Anti-vaccinationists: Laughing at preventable harms

1024px-Phytomenadione_(vitamin_K1)

Vitamin K is given routinely to newborns to prevent vitamin K deficient bleeding. It’s injected intramuscularly to prevent early and late cases of gastrointestinal and brain bleeding, which can permanently injury or kill. Without Vitamin K, this is estimated to occur about 3 to 17 times per 1000 newborns.  However, due to fearmongering misinformation from people like Joe Mercola, some parents are refusing this potentially lifesaving therapy for their newborn.  As you might expect, there have been consequences:

A bleeding disorder in babies that is so rare that it typically affects fewer than one in 100,000 newborns is becoming more common in Tennessee because parents are refusing vitamin K injections at birth, according to pediatric specialists.

Since February, four babies with no signs of injury or abuse have been sent to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville with either brain hemorrhages or bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. Robert Sidonio, a hematologist, diagnosed them with vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

After discovering that all four had not received the preventive treatment that doctors have been giving to newborns since the 1960s, he started making inquiries. Pediatricians told him parents are increasingly refusing consent because of concerns based on misinformation or the goal of having natural childbirths.

At least one baby is documented as dying because of this refusal. Despite what Mercola and others may say, there is no evidence that Vitamin K injections cause cancer. In fact, the risk-benefit profile is so overwhelmingly positive that this injection has been a standard of care since the 1960′s. As Stanford School of Medicine writes:

The success of vitamin K prophylaxis has been so dramatic that many practitioners have never seen an infant afflicted with “Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn”, now known as “Vitamin K Deficient Bleeding”.  It is a popular trend in some areas to refuse prophylaxis in an effort to keep things “natural” for the infant, however, it is important to keep in mind that the infants most at risk for the classic form of the disease are healthy babies who are exclusively breastfed.

As Dr. Amy Tutur writes, Your child is brain damaged because you refused vitamin K; how are you going to explain that to him?

It’s not a vaccine, but it is an injection, so guess how anti-vaccinationists react? The following via the Antivax Wall of Shame and Liz Ditz:

antivax wall of shame - vitamin k

To call this disturbing would be putting it mildly.  Yet the comments displays the typical themes of antivaccination sentiment: Denial, ridicule, and scientific ignorance. And sadly, the implication that we shouldn’t be doing all we can to prevent harms. Yet this kind of sentiment isn’t uncommon in the anti-vaccine world. Jenny McCarthy said it herself:

I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

Like vaccines and the non-risk of autism, the case is the same for the purported harms of vitamin K. And there is a demonstrable risk of irreversible brain damage from refusing vitamin K injections. And a decision based on misinformation. As Mark Crislip wrote at Science-Based Medicine today,

Reality is one honey badger. It don’t care. About you, about your thoughts, about your needs, about your beliefs. You can reject reality and substitute your own, but reality will roll on, eventually crushing you even as you refuse to dodge it. The best you can hope for is to play by reality’s rules and use them to your benefit. Combined with a little luck (nothing quite as beneficial as being a white, middle class male in the US) you might have a reasonably healthy health.

The most reliable way to understand reality is science and the scientific method. Used wisely you may have a shot at minimizing morbidity and mortality. Deny or ignore it and reality don’t care. Reality will get us all.

And that’s the reality of vitamin K injections. A demonstrably useful preventative treatment that’s being rejected. With brain-damaged and dead children as a consequence.

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5 thoughts on “Anti-vaccinationists: Laughing at preventable harms

  1. Thanks for sharing. I’m totally in your corner, but am wondering if newborns (and expectant mothers) can be checked for Vit K deficiency? Wouldn’t that be easier, or equal to, the preventative approach?

  2. There are oral vitamin K drops which have a multiple application regimen. The oral drops are not as efficacious as the injection but if they are given at routine intervals, there are no problems with haemorrhaging in breastfed babies.T

    here have been studies measuring the amount of vitamin K in breastmilk. Usually it’s close to zero. Probably this indicates poor food choices. Nutritional studies done in the USA indicate that precisely that demographic (young women) who should be consuming a diet rich in vitamin K1 and K2 foods are the people least likely to be doing so.

    I’m sure there are more instances of bleeding in babies who are solely breastfed except no one makes a big deal out of it since usually it’s blood in the stool and it is treated.

    Even babies who get the shot at birth are at risk for haemorrhage at about 3 months if they are solely breastfed and the mother’s diet is inadequate. Baby formulas contain a surprisingly high amount of vitamin K1 so even just providing supplemental feedings here and there will prevent problems.

  3. I thought they used to prick the heel of the baby (PKU test) to see whether it’s deficent in an enzyme. Can’t they do a similar test to see whether the baby is deficent in Vit K?

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