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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cooling Down A Hot Topic

Terminology Matters
Cooling down a hot topic...

In a recent conversation, the question arose about the interchangeability of two terms:  vaccination and immunization.  This is a common question that has two forms of an answer based in either social custom or medical science.

According to science, each term has its own, distinct definition which I will get to soon.  But first...let’s explore why, according to social custom, there are two “competing answers.”  

Political connotations around this subject are often generated by people who view themselves as being either “pro-” or “anti-” vaccine.  You know, the people who honestly believe all vaccines are 100% harmless for all children (and adults), or those who fear that vaccines are integral to a government conspiracy and present a very real heath danger to everyone at all times.  These people often wish to influence the decisions of others, because they believe they have found the “right” way.

Recently, I heard it expressed this way:  “Using immunizations to refer to vaccines is perfectly fine; they are often used interchangeably, and to not do so is purely a political choice.” 

Really?  Since when did politics become synonymous with science?  What’s going on here?  Here’s how the “politicizing” of these terms happened:

Over the past sixty years, alarmed citizens with concerns about vaccines attempted to clarify the terms.  From a political perspective, they observed that “immunizations” had a reassuring connotation that suggested a positive outcome...while “vaccines” were what we gave to our cats, dogs, and cows and carried an obvious medical procedure connotation.  In the face of criticism by “anti-vaccine” advocates, the “pro-vaccine” advocates reacted defensively by insisting that these terms could be used interchangeably.  There has actually been a concerted effort to “reclaim” or “hold onto” the use of the term “immunization” in place of the term “vaccination.” 

So the “social use” answer is: YES!  On a social level, these terms are often used interchangeably and which word you choose can carry a political charge.

However, from a scientific perspective, they are different.  Since furthering the paradigm of conflict is NOT helpful to current and future conversations, I would like to refer you to the explanation offered by this mainstream, pro-vaccine website:

Confusing “vaccinated” with “immunized” can lead to misplaced confidence and potentially deadly choices.  We will talk more about this in a second article about the importance of understanding and using terms correctly, but for now I will say this:  Germs do not check your vaccination records, they check your immunity status.  And the two are not necessarily the same.

I propose that using scientific definitions allows us to side-step historical animosity.  By so doing, we can increase the positivity, clarity, and productivity of community conversation.  

March Twisdale

Beachcomber Article Correction


March Twisdale was interviewed by The Beachcomber (of Vashon Island) about her role and participation in the soon-to-be released documentary film, Everybody's Business.  Among various questions asked by the interviewer, her family's use of vaccines was not explored.  Apparently, this is because the answer was considered obvious.

March Twisdale is a Medical Choice Advocate, and she works, speaks, and writes often about WHY it is important to recognize complexity in medicine - including the inherent necessity of maintaining medical freedom and leaving vaccination choices up to the patient.

According to the article published on May 29th, 2013 in The Beachcomber, due to her advocacy work, it can be assumed that March Twisdale does not vaccinate.  WRONG.  March's family has deeply explored vaccine science, analyzed family history, considered community needs, and made conscious choices around vaccinations and natural immunity.  

March Twisdale was fully vaccinated as a child of the 70's (receiving the 10 recommended vaccines of that decade compared to the current recommendation of 36 vaccines by the age of six).  She continues to utilize tetanus boosters.  As parents, March and her husband, Jose, decided to selectively vaccinate their children on a delayed schedule.  Both of their children have been vaccinated against Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Diphtheria, and Tetanus.  They sought (and found) Chicken Pox for both boys...and encountered Pertussis in 2001 and 2002.  The vaccines for both of these diseases are known to have low efficacy rates and wear off within 5-12 years.  Natural immunity to Chicken Pox is usually close to lifelong and the efficacy of natural immunity to Pertussis is generally un-studied...but there is reason to expect that it far exceeds a vaccine-induced level of immunity.

We wish to remind our readers to AVOID ASSUMPTIONS when it comes to complex subjects.  After all, being Pro-Choice does not mean you have had an abortion...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Documentary "Everybody's Business" is Coming to Vashon!

"Everybody's Business" is coming to Vashon!
Sunday, June 2nd @ The Vashon Theater 1:30pm
Free Showing!
Community Health is complex and vitally important...
Join the Conversation!

