It’s hard to believe it was possible, but anti-vaccination fanaticism has taken a darker turn, as Chris Mooney reports for Mother Jones: Now, it’s not just vaccines that parents are foolishly rejecting for their children, but also a simple injection of vitamin K that has been a standard part of newborn care since the 1960s. Some parents now find themselves rushing to the emergency room with babies sick with vitamin K deficiency bleeding. “This rare disorder occurs because human infants do not have enough vitamin K, a blood coagulant, in their systems,” Mooney writes. “Infants who develop VKDB can bleed in various parts of their bodies, including bleeding into the brain.” Bleeding in the brain can cause brain damage and, in some cases, death.
The problem started to attract attention this spring, when Tom Wilemon, writing for The Tennessean, reported that seven babies had been admitted to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in a mere eight months with vitamin K deficiency bleeding, which doctors believe may be on the rise because of parents refusing the vitamin K shot at birth. That certainly seems to be the case with Mark and Melissa Knotowicz, who refused the vitamin K shot when Melissa gave birth to twins because they heard that the shot causes leukemia. As Wilemon writes: “An old study did draw a correlation between the preservative and leukemia, but followup studies disproved that theory, according to Vanderbilt doctors.”
When one of the twins got sick, doctors first assumed it was some kind of blood poisoning, but quickly learned about the vitamin K shot refusal. Both babies were diagnosed with vitamin K deficiency and given the shot, but for the baby who had bleeding, damage had already been done:
The tests showed the baby had suffered multiple brain bleeds. He spent a week in the hospital and is now undergoing physical therapy for neuromuscular development issues. Doctors do not know yet whether he will suffer problems with intellectual development.
Mooney profiled pediatrician Clay Jones, who is working to raise awareness of the dangers of refusing the vitamin K shot. Jones points out that the shot is even more necessary for women who want to breast-feed exclusively, which is darkly ironic, considering how breast-feeding has been elevated to a near-religious status in the same circles that tend to be hostile to vaccinations and now the vitamin K shot. Mooney writes:
VKDB comes in two versions, an “early” form (occurring in the first week of life) and the much more dangerous “late” form, which tends to strike infants between two and 12 weeks old who have not received Vitamin K, and who are “exclusively breastfed” by their mothers. The problem, writes Jones, is that “levels of vitamin K in breast milk are low, much lower than in infant formula.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants who do not receive a vitamin K injection have an 81 times greater chance of coming down with late stage VKDB. Even then the risk remains small: Between 4.4 and 7.2 infants out of every 100,000. But a Vitamin K injection is “virtually 100 percent protective,” Jones explains.
Mooney also chronicles the various crunchy websites trying to scare parents into opting out of the vitamin K shot, with the usual gobbledygook accusing the shots of having all sorts of scary ingredients—or else arguing that a little needle prick is some kind of great trauma for babies. The anti-vaccination movement has morphed into an anti-shot movement, and it’s children who are paying the price.