The vaccine researcher Dr. Christine Stabell Benn explained in her TEDx talk in 2018 that her research team discovered that live polio vaccines (an attenuated but active virus) have broad beneficial effects on immunity as a child’s immune system develops over several years, but she found that non-live vaccines, the ones that have become most commonly used, have harmful effects over several years and lead to increased childhood mortality. She also stressed that these findings “may have implications also for other types of diseases, more chronic diseases which depend on the immune system, such as asthma and allergies, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cardiac diseases, even some cancers.”
In the TEDx talk she criticized those who plan vaccine campaigns of being slow to recognize the important finding that non-live vaccines are causing great harm. She stated “the global switch from live to non-live polio vaccine will be a public health disaster.” She, and other scientists like her, demonstrate that it is time to look beyond the dichotomy of the polarized vaccine debate. A more nuanced and critical approach is called for. Her criticisms are all the more pertinent this year as nations are resorting to drastic measures to force their citizens to take the new RNA vaccines against the Sars-Cov-2 virus. These RNA “vaccines” are not live vaccines nor are they exactly like the non-live de-activated viruses that are used in non-live vaccines. It seems unlikely they could provide the benefits of live vaccines, and it is reasonable to wonder if they could produce the same negative effects as the non-live vaccines.
I was curious to know what Dr. Stabell Benn had to say about the situation we are in three years after her TEDx talk, then coincidentally, a friend in Denmark told me about an interview she gave recently to a Danish journal. A translation of it follows.
We’ve panicked over this coronavirus. It has been defined as a fatal virus we need to get rid of before we can open society, but more than 99 % of people can survive and recover. Nonetheless, we have introduced restrictions for everyone. We’ve closed everything down. We’ve avoided each other. We’ve paid a price that is becoming more visible every day in the form of decreasing mental health, delayed cancer and heart disease diagnosis and increasing bankruptcies.
Despite our immune system doing very well with coronavirus, there has been a feeling from the start that we have to have vaccines. Some immunologists predicted that no natural immunity would come at all. They have been proven wrong.
You have good natural immunity at least for eight or nine months, and you are probably protected from severe Covid-19 for even longer, but there is still talk about herd immunity being achieved only via vaccination. However, we can achieve—and we are actually on our way to achieving—herd immunity through a combination of vaccinations of vulnerable groups and infection of everyone else.
There is talk about vaccinating children, even though vaccination of children does not meet the NHS criteria for importing vaccines, as Sars-Cov-2 does not cause children serious illness, and it is not proven that the vaccine would benefit children more than it would harm them.
There is also talk about perhaps preparing to vaccinate annually against coronavirus. Many people wonder whether social distancing, disinfectant alcohol, and masks will be permanent features of future society, even after vaccination is widespread. Now we have seen that we can actually almost avoid infections like influenza with these measures.
In the future, lots of infections and new pandemics are lurking. With the current understanding of ourselves as fragile creatures, the future seems threatening, so we are supposed to believe that the only way to cope is with even more vaccines and behavioral interventions.
There are definitely good things we can learn from the pandemic. For example, we learned that we can avoid closing nurseries and prevent many infections by allowing people to keep sick children at home.
But we need to get away as much as possible from the perception of ourselves as fragile, and we need to finish using social distance, disinfectant alcohol and other measures. It is harmful to our physical health to wrap ourselves up. The immune system is weakened. Researchers are already reporting that people are more susceptible to simple colds after reopening, possibly because our immune system was not kept active by contact with microbes. More worrying is that if the immune system doesn’t get enough challenges, we’ll see more chronic illnesses in the long run.
It is also harmful to our mental health to be wrapped up. You can only guess what it eventually does to children—telling them that they have to wash their hands constantly and spray the swings in the playground after use. There are reports from healthcare professionals about an alarming increase in the incidence of anxiety, tics and outbursts among children. We can all feel how much we miss physical contact. We have to stand awkwardly around our loved ones with the urge to reach out, but at the same time we are scared to infect or be infected.
We won’t eliminate the coronavirus. However, after we have vaccinated vulnerable groups, we should look as soon as possible for the ways we can build more natural immunity.
An obvious thing to do is to avoid re-vaccination. People who got immunity are probably protected from severe illness, even if they get the natural infection again after a while. The goal is to switch from vaccine immunity to natural immunity, so we end up having tamed the coronavirus to become another familiar cold virus and avoid making society dependent on a vaccine for a virus that many predict will, over time, become a common cold virus.
Going forward, we need to focus on what keeps our immune system in good shape rather than on fighting infections one at a time. From vaccine research, we have some good ideas about how to do this: vaccines containing small doses of the microbes we developed to fight tuberculosis, polio and measles are very beneficial and reduce our risk of infections and perhaps also allergic and autoimmune diseases. A healthy immune system is also related to not having too much “sterile” immune activity, so-called “inflammation”. Among other things, this manifests as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Exercise strengthens the immune system, maybe by reducing inflammation. The importance of the diet for the immune system is often highlighted, even though evidence is lacking for many claims that “such and such nutrient (insert your own favorite) strengthens the immune system.”
A strategy that focuses on keeping the immune system in good shape, rather than on putting barriers around us, will strengthen us better for upcoming pandemics and give us the feeling of being good residents on this glorious planet.
Translated from Danish by translation software, edited by a native speaker of English.
Highlights of Dr. Stabell Benn’s TEDx talk in 2018
Christine Stabell Benn, TEDx Aarhus, Denmark, October 2018
Note about the title: The title chosen by TED puts a distorting, pro-vaccine spin on a message that actually has some alarming things to say about the long-term harm done by some vaccines. The accurate title would be “How live vaccines improve the immune system in ways no one expected and how non-live vaccines damage the immune system in ways no one expected.”
All the live vaccines are associated with very beneficial non-specific effects…
Non-live vaccines, on the other hand, all have negative non-specific effects. Children who received [non-live] DTP vaccine had five times higher risk of dying than those who didn’t…
Intriguingly, the negative effects of DTP vaccine were strongest for girls, and that is a pattern we’ve seen for all the non-live vaccines…
And this may have implications also for other types of diseases, more chronic diseases which depend on the immune system, such as asthma and allergies, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cardiac diseases, even some cancers…
Our research results are not quite yet accepted… the main reason is the polarized vaccine debate…
[vaccine supporters] are reluctant to accept our findings because they imply the possibility that some vaccines may sometimes be harmful….
The vaccine skeptics… may be more reluctant to accept the beneficial effects. And their focus on the negative effects may make the vaccine supporters take an even more rigid stance. In my opinion, neither side is right or wrong…
And things are moving in the wrong direction. Live vaccines are being stopped; more non-live vaccines are being developed… Based on all the available data, this global switch from live to non-live polio vaccine will be a public health disaster.