Featured in many local and national news stories, Vashon Island has become a poster child for the debate around childhood vaccinations. This short documentary film paints a portrait of Vashon, digging beneath the surface to investigate the impact this has had on the island, and ask how people with opposing views co-exist within a small community.

Polio Vaccine & Cancer - Unintended Consequences

The elimination of polio in the Americas was undoubtedly a good thing.  However, it did not come without cost.  The Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) that was given between the years of 1955 and 1963 was contaminated by a virus called Simian Virus 40 (SV40).  SV40 has been linked to rare, incurable cancers such as ependymomas (brain tumors), mesotheliomas (pleural tumors, usually of the lung), and osteosarcomas (bone malignancies).  See more here:

Was this a reasonable price to pay to eliminate polio?

Was it a necessary price to pay?  That is, could we have eliminated polio without also spreading SV40?

Is this the law of unintended consequences at work?  Or was this carelessness?  

When is it a wiser choice to wait for better science, and when are the known problems so severe that it's better to charge forward with imperfect technology?  

What do you think?  Add your comments.

Please note!!!  The vaccine detailed in this story has not been used in the United States for 50 years.  The vaccine currently in use in the United States is the IPV.  Unlike the OPV, it is completely dead.  The IPV cannot spread live viruses of any kind.

Polio Not-So-Trivial Pursuits


What year were the Americas certified as being free of polio?
What year was Europe certified as being free of polio?

Please consider posting your guess in the "comments" section before scrolling down to check your answer...

The Americas were certified as being polio-free on September 29, 1994.
Europe was certified as being polio-free on June 21, 2002.

Surprised?  How close were your guesses?
For more information on polio, check out these two pages:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Community Conversation - Part 4

A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond

Part 4: Blogs, Beatrix Potter, Biospheres & Human Microbiomes...oh my!

Question: What do you do when you have a thousand words to cover a subject on which dozens of books have already been written?

Our answer: You lean more heavily on a blog, where you can offer additional information and references to some great resources!

If these articles intrigue you or leave you wanting more, that's good!  Visit our blog!  Find out more details, discover some terrific resources, read some breaking news, and learn about upcoming events.  Our blog also makes it easier to share information with the larger community. E-mail copies of articles to family and friends or link to us on Facebook.  Tell us what you think, share your favorite resources, and bring your voice to the conversation.

Speaking of upcoming events, there's a fascinating documentary on this subject that will be coming to Vashon Island soon!  Stanford graduate student, Laura Green spent several months interviewing Vashon residents about how we manage pertussis.  The film, Everybody's Business, will be shown at the Vashon Theater @ 1:30pm on Sunday, June 2nd.  

Let's travel back in time.  Do you remember Peter Rabbit?  Or Jemima Puddleduck?  These lovely, affable characters - which have entertained and instructed generations of children - were born from the imagination of a very astute naturalist and scientist, Beatrix Potter.  She was also one of the first to observe and prove the existence of mutual symbiosis through detailed and painstaking observations of lichen.  Unfortunately, most European scientists of the 1890‘s categorically rejected the idea of mutual symbiosis which they saw to be in direct violation of the natural law of competition.  Much to the dismay of our observant and shy Miss Potter, she was publicly scoffed at, privately snubbed, and utterly dismissed as a foolish woman who hadn’t the faintest concept of how the natural world worked.  She was also right.  Her detractors did eventually get over their arrogance and held a meeting in her honor....100 years later.  Miss Potter's experience (and many similar historical stories) raise the question “What do we today accept as obvious truth, which our grandchildren will know to be patently false?”  Please visit our blog for more about Beatrix Potter’s story!

But what is mutual symbiosis anyway?  The dictionary defines it as “A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.”  Parasites have been widely acknowledged for ages.  However, the idea of mutually beneficial relationships (also called mutual symbiosis or mutualism) between different organisms is relatively new.  In the early twentieth century, the idea of mutualism was considered impossible.  As the evidence mounted, it was acknowledged that mutualism did occur, but it was still considered very rare.  However, current research indicates that nearly all species exist in some form of mutual symbiosis.  Including us!

