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When travel vaccines go wrong

February 7, 2013, Posted by: , 3 Comments Leave a Comment

This story was submitted by Amy B. from Austin, TX

In 1999, at the age of 20 during a particularly stressful time in my life I took a semester off of college to regroup.  When I went to re-enroll at the age of 21 they told me I needed a Hepatitis vaccine, which I complied with.  Shortly after I started having major GI cramping.  After, my GP gave me prescription antacids and I kept getting worse. After 6 months I was referred to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with Crohn’s Disease.  I had never heard of this before, and no one in my family had an autoimmune “disease.”  Sure my father has bad arthritis, and my mom and sister have bad allergies, but no one was calling those things autoimmune diseases.  I suffered with the cramping and taking corticosteroids and very expensive GI anti-inflammatories for 5 years (off and on emotional stress would lead to flares), even enrolling in a stage 4 clinical trial for Humira when the other drugs weren’t working.  Humira worked, but I had severe scarring in the intestinal track from the years of inflammation, so my GI suggested removing it surgically. Post surgery, I was symptom free and got off of all medication, which I was glad to do because while Humira worked, it left me more susceptible to infections and lymphomas, and the retail price was $2k/month.  Not exactly something I wanted to be tied to forever.

Fast forward to 2009.  I had earned a graduate degree, relocated to Austin, and had been working for 2 years in Corporate America as an internal auditor, which required some international travel.  About 2 weeks prior to leaving for a trip to Panama City, Panama, my audit supervisor instructed me to go to the travel clinic and get travel vaccines.  I had recently been under a lot of work stress from the previous audit, and wasn’t feeling 100% (had some mild IBS symptoms, nothing compared to Crohn’s symptoms), but I happily went to the clinic.  I needed shots for Hep A/B, TDaP, Yellow Fever, and Typhoid.  Within hours of the shots I felt like I was getting the flu, which the nurse said was “normal.”  However, I started having round the clock diarrhea, and lost 10 lbs. in a week.  I was in denial about what was going on, and decided to proceed with my work trip out of fear of losing my job.  Things got worse in Panama, and after a week of more diarrhea I cut my trip short and flew back to Austin.  I had to find a new GI doctor since I never needed one in Texas.  He got me in for a colonoscopy quickly, and could barely get the scope in.  My ENTIRE colon was inflamed with Crohn’s disease.  When I told him that the vaccines brought it on he quickly dismissed that idea.

This shouldn’t surprise you, as most specialists work in silos. It took his office over 2 months to get my prescription for Humira approved through my insurance, and in the meantime I had to take high doses of prednisone again, which only fixed about 30% of the problem.  My first love was science (I have a BS in chemistry) so I was scouring the Internet reading as much of the research as I could about vaccines and autoimmunity.  I quickly realized that I should never have been given that many vaccines in one day.  Since the Crohn’s was so much worse this time around, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t also have ulcerative colitis, so I begged my GI to order a patented test from California to do an ELISA panel on my antibodies which would help distinguish a Crohn’s vs. UC diagnosis (Crohn’s patients are more likely to have these specific ASCA antibodies).  So the results came back and my ASCA numbers were off the charts.  Definitely Crohn’s.  My inner scientist wanted to know more about these ASCAs.  Turns out they are antibodies against the cell wall of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as “bakers yeast.”  Yep, my body was making antibodies against bakers yeast, and that was a marker for Crohn’s.  I had never really had an issue eating baked goods, so this was odd to me.  Anyway, I start looking at the ingredients in all the vaccines I was given.  Turns out that the Hep A/B Twinrix vaccine contains up to 5% yeast by volume, as yeast is used to manufacture it. To me it didn’t take a genius to figure out that injecting someone with yeast who makes antibodies to yeast could cause a problem.  But what made me make these antibodies in the first place?  So many questions, and the research just wasn’t there.  Could that first Hep shot back in 2000 have caused all of this?  I’ll never really know.

Fast-forward another year, and I’ve weaned myself off the Humira, mostly symptom free, and maintaining a lower stress lifestyle with more exercise and healthier food.  My husband and I start trying to conceive a baby.  I start having chemical pregnancies, which are miscarriages very shortly after conception.  I started researching autoimmune infertility, and low and behold, it’s an emerging field.  More and more women having miscarriages because their own body is attacking the implanting embryo.  Fortunately, I still had a few vials of the Humira, as I has read about a doctor (Dr Alan Beer) prescribing it “off label” to help women with the AI infertility.  I injected myself with the Humira, took some Vit B6 and some low dose aspirin each day, and within another month I was pregnant again, this time for keeps. :)

My daughter is now 15 months old, healthy, still breastfed, and hasn’t had a single shot.  I think that autoimmunity can take various forms in families, and I’m not taking that risk with my child.  I was born in 1978, and my childhood vaccine schedule was nothing compared to what they force on babies today (I think I only got the Polio vaccine and the DTP in the first year of life).  My extended family is mostly against me, and fearful of my child getting a disease.  A pediatrician friend of my mother’s told her she needed to pray for her grandchild!  I find this interesting considering none of them have ever done any research on the topic themselves.  I found a pediatrician who is respectful of my experience and wishes, and that is enough for me right now.  My husband wants her to at least have the Tetanus shot, which I will agree to if we can get a single Tetanus shot (no D or P) that is also thimerosal free.  No such thing on the market to choose from.