From the outset, chiropractors have held anti-vax views – sadly, not much has changed

Author

Edzard Ernst
Edzard Ernsthttps://edzardernst.com/
Edzard Ernst is Emeritus Professor of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsula School of Medicine, University of Exeter. He is the author of ten books on complementary and alternative medicine.

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From the outset, chiropractors have held anti-vax views – sadly, not much has changed

Despite overwhelming evidence vaccines work, many chiropractors focus unduly on the risks, and refuse to recommend them to patients

Don’t believe what you think!

What follows is a slightly modified and abbreviated version of the introduction to Professor Edzard Ernst's recently published book, Don't Believe What You Think. Why...

Chiropractors often advise against effective conventional treatments. This can be traced back to DD Palmer, the founding father of chiropractic, who had a strong aversion against pharmacological treatments. Today’s chiropractors are by no means free from this attitude. It is best-researched in relation to chiropractors’ stance towards immunisation; overt anti-vaccination sentiments abound within the chiropractic profession. Despite the irrefutable evidence that vaccinations generate hugely more good than harm, many chiropractors do simply not believe in vaccination, will not recommend it to their patients, place emphasis on vaccination risks rather than benefits, and recommend spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) instead which, they falsely claim, strengthens the immune system and thus renders vaccinations superfluous.

Our survey of 2003 investigated the nature of the advice UK chiropractors (and other healthcare professionals) give on measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR) vaccination. Online referral directories listing e-mail addresses of UK chiropractors and private websites were visited. All chiropractors thus located received a letter from a (fictitious) patient asking for advice about the MMR vaccination. After a follow-up letter explaining the investigative nature of this project and offering the option of withdrawal, 26% of all respondents withdrew their answers. The results of this survey showed that only three chiropractors advised in favour of MMR vaccination.

For locating the origins of the anti-vaccination attitude within chiropractic, we need to look into the history of chiropractic. DD Palmer left no doubt about his profound disgust for immunisation:

It is the very height of absurdity to strive to ‘protect’ any person from smallpox and other malady by inoculating them with a filthy animal poison… No one will ever pollute the blood of any member of my family unless he cares to walk over my dead body… ”.

A patient has their spine adjusted. Visible is the patient's upper back and the therapist's hands. Photo by Aleksander Chaibi (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Palmer’s son, BJ Palmer, offered a more detailed explanation for chiropractors’ rejection of immunisation:

Chiropractors have found in every disease that is supposed to be contagious, a cause in the spine. In the spinal column we will find a subluxation that corresponds to every type of disease… If we had one hundred cases of small-pox, I can prove to you, in one, you will find a subluxation and you will find the same condition in the other ninety-nine. I adjust one and return his function to normal… There is no contagious disease… There is no infection…The idea of poisoning healthy people with vaccine virus… is irrational. People make a great ado if exposed to a contagious disease, but they submit to being inoculated with rotten pus, which if it takes, is warranted to give them a disease.

Today, anti-vaccination sentiments do undoubtedly persist within the chiropractic profession but tend to be expressed in a less abrupt, more politically correct language. Two examples might illustrate this point:

“The International Chiropractors Association recognizes that the use of vaccines is not without risk. The ICA supports each individual’s right to select his or her own health care and to be made aware of the possible adverse effects of vaccines upon a human body. In accordance with such principles and based upon the individual’s right to freedom of choice, the ICA is opposed to compulsory programs which infringe upon such rights. The International Chiropractors Association is supportive of a conscience clause or waiver in compulsory vaccination laws, providing an elective course of action for all regarding immunization, thereby allowing patients freedom of choice in matters affecting their bodies and health”.

(From chiropractic.org)

“Vaccines. What are we taught? That vaccines came on the scene just in time to save civilization from the ravages of infectious diseases. That vaccines are scientifically formulated to confer immunity to certain diseases; that they are safe and effective. That if we stop vaccinating, epidemics will return…And then one day you’ll be shocked to discover that … your “medical” point of view is unscientific, according to many of the world’s top researchers and scientists. That many state and national legislatures all over the world are now passing laws to exclude compulsory vaccines…. Our original blood was good enough. What a thing to say about one of the most sublime substances in the universe. Our original professional philosophy was also good enough. What a thing to say about the most evolved healing concept since we crawled out of the ocean. Perhaps we can arrive at a position of profound gratitude if we could finally appreciate the identity, the oneness, the nobility of an uncontaminated unrestricted nervous system and an inviolate bloodstream. In such a place, is not the chiropractic position on vaccines self-evident, crystal clear, and as plain as the sun in the sky?”

