the only thing I take for my digestive system is Imodium and an RX probiotic. I am pretty much drug free except for my Synthroid (because of the thyroid cancer, but that’s a whole different story!) and my Xanax- which you would have to pry from my cold dead hands!
I tell this lengthy story for a few reasons. First of all, while I don’t doubt that there are unscrupulous MDs that over-proscribe because of the perks they get from drug companies, I also KNOW that there are many doctors who do what they do because they truly want to help people. I’m pretty sure that my GI would have made a lot more money by keeping me on a string of different drugs- at one point I was coming to his office twice a week (and now I only need to see him once a year!) Also, Remicade is extremely expensive (around $7,000 a treatment) so he also could have pushed me to keep trying that for another six months. But instead, he referred me to a surgeon who CURED me! Granted, it was a horribly invasive cure that required 2 surgeries, weeks in the hospital, and close to a year of recovery, but long-term the drug companies are making a lot less money off of me!
Secondly, all of this concern about “Big Pharma” is just fueling the vaccine debate- WHICH SHOULD NOT BE A DEBATE.
As someone who has spent the better part of the last four years either with newborn infants or in a severely immunocompromised state, I beg you to vaccinate yourself and your children.
Measles and Whooping Cough are coming back because we can no longer rely on herd immunity to protect those that cannot be vaccinated because of age or actual medical reasons. Yes, some people have vaccine reactions- some people are also deathly allergic to peanuts. Are you not introducing your child to any potential food allergens because there is a small chance they might have a reaction? If so, fine, that doesn’t hurt anybody but your child who will just be eating boiled chicken and white rice for their entire life.
But choosing not to vaccinate does hurt people. Little babies are getting sick and you can prevent that.
I am truly shocked by some of the things that friends and friends of friends believe about vaccines. For example- I am 99.999% sure that vaccines are not, in fact, made from aborted fetuses. If that is why you don’t vaccinate your children, I am 100% sure that I just unfriended you on Facebook.
And then there are the people I know who are incredibly well read and educated, smart and articulate, who still refuse to give their children vaccinations. And that’s where I circle back to homeopathy.
Most people who don’t vaccinate cite individual examples of vaccine-injuries as one of their reasons. Well, if anecdotal evidence is enough to convince you, then your shouldn’t use homeopathy either because I just told you a story about how I was homeopathically-injured. Therefore, homeopathy must be terrible for everyone and evil and it is irresponsible to give to your children.
Oh wait, but there is a contingent of people who believe they can get full immunization just by using homeopathic products. So they are giving their babies all sorts of herbs and medicines that are not at all controlled or tested by the FDA. Is the FDA flawed? You bet. But it is far better than having no controls in place.
Here’s a fun tidbit for you: Hyland’s, a very popular brand of homeopathic medicine, uses Belladonna in it’s baby teething tablets. Does that sound familiar? It is a highly toxic plant, also known as Deadly Nightshade, that people used to poison each other with in ancient Roman times (I heard about it on a tour of the Getty Villa, but I digress.) Apparently it is such a small amount that it shouldn’t have any adverse effects on children. But there is no one but the company making it that oversees the process and makes sure that the batch you give your babies didn’t get a little extra POISON in it by mistake.
Look, despite my history, I am not an alternative medicine hater. I think that it actually has great benefits for some people if used carefully and with the knowledge and guidance of a person who has actual medical training. But it is called Complimentary alternative medicine because it should serve as a compliment to advice from your MD, not in place of it.
Find doctors that you trust and then listen to them. 10-15 years of medical training is not exactly a “get rich quick” scheme. Most people who go through that do it because they actually want to help, not so that they can secretly inject your littles with mercury and aborted fetus tissue while bathing in $100 bills from the makers of the whooping cough vaccine.
Please, don’t let your internet “research” guide you to leave your kids open to diseases that could kill them or that they could spread to others. Because anyone can write an article on vaccines… you just read mine and I fully admitted in the beginning that I get my news from a comedy program!