Did you know that you are only about 10% human?  Admittedly, the microbe cells are a lot smaller than the human cells so they only add up to 1-3% of our total mass.  But if you're counting cells, microbes that live in and on the body of a healthy adult human being are estimated to outnumber the human cells by about ten to one.  It's an odd thought isn't it?  Makes you feel a bit like a coral reef or a rainforest.  This population of microbes is called the human microbiome.  Until recently, the study of our human microbiome was limited to what would grow in a petri dish....and most microbes just won't grow outside their home habitat.  Due to recent technological advances in genetic sequencing, we are finally beginning to get a glimpse of the amazing ecosystems that  If you are interested in the details of this project, please visit our blog for more information and links to the Human Microbiome Project website.

There are two ways in which knowing the past can help us understand our present.  First, our present has been created by the combined events of the past.  Second, human nature is fairly constant and people respond in consistent ways to similar stressors regardless of what century they are living in.  Miss Potter’s case gives us an excellent example of how the human tendency toward over-confidence can lead to closed minds.
When it comes to the Human Microbiome Project, we can again learn from history.  Hundreds of years ago, people were completely unconcerned about altering ecosystems and transporting living things all over the planet.  Only after the damage was done did we come to understand the fragility of these “macro” ecosystems.  As we face the unintended consequences of our actions, questions arise about the impact we have on our microbiomes every day.  

Hopefully, as the Human Microbiome Project proceeds we will not repeat the errors of the scientific elites of Miss Potter’s day.  Instead, let us stand ready with open minds and an eagerness to expand our understanding of our body’s microbiome.  Let us focus on humility, so that we can inculcate new and unexpected discoveries into our existing world view.  

This we must do, if we hope to evolve, grow, and improve our approach to health.  This we must especially do, if new discoveries contradict any currently held (and deeply trusted) health strategies such as the War on Germs.

Closed minds did not make Miss Potter’s research any less true.  We cannot deny something into being wrong.  Due diligence and skepticism is necessary yet we need to guard against being overly attached to current paradigms.  Such attachment can interfere with our ability to accept new, vitally important, information and slow the advancement of science.  

Talking About Public & Private Health - Vaccines and Beyond” is an ongoing series written by two close friends with a passion for improving community cohesion and building respectful relationships in a diverse world.  This article was co-created by Karen Crisalli Winter and March Twisdale.  BLOG:  Email:

Friday, May 10, 2013

You Are A Rainforest

Did you know that you are only about 10% human?  Admittedly, the microbe cells are a lot smaller than the human cells so they only add up to 1-3% of our total mass.  But if you're counting cells, microbes that live in and on the body of a healthy adult human being are estimated to outnumber the human cells by about ten to one.  It's an odd thought isn't it?  Makes you feel a bit like a coral reef or a rainforest.  This population of microbes is called the human microbiome.

What are all these microbes?  Well, we actually don't know much about them.  Until recently, the study of our human biome was limited to what would grow in a petri dish....and most microbes just won't grow outside their home habitat.  Due to recent technological advances in genetic sequencing, we are finally beginning to get an accurate look at the billions of diverse ecosystems walking around every morning getting coffee.  If you are interested in the details of this project, do an internet search for the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

What we have already learned is fascinating.  We are born nearly sterile.  During and after birth, we “catch” the mix of microbes that colonize our bodies over our first few months.  The HMP estimates there are approximately 10,000 different species of microbes that commonly inhabit human beings.

Moreover, the microbes that live in my nose are a completely different mix of species from the microbes that live in your nose.  In a way, this is not surprising.  We notice the same thing in rainforests and coral reefs: the exact mix of species can vary dramatically from spot to spot, even when there are no obvious differences in environmental conditions.  But it does raise some interesting questions.  We know that the human microbiome is essential for our health.  But we don't know how to identify a healthy human microbiome!  What does a healthy forest look like?  At what point is intervention required?  At what point does intervention do more harm than good? These same questions must be asked at the microbial level.

All of this new research brings up some serious questions about our “war on germs.”  We used to believe that microbes could be neatly split into categories of beneficial (good) or pathogenic (bad).  But now we're discovering the existence of conditionally pathogenic bacteria.  These bacteria are part of our normal human microbiome.  They are usually harmless or even beneficial.  However, in certain circumstances they can cause disease.

At one time in human history, it was considered desirable to drive a species extinct.  Animals that threatened human beings or their livestock were subject to extermination campaigns around the world.  This made sense at the time.  Who wants to risk the possibility of getting eaten on the way home from work?  Who wants to starve this winter because a predator ran off with most of your livestock?  Trying to exterminate the wolf, the tiger, and other large predators was “common sense” that led to some serious unexpected consequences.  These days, we generally look at that “common sense” as tragic.

