In 2014, Brazilian officials recommended that all pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine. For the first time in the country’s history, thousands of pregnant Brazilian women received the Tdap vaccine. A few months later, in 2015, news outlets began reporting that Brazil was experiencing an unprecedented rise in the number of cases of newborns with a neurodevelopmental disorder known as microcephaly.
Officials quickly named a culprit: mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus. But when officials were pressed to provide evidence of the link between birth defects and the Zika virus, a little-known pathogen that has been considered harmless since its discovery in the 1940s, they came up short. Even the mainstream media, including Reuters and the BBC, reported on the lack of a scientific link.
At best, officials could only suggest a “correlation.” Still, they ploughed forward with a new message: “Postpone pregnancy until we can sell you a new vaccine that will protect against Zika.”
The rise in cases of microcephaly in Brazil may be correlated with a recent increase in cases of Zika virus, but it’s just as heavily correlated with the rising trend of Brazilian pregnant women receiving the Tdap vaccine.
Could the Tdap vaccine, which has been in widespread use around the world—including in the United States—be responsible for Brazil’s many cases of microcephaly? If the Tdap vaccine were connected to microcephaly, wouldn’t there be just as many cases of microcephaly in the U.S.?
FACT: Rates of microcephaly are currently higher in the United States, where the Tdap vaccine is routinely administered to pregnant women, than in Brazil. Each year, approximately 25,000 American mothers give birth to babies with microcephaly. For many mothers in the United States, microcephaly is nothing new. Since Brazil began recommending the Tdap vaccine to pregnant women, rates of microcephaly in Brazil are quickly catching up to U.S. rates. (In the wake of its microcephaly crisis, Brazil has reported less than 4,000 of microcephaly for its population of 200.4 million. Compare that 25,000 new cases each year in the U.S. population of 318.9 million.)
FACT: Pertussis vaccines have long been associated with reports of brain swelling, brain damage, and death in infants and children. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database is full of these reports. Do a quick search for incidents related to both Tdap and DTaP (the name of the vaccine administered to children).
FACT: Statistics suggest that some vaccines are more harmful to men, but the Tdap vaccine—the same vaccine recommended to pregnant Brazilian women—appears to be more harmful to women. Vaccines affect men and women differently. As far back as 2011, American women were more than twice as likely as men to report an adverse reaction to the Tdap vaccine. According to a medalerts.org analysis, the gender disparity in adverse reactions “defies explanation.” In the U.S., a whopping 32.67% of reactions to the Tdap vaccine are reported by patients between the ages of 17 and 44, during their prime childbearing years.
FACT: The safety of administering the Tdap vaccine to pregnant women has never been studied.
What’s the bottom line? No one is suggesting that EVERY pregnant women infected with Zika will have a baby with microcephaly. And no one is suggesting that EVERY pregnant woman who received the Tdap vaccine will have a baby with microcephaly.
Timing and genetics play an important role as well.
But you should know the facts.
So how can we determine whether the 2014 introduction of the Tdap vaccine to Brazilian women is the cause of the 2015 rise in cases of microcephaly?
That question can be answered by studies that simply examine the safety of administering vaccines to pregnant women, but Big Pharma and their lobbyists are too powerful to allow studies that could hurt their bottom line. Even the package inserts of vaccines that doctors are legally administering to pregnant women admit that no studies have ever examined the safety of administering vaccines to pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, ask your doctor to provide you with the package inserts of any vaccines he or she recommends. Administering vaccines to pregnant women is generally considered an “off-label” use of vaccines.
Conclusion: With the country’s souring rates of microcephaly, there’s no doubt that something strange and sad is happening in Brazil. Cases of microcephaly are likely the result of a combination of factors or co-factors (including genetic predisposition, in-utero exposure to harmful chemicals or pesticides, plus a variety of maternal complications) but recommending that pregnant women receive additional vaccines is a simplistic answer to a complex problem—and it could make the situation even worse for generations to come.
For further reading:
Public Radio International | The Sketchy Numbers Behind Brazil’s Zika Crisis
UPDATE 02/11/2016: Zika Virus Update: Doctors Name Monsanto Larvicide-Tainted Water As Potential Cause of Microcephaly