It is probably of no surprise to anyone who has read my blog entries, I am a proponent of vaccines.  They give the most bang for the infection prevention buck, and many of the childhood illnesses covered by the vaccine are now so rare that many physicians, even in Infectious Diseases, have never taken care of cases of measles or mumps or German measles, etc.  It is  a remarkable triumph of modern medicine.  Of course, the decline of infectious diseases is always multifactorial: good nutrition, understanding of diseases epidemiology, and good hygiene all have contributed to the decline of many diseases, vaccine preventable or not,  The application of science has resulted in an almost inconceivable decline in contagions that have killed and injured millions.

It is always better to prevent an illness than to have to treat it.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Even those who erroneously believe that standard vaccines are not effective and/or dangerous understand that it is better to prevent illness with some sort vaccine.  But rather than use an effective vaccine, they choose, instead, other options.  Like homeopathic vaccines.

Vaccines offer a small, fixed amount of a pathogen (antigen)  to the immune system.  A touch of  bacterial carbohydrate here, a smidgen of viral protein there.  Something that the immune system can recognize and respond to, so that when the patient is exposed to the real infection, with its relatively massive amounts of antigen, the immune system is prepared and can react immediately to minimize the damage, rather than the usual delay it takes before immunity kicks in.  You know, like FEMA and New Orleans.  Or maybe not.  Perhaps my metaphorableness is lacking today.

There has to be something there, a real molecule of some sort, for the immune system to recognize and respond to. There is a threshold below which foreign material will not be recognized.  Tetanus is an interesting example.  An  impressively awful disease in those suffering from it, with every muscle contracting due to the tetanus toxin.  But interestingly, there is sometimes not enough toxin causing the disease to result in  an immune response, and those who get tetanus still need the vaccine after they recover to prevent recurrence.

Homeopathy is the art of giving absolutely nothing and believing that it is something. Kind of like election year promises.  A reader sent me an article on homeopathic vaccinations, which is one of the more bizarro concepts I have yet to discover in my wanderings in SCAMs.  I sometimes feel like someone is pulling an elaborate prank on me.

The first ‘law’ behind vaccines and homeopathy is the same: like cures like. Vaccines are the only medical validation of the first  ‘law’ of homeopathy of which I am aware.  It is the second ‘law’ of homeopathy where medicine, and reality, part company with homeopathy, the ‘law’ of dilutions.  Where vaccines are given with a well characterized concentration of antigen, homeopathic nostrums are often diluted long past the point where anything remains behind.  If a homeopathic nostrum is  20X, then there is no longer even a molecule of the original substance in the mixture.   Which can be a good thing, since homeopaths  use nosodes as their vehicle for imaginary vaccination.

A  nosode “is a homeopathic remedy prepared from a pathological specimen. The specimen is taken from a diseased animal or person and may consist of saliva, pus, urine, blood, or diseased tissue.”

And people complain about the alleged toxins in real vaccines.

Nosodes are cargo cult medicine at its finest. The trappings of real medicine with none of the efficacy. Thank goodness they are diluted to the point of nothingness.  At least with serial dilutions, HIV, Hepatitis B and C are unlikely to be  spread from injecting the patient with concoctions derived from various and sundry body fluids.  At least we left the techniques of Jenner behind with modern medicine.   Fortunately nosodes are used primarily in veterinary homeopathy.

One can purchase nosodes for human use for everything from Anthrax to Variola (smallpox) at either 30 or 200 dilution.  In a rare burst of honesty, one site notes

There are no whole molecules of the actual substance in 30C potency” and another notes “(homeopathic vaccines) do not contain Thimerosal, Aluminum, Borax (used to kill ants) and other chemical elements. Also in the studies that have been able to proceed, no child has had a any severe side effects from the homeopathic vaccines given.

Since they contain nothing, it would seem unlikely that they could have any side effects at all.

And they have a nosode for smallpox?  It is supposedly derived from the ripened pustule of a smallpox patient and I have to wonder about their source.  There has been no smallpox in the world since the mid 1970’s,  either they have a stock of smallpox that they feed like sourdough starter or they are not really selling the real deal.  Although even Twinkies have expiration dates, I guess the ‘energy’ in homeopathic remedies lasts for decades, with the smallpox nostrums maintaining their potency through the ages.

Are there any studies or case reports  to support the use of nosodes? As best I can discover there are two clinical trials in animals of nosodes: one in calves that did not show benefit and one in mice that did, and both are in journals too obscure for my library to have subscriptions. There are two cases of fatal polio after receiving homeopathic vaccinations. That is it in Pubmed.  Not a convincing literature for effectiveness.

One site does recognize that homeopathic vaccinations do not work like standard vaccines: by leading to the development of antibodies

Homeopathic preparations have not been shown to raise antibody levels. Smits tested the titre of antibodies to diphtheria, polio and tetanus in ten children before and one month after giving homeopathic preparations of these three vaccines (DTPol 30K and 200K). He found no rise in antibody levels (Smits, 1995). He speculates that protection afforded by a homeopathic remedy acts on a “deeper” level than that of antibodies. Other homeopaths have stated similar opinions. Golden says, “unlike conventional vaccines, the Homeopathic alternative does not rely on antibody formation.

Of interest, homeopaths argue the validity of the homeopathic vaccinations, since their nostrums are classically supposed to be effective only after symptoms have occurred.  It does make for a curious reading, one group of nonsense arguing that another group of nonsense is, well, nonsense.

The sad thing is parents will be fooled into thinking that their children are protected from infectious diseases, when, in fact, they are not.  Vaccines do not provide perfect protection; neither do seat belts.  But a vaccine is superior to the nothing of homeopathy and I would bet that parents would not rely on a child car restraint made by the same process as homeopathy.

Posted by Mark Crislip

Mark Crislip, MD has been a practicing Infectious Disease specialist in Portland, Oregon, since 1990. He is a founder and  the President of the Society for Science-Based Medicine where he blogs under the name sbmsdictator. He has been voted a US News and World Report best US doctor, best ID doctor in Portland Magazine multiple times, has multiple teaching awards and, most importantly,  the ‘Attending Most Likely To Tell It Like It Is’ by the medical residents at his hospital. His growing multi-media empire can be found at