Photo © Thomas at Flickr

It’s Time to Start a New Conversation About Vaccines

At a friend’s birthday party last weekend, someone asked what our new book was about. As we answered, the room went completely silent. Try as we might to stick to polite cocktail party conversation — no politics, no personal health details — it’s near impossible to avoid the heated topic of vaccines when we talk about the book. And it doesn’t matter who we’re talking to — doctors, musicians, writers, stockbrokers, or high school students, or whether or not they have children — we say the word “vaccine” and people’s ears (and their blood pressure) perk up.

“Hold on,” someone interrupted, “are you pro or anti-vaccine?”

Our new book is a comprehensive guide to children’s health. It begins with a chapter on how and why we need to do everything we can to limit our children’s exposure to environmental toxins, followed by a chapter on healthy pregnancy and childbirth, followed by a chapter for each well baby visit (the two-week visit, the two-month visit, etc.) The book is about everything parents need to know to keep their children safe and healthy.

It’s a pro-healthy-immunity, pro-informed-consent, pro-parent, pro-baby, pro-child book.

It’s also a book about vaccines.

When doctors, researchers, and journalists bring up other medical practices — Cesarean birth, for example, or the efficacy of antibiotics, no one asks, “Are you pro or anti C-section birth? Are you pro or anti antibiotics?”

Most people understand that Cesareans are a life-saving intervention and a tremendous advance in the history of medicine. And that C-sections are being overused.

Most people understand that antibiotics are a life-saving invention and a tremendous advance in the history of medicine. And that antibiotics should not be used for viral infections, and that their overuse has led us to unintended negative health consequences, disrupting beneficial gut bacteria and also creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Dr. Paul gives vaccines in his office every day. Jennifer had all of them as a child, plus many extras (having lived and worked in Niger, West Africa first as a young adult and later as a Fulbright awardee). We both chose to vaccinate our children. But we both have concerns about the safety of the current American vaccine schedule, the number of vaccines being recommended for children, and the possible synergistic negative effect giving so many of them to young children.

Asking questions about vaccine safety and suggesting a gentler, evidence-based vaccine schedule does not make us “anti-vaccine.”

More parents than ever before are questioning vaccines. This does not make them anti-vaccine. But they are concerned.

Many of these parents were the rule followers. They were the ones who got every single vaccine on the schedule when they were little and then heeded their doctors’ advice to follow suit for their children. They never thought to question vaccines — or anything else the pediatrician recommended. Why should they? They also gave their children Tylenol before and after the vaccines (also doctor recommended) and followed their doctors orders for rounds of antibiotics at other times as well. But then some of those very same parents saw their children begin to have peculiar and inexplicable health problems. And the very same doctors who recommended the vaccines, Tylenol, and antibiotics were suddenly out of advice. “We don’t know what happened,” they say. “But we do know for a fact it wasn’t the vaccines.”

You may have heard people argue that the overwhelming majority of scientists feel that the current American childhood vaccine schedule is safe, and that this current schedule is not playing a causal role in spectrum or autoimmune disorders. But the overwhelming majority of scientists believed diethylstilbestrol (DES) to be proven safe for use in pregnancy. And now we know that DES causes genital abnormalities and cancer in some children whose mothers took it during pregnancy. The overwhelming majority of scientists thought that malaria was caused by bad air, hence the name. We now know that malaria is caused by a microscopic parasite that is carried by mosquitoes. We used to believe that lead — which was added to everything from gasoline to face powders — was safe in small quantities. We know now that any lead exposure is too much, exposure is cumulative, and that even low levels of lead can cause learning disabilities and brain damage. “There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe,” according to the World Health Organization.

On July 1, Dr. Rachael Ross, M.D./Ph.D., issued an apology to parents whose children have been harmed by vaccines, writing openly about her concerns about the safety of vaccines. Her concern is not an anomaly: the list of doctors, scientific researchers, and parents who are speaking up about the safety and efficacy of America’s current vaccine schedule is growing every day. Maybe — just maybe — it’s time to let go of the knee-jerk reaction that all of us expressing concerns about vaccines are “anti-vaccine” and instead start figuring out what is going wrong and why.

In our book we tell parents which vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for children and when those vaccines are recommended. We explain the seriousness of the diseases the vaccines protect against. We share the current scientific research available about those vaccines, and we write openly about the scientific research that has not been conducted. We also explore the rise of autism, ADHD, and auto-immune disorders among today’s children and explain why parents should never give their children Tylenol before or after vaccines.

Instead of presenting an all-or-nothing approach to childhood vaccination, we give readers choices.


“We believe that everyone on both sides of the vaccine debate has the same goal: to raise healthy, happy children.”

Our book does not sell vaccines. It does recommend a gentler, more evidence-based way to vaccinate. Our book guides families towards good health using judicious vaccination as one of many ways to support the immune system.

It’s hard to explain all this at a birthday party, but we try. “It’s not about being pro or anti vaccine. It’s about figuring out how to limit toxic exposures, practice evidence-based medicine, and respond to each family’s unique healthcare needs.”

The room starts buzzing with conversation and some of our friends say they are eager to get their hands on the book.

We believe that everyone on both sides of the vaccine debate has the same goal: to raise healthy, happy children.

It’s time to start a new conversation about vaccines. Maybe we already have.


Paul Thomas, M.D. is a Dartmouth-trained pediatrician with over 15,000 children in his practice in Portland, Oregon. Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a graduate of Cornell University, an award-winning science journalist, and a Fulbright awardee.

Their new book is called The Vaccine-Friendly Plan: Dr. Paul’s Safe and Effective Approach to Immunity and Health, From Pregnancy Through Your Child’s Teen Years (Ballantine, 2016), which is a title that is too long to say quickly at cocktail parties.

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