(From Planet Chiropractic)

Influenza kills thousands of people every year, and immunisation could prevent many of these deaths. Those at particularly high risk, e.g. young children, individuals aged 65 and older and people with severe diseases in their medical history, are therefore encouraged to get immunised. Nova Scotia health officials had to issue warnings about some anti-flu vaccine literature being distributed by a chiropractor. The leaflets suggested that flu shots increase the risk of a child ending up in hospital and falling ill with Alzheimer’s disease. The chair of the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors even defended this misinformation and claimed the author of the pamphlet had done his homework:

Chiropractic is really pro information. Look at the positive, look at the negative, look at both sides, get your information and make the appropriate decision that’s right for you. However, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, insisted that the message was wrong and added that the pamphlet was confusing to the public: It’s discouraging, but unfortunately there are a range of what I call alternative-medicine practitioners who espouse a whole bunch of views which aren’t evidence based.

Sadly, the problem is not confined to North America. A 2017 survey amongst European chiropractors showed its extent. A total of 1322 responses from chiropractors across Europe were categorised as:

  • orthodox, i.e. chiropractors who fully adhere to Palmer’s gospel (79.9%)
  • or unorthodox, i.e. chiropractors who see themselves mostly as back pain specialists (20.1%).

The proportion of those respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement “In general, vaccinations have had a positive effect on global public health” was 57% and 4% in unorthodox and orthodox categories respectively.

A person has a vaccination administered into their upper arm

Sadly, the claim that chiropractic SMT will increase immunity thus rendering vaccinations unnecessary is not confined to influenza but was also a prominent feature of chiropractic advertising during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.

Andrew Wakefield is the UK gastroenterologist who, in 1998, published evidence suggesting that the MMR vaccination was a cause of autism. His research was later discovered to be fraudulent. In 2010, a statutory tribunal of the UK General Medical Council found three dozen charges proved against Wakefield, including 4 counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally delayed children. Consequently, he was struck off the UK medical register and now lives in the US where he, amongst other things, enjoys lecturing to chiropractors on the dangers of vaccination.

When Donald Trump, who seems to share Wakefield’s anti-vaccination stance, became president of the US, Wakefield managed to creep back into the limelight. At one of President Trump’s inaugural balls, he was quoted contemplating the overthrow of the (pro-vaccine) US medical establishment:

What we need now is a huge shakeup at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – a huge shakeup. We need that to change dramatically.

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is an organisation which seems to support anti-vaxers of various kinds. Officially they try to give the image of being neutral about vaccinations and state that they are “dedicated to the prevention of vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to defending the informed consent ethic in medicine. As an independent clearinghouse for information on diseases and vaccines, NVIC does not advocate for or against the use of vaccines. We support the availability of all preventive health care options, including vaccines, and the right of consumers to make educated, voluntary health care choices”. The NVIC recently made the following announcement:

The International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA), which was founded by Dr. Larry Webster and represents doctors of chiropractic caring for children, has supported NVIC’s mission to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to protect informed consent rights for more than two decades. ICPA’s 2013 issue of Pathways to Family Wellness magazine features an article written by Barbara Loe Fisher on “The Moral Right to Religious and Conscientious Belief Exemptions to Vaccination.”

Pathways to Family Wellness is a full-color, quarterly publication that offers parents timely, relevant information about health and wellness options that will help them make conscious health choices for their families. ICPA offers NVIC donor supporters and NVIC Newsletter subscribers a complimentary digital version or print version of Pathways to Family Wellness magazine at a significant discount. Visit the Pathways subscription page and, when checking out in the shopping cart, add the exclusive code: NVIC. 

ICPA also has initiated parenting support groups that meet monthly to discuss health and parenting topics. Meetings are hosted by local doctors of chiropractic and the Pathways website features a directory of local groups. ICPA Executive Director Dr. Jeanne Ohm said “We look forward to many more years of collaborating with NVIC to forward our shared goal of enhancing and protecting the ability of parents to make fully informed health and wellness choices for their children.”

In conclusion, the advice many chiropractors issue on vaccinations has the potential to do untold harm. This, it seems, proves a point that I have been making repeatedly: if a chiropractor’s SMT were risk-free (which it definitely is not), his advice certainly isn’t.

This article is a slightly modified excerpt from Professor Edzard Ernst’s recently published book, Chiropractic, Not All That It’s Cracked Up To Be .

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