Dear Mr. Rawles:
Although the personal account of shingles yesterday served to communicate the degree of discomfort and event disability the disease can inflict, the writer was in error when he communicated that the vaccine for chicken pox (varicella) will provide immunity against shingles also. To the contrary, it appears that vaccination against chickenpox actually increases the rate of shingles in a population by about 40%. When one contracts chickenpox, the virus remains in a dormant form in spinal nerve roots; when an immunological weakness permits, it may reemerge as a shingles outbreak. (This is very similar to what happens with cold sores and genital herpes, both being from related viruses that also respond to acyclovir, etc.) Occasional
exposure to chickenpox acts as an immune booster that helps keep the dormant virus immunologically locked up in the nerve roots, thereby decreasing the probability of a shingles outbreak. The so-called shingles vaccine is attempting to replace this natural exposure with another series of occasional injections, the utility of which is unknown. It also is quite probable that the immunization of children will not confer a life-long immunity to chickenpox itself. This could lead to an increased rate of chickenpox in adults, for whom it is much more debilitating and dangerous. About 3/4 of chickenpox deaths are in adults, despite the vast number of cases being in children.
Essentially, we’ve taken a common childhood illness, chickenpox, and created a larger problem by immunizing against it. In healthy children, chickenpox is self-limiting, generally mild, and poses a very low risk of hospitalization or death. We’re not talking about measles, rubella, diphtheria, mumps, or other real scourges here.
Another reason to consider not having one’s children vaccinated against chickenpox is that the vaccine is prepared from a cell line (MRC-5) obtained through abortion of a 14-week old healthy boy. Although the abortion occurred years ago, there’s no reason to make such reprehensible production methods financially rewarding to Merck and other pharmaceutical manufacturers, especially when the vaccine is not necessary. Vaccines can be produced through ethical means (non-human cell lines, human cell lines not obtained through abortion, chicken eggs, and so on) and it is our responsibility to require manufacturers to do so without exception.
Vaccines, like other medications, can be a blessing to mankind for which we should be thankful. Due to medical and moral concerns, they should not be prescribed or recommended indiscriminately. Best Wishes, – William T., M.D.