Vaccinations – Your Questions Answered

Vaccinating children has become a controversial issue. Expert Dr Richard Halvorsen answers questions from 100%health members.

Q: Would you condone not vaccinating children at all, especially if they have a healthy diet/lifestyle? Or do you believe there are certain vaccinations, which are vital for children in our modern day? Also, don’t vaccinations compromise our immune systems? A: I do not share the view of many of my medical colleagues that full immunisation is essential for a child’s health. If parents make an informed decision not to vaccinate their child, then I do not believe this is irresponsible. Deciding if, how and when to vaccinate can be both difficult and confusing. However, I do recommend that all children are vaccinated against tetanus, while at the other extreme, I am at a loss to explain why all children are vaccinated against mumps, which, in the overwhelming majority of children, is a harmless illness. There is evidence that vaccinations can have adverse effects on our immune systems – for example, delaying giving a baby vaccines by a few months can reduce the risk of asthma by more than half.

Q: Overall what vaccinations would you recommend children in the UK to have, if any? A: I believe that parents should be allowed to make an informed decision as to what vaccines to give their child; this is what we encourage – and offer – at Babyjabs. Unless your child is never going to play in fields, then I would strongly encourage tetanus vaccination. I recommend vaccination against diphtheria and polio, but there is absolutely no need to start these at two months; unless the child is travelling to a high-risk area, both these vaccines could be left until later in childhood. On balance, giving the single measles vaccine is safer than catching measles. It is important that all girls are immune to German measles before they could become pregnant; immunity can be obtained by catching German measles naturally (though this is unlikely now that most children are immunised) or from vaccination. The benefits of vaccinating against the various types of meningitis (Hib, Meningitis C and Pneumococcus) and whooping cough are more finely balanced and depend on your priorities as a parent.

Q: When our son was six (five years ago) he had the measles vaccination only. Not long after, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and since then we have been reluctant to do the mumps and rubella as single vaccinations. The GP will only offer the MMR. What would you advise? A: There are certain vaccines that it may be best to avoid if your child, or a close relative, has diabetes. These include Hib, mumps, MMR and hepatitis B. It is not essential for a boy to be immunised against mumps or rubella – and you could get a blood test done to see if he is protected against measles.

Q: Please can you explain why MMR is so controversial and why it is considered okay to give these vaccines separately but not together? A: Of all the vaccines available, the MMR is the one about which I have the most concerns. Though safe in the majority, it is likely that it causes autism and bowel disease in a small number of susceptible children. Sadly there is no test to find out which children are more likely to develop problems after the MMR. It is probable that the single vaccines are safer, provided that they are separated by a sufficient amount of time – I usually suggest six months, though the optimum time is not known for certain. Separating out the vaccines by giving them singly minimises the risk of the viruses interacting in a way that could be harmful. The MMR is the only vaccine in use to contain three different live viruses, and this is believed to be the reason why it causes a problem in some children.

Q: My sons (5 and 10) had tetanus as part of their three, four and five month baby vaccinations. They have not had any other vaccinations as I am now very wary of them for various reasons including the preservatives used (eg aluminium). As tetanus is now only available as part of a cocktail, and as no one seems to know how many years protection tetanus vaccination provides, I have not given the boys their booster shots. I believe that a single tetanus vaccine is available in France, but do you know of any one offering it in this country? A: Your sons need tetanus boosters to remain immune. A total of five doses (the fifth usually given as a teenager) should offer good long-term protection. At Babyjabs we offer the single tetanus vaccine for use either as a primary course or as a booster.

Q: My daughter has had single vaccines for rubella and measles vaccinations but not mumps (I was told there was no vaccinations available at the time). I know there is a booster for MMR but have discovered that there is a school of thought that says that single vaccines are more effective and therefore a booster does not need to be given. I would like to know if this is true – not because I want to give my daughter further vaccinations but so that I can be aware of whether she may still contract any of these illnesses. A: The MMR and the single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are effective in most children after one dose. A second MMR dose is given to cover those children in who one or more components of the vaccine may not have worked first time around. The single vaccines are at least as effective as the MMR, and there is some evidence that the single mumps vaccine may be more effective than the mumps component of the MMR. The effectiveness of one dose of the single vaccines is approximately: measles 90%, mumps 85%, rubella (German measles) 95%. There is a blood test available with which you can check whether or not your child is immune to these diseases, and thus whether or not they need a second dose. For further information visit

Q: I live in Switzerland and our canton has just announced free vaccination for young girls between the ages of 13 and 18 against cancer of the cervix. I would very much like to know your opinion on this new vaccination.?AND?

