Vaccines and Homeopathy, Redux

Carly Weeks, a columnist for the Globe and Mail, wrote an article about how nosode use in place of vaccines is compromising public health and I wrote a commentary in response.  A recent outbreak of measles has triggered the re-emergence of the discussion, and Weeks has now written another article blaming the decisions some people have made to not be vaccinated on naturopathic and homeopathic practitioners.

There is no question in my mind that vaccination is preferrable to nosode use and non-vaccination but I respect the human right to refuse any treatment, including vaccination.

People choose to not vaccinate for many reasons.  Only a small number of those who do will opt to use nosodes.  Instead of focusing on nosode use, why are we not asking why people are avoiding vaccination?  If they have concerns about the safety and advisability of vaccines, what are we doing address them?

It’s a fact that vaccination is not without risks.  Most of the time, the benefits will outweigh the risks for any given person.  What needs to happen is an honest discussion in the media about risks so people acquire realistic expectations on which to base their vaccination decisions.

The continued focus on nosodes paints all practitioners of complementary medicine with same brush, which, in addition to being unfair, distorts society’s understanding of the real issue, and distracts us from dealing with it effectively.


In the Globe and Mail, Carly Weeks wrote a commentary on the debate about the use of homeopathic nosodes in place of vaccines.

This is a debate that has been raging in the naturopathic community for many years.   Journalists appear to assume that if you are a naturopath, you must be in agreement with the position that homeopathic nosodes provide equivalent protection to vaccines.  Not so.

 

 Nosodes are homeopathic remedies that have been made from diseased tissues or secretions.  All homeopathic remedies are diluted to the point where they become non-molecular – in other words, so dilute that no molecules of the substance in the remedy are left.  According to practitioners of homeopathy, what is left is an energetic imprint of the substance that induces the body to re-balance its own energies and become healthy.

Vaccines are also solutions of a  weakened pathogen.  Rather than inducing a re-balancing of energy, they stimulate the body’s immune system to recognize and defend against the pathogen.

The crux of the debate is this: vaccines have a history of significant side effects.  For this reason, some people do not want to be vaccinated.  Nosodes have been posited as a side effect-free alternative, however, good quality research demonstrating their effectiveness is limited.

According to Weeks, some health officials are concerned that:

  1. using nosodes in place of vaccines will result in vulnerable people having little to no protection against communicable diseases and
  2. that the risk of epidemic is elevated when people use nosodes.

I advocate for the use of most vaccines over nosodes because there is stronger scientific evidence in favour of vaccines.  The one major exception I make is in the case of flu.  This is because the flu shot is not necessarily a targeted vaccine; it is comprised of the flu strains that epidemiologists anticipate will be circulating in a given year.  The strains that actually cause illness in that year may be very different from those in the vaccine.

 

With respect to the concern that substituting nosodes for vaccines could raise epidemic risk, I’d like to point out that using a nosode is just one alternative for people who choose to not be vaccinated.  They could also choose to use other pharmaceuticals or even nothing at all.  Epidemic risk is the summation of the effects of ALL the options, not only nosode use.