Ecosystems are complex things.  Adding or removing a species from an ecosystem can have unforeseen consequences both positive and negative, even if you're looking at a very localized ecosystem.  Does that mean we should never act on an ecosystem?  Well, no.  All living things adjust their local environment, even plants and fungi.  Weeding your garden or setting a mousetrap are attempts to remove certain species from your localized ecosystem.  I certainly have no qualms about keeping mice out of my pantry and morning glory out of my veggie garden!  Nor do I object to planting tomatoes every year, despite the fact that they are not native species.  

But we must also act with caution and intention.  Kudzu was imported to the southeastern area of the US as an attractive, fast-growing plant to control erosion and provide forage for domestic animals.  Now it's called "the vine that ate the south" and is wreaking havoc on the economy, infrastructure, and ecosystem.  During the Great Leap Forward in China, sparrows were nearly exterminated to prevent them from eating grain.  It was subsequently discovered that sparrows prefer to eat locusts and other grain-eating insects.  The net result was a locust swarm that contributed to massive famine.  Approximately 30 million people starved to death.

So it is important to exercise caution when intervening in an ecosystem!  This brings us back to microbes and our current “war on germs.”  Obviously, there are some microbes that are scary, nasty pathogens and which have the potential to make many people very sick.  Living in a world without smallpox is a goal we sought...and achieved.  Similarly, we may be only a few years from eradicating polio!  

But it may be time to question certain aspects of the “war on germs.”  Are antimicrobial washes a good idea?  If so, under what circumstances should they be used?  Antibiotics have saved lives.  However, using an antibiotic is very much like clear-cutting part of our microbiome.  After clear-cutting a forest, what comes back is not what was there originally.  In our part of the world, scotchbroom is quick to colonize newly exposed land...preventing slower growing, native plants from recovering.  How does this look inside of our gut?  Our colon? Our nose?  And, what is the health impact of this change?  Currently, we have very few answers.

And then there are vaccines.  The first vaccine wiped smallpox off the planet, an achievement which we all celebrate.  Polio vaccination - and cleaner water supplies - have nearly eliminated polio, another tremendous achievement.  And now...we have vaccines against 28 different diseases with nearly 300 new vaccines in various stages of development.

What does this all mean for our human microbiome?  Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps everything.  Smallpox and polio vaccines have done wonderful things for humanity.  On the other hand, these successes do not mean that all further vaccines will be such a success.  Decades ago, we had a simple goal: eliminate infectious disease by controlling germs.  That theory is starting to look as woefully simplistic as trying to protect our gardens by killing deer.  Most would agree that building a strong and safe enclosure for a garden works much better...and most health practitioners agree that an ounce of prevention (through a strong and healthy lifestyle) is better than a pound of cure.  

Given that we now recognize the existance of conditionally pathogenic bacteria...what about viruses?  Fungi?  Parasites?  Yup, even parasites might have their benefits.  Active research is currently being done on “helminthic therapy” otherwise known as intentionally giving someone parasitic worms to treat or prevent autoimmune diseases.  It boggles the mind!

You are as delicately balanced as a coral reef or a rainforest.  You are a walking, talking, breathing ecosystem with up to 10,000 different species interacting in a delicate balance.  Amazing, isn't it?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Beatrix Potter, the scientist...

If you just read our Part 4 article in The Loop, you're probably here to learn more about Beatrix Potter's lifelong passion for the natural world.  Here are some links that we think you will like a lot...  

Article about Beatrix Potter's passion for fungus, her use of painting and drawing to study them, and more!
By Manasee Wagh | April 6, 2007

See Beatrix' amazing artwork as displayed @ Victoria and Albert Museum

Even Australia has taken an interest in Beatrix Potter, and this article covers details not found in the two previous resources:

We hope you have enjoyed learning more about, Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit and many other amazing animal characters!  Please keep in mind that the errors made in her day, by a generally over-confident and elitist scientific community, can teach us a great deal about the value of holding onto humility today, when evaluating new research.

March & Karen

Link to Human Microbiome Project...

The Human Microbiome Project is funded by the National Institutes of Health.  Their mission is to “characterize the microbial communities found at several different sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract, and to analyze the role of these microbes in human health and disease.”

If you want to learn about the latest research and findings of the Human Microbiome project, check out their website:

Have fun!
Karen & March