Q: I am a GP and a nutritional student. Is the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine really necessary since cancer only attacks those with poor nutritional status – and is it safe? A: The new HPV vaccine is about to be offered to all UK 12-year-old girls from this September. HPV is very common, but of those women who catch HPV, only 1 in 2,500 will go on to develop cancer of the cervix. Cervical cancer is a rare disease. Under a thousand women die from cervical cancer every year in the UK, a tragedy for those individuals and their families, but a small number in population terms. There are 18 other cancers from which a woman is more likely to die. We do not yet know if the vaccine is safe, particularly as there has been hardly any research on 12 year-old girls, the very people to whom it is about to be given. We will not know for 20 years whether the vaccine will do what is actually claimed – that is prevent cervical cancer. There are two HPV vaccines available. The vaccine being used in the UK, Cervarix, has had its application for a license in the USA refused, possibly because of a novel ingredient (the adjuvant AS04) that has been used very little in vaccines. What’s more, Cervarix doesn’t protect against the two most common kinds of genital warts, while the other HPV vaccine used in most countries (Gardasil) does. Both these vaccines were launched with unprecedented hype – and the two rival manufacturers are expected to bring in $4 billion every year from global sales.

Q: The government’s recommendation is that everyone should be vaccinated. This is based on an implicit value judgement that the benefits of a vaccination outweigh the costs. However if one starts digging through the research one finds the equation is not so simple. Data that is presented in a user-friendly manner and made publicly available easily would help dispel a lot of myths about vaccinations from both sides of the equation – both for and against. Can you guide us as to where to find this information? A: The scientific research, and other data, is often contradictory and confusing. The one thing for certain is that the issues are far less black and white than the Department of Health would have us believe; they are more often a murky grey. I have spent five years investigating children’s vaccines, and have shared my findings in my book, The Truth about Vaccines, which you may find helpful.

Q: How bad is aluminium in vaccines? Surely the amount is insignificant compared to what’s naturally in our diet? A: The amount of aluminium a baby gets in the diet every day is not hugely different to the amount of aluminium contained in one day’s vaccinations. However, the crucial difference is that hardly any of the dietary aluminium (less than 1%) is absorbed into the body, whereas all the injected aluminium in vaccines is. This means that babies receive in vaccines the equivalent of over one hundred times the maximum recommended daily safety levels for dietary aluminium. It is known that aluminium can cause brain damage, and that newborn babies are likely to be more susceptible to the effects of aluminium. The metal has been linked with hyperactivity and learning disorders in some children. There have been virtually no good quality studies on the safety of aluminium in vaccines, so we just do not know whether the aluminium contained in vaccines could be harming some children. Caution should rule the day, and the amount of aluminium in vaccines should be kept as low as possible.

Q: The so-called experts are now promoting mercury in vaccines to be safe. I would like to know your take on this? A: Mercury is one of the most toxic substances known to man and should never have been a component of vaccines given to babies and children – or even adults for that matter. It has probably contributed to the rise in numbers of children with autism, hyperactivity, speech disorders and other developmental problems. While it is no longer added to vaccines given in the UK, mercury-containing vaccines continue to be given to tens of millions of children, many poorly nourished, around the world every year.

Q: Is there a list of the types and dates of all vaccines, utilised in health initiatives in Great Britain? A: Please refer to my book, The Truth about Vaccines.

Q: It seems that more and more of our Human Rights are being eroded by government. As you know, many vaccinations are compulsory prior to school entry in the States. What is the evidence that this compulsion has benefited child health in general and are there other childhood diseases occurring to take the place of those we are attempting to eradicate through vaccination? Do you think it would be better for the UK government to spend more of their time and tax payers’ money on promoting the benefits of healthy living to keep children’s immune systems strong and, therefore, more able to deal with these very old childhood diseases? A: I have attempted to answer some of these questions in my book, The Truth about Vaccines.

Q: Is it safe for me to have a vaccination because I’ve previously suffered paralysis from the auto-immune illness Guillain Barré Syndrome? A: GBS (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) is a rare immune disorder that causes paralysis, from which most people make a good recovery. GBS has been associated with several vaccines, including tetanus, diphtheria, polio, ‘flu and hepatitis B. Though the risk is small, I would recommend caution, and only have any vaccine if essential.

Q: My daughter is 18 months and not yet vaccinated. I have read so many horror stories and so I am really hesitating about having her vaccinated. If I do, I would simply like to give her the diptheria, tetnus and polio. My pediatrician says they are no more supplies of these vaccinations and is trying to persuade me to have the 5-in-1. Is it possible to get single vaccinations and, if so, is it possible to obtain them without mercury? A: At Babyjabs, we offer parents a comprehensive choice of single and small combination vaccines for their child. These include single vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria and polio; all the vaccines we offer are free of mercury and, where possible, aluminium-free. Sadly, these vaccines are not available on the NHS where the only choice is the 5-in-1 vaccine – or nothing.

Q: Do children vaccinated for Men C need a booster? A: All children who received a course of Men C vaccines at three, four and five months, but without any booster, will have little or no protection. To maintain immunity throughout teenage years, they require a booster dose. Those aged less than ten when they were given a single dose during the mass immunisation campaign of 1999/2000 may also require a booster. This Q&A session took place in July 2008.