Doctors warn over homeopathic 'vaccines'

By Samantha Poling
Investigations correspondent, BBC Scotland

  • Published
Some of the vaccines
Image caption,
Many homeopaths believe that remedies can help lessen the side effects of conventional vaccination

Homeopaths are offering "alternative vaccinations" which doctors say could leave patients vulnerable to potentially fatal diseases, a BBC investigation has found.

Three practitioners admitted giving patients a homeopathic medicine designed to replace the MMR vaccine.

Inverness-based Katie Jarvis said she only offered "Homeopathic Prophylaxis" to patients who expressed an interest.

But the discovery has prompted a shocked reaction from doctors.

When asked about the practice, Ms Jarvis said: "The alternative that I would offer would be a homeopathic remedy made from diseased tissue, that comes from someone with that disease, and then made into potentised form so that is given in a homeopathic remedy.

"It can be given instead of, or as well as, the vaccination.

"I'm not advocating that they do not take the vaccination, I am providing support for those who choose not to by giving them an alternative."

When asked if the homeopathic remedy offered the same protection as the MMR, she replied: "I'd like to say that they were safer, but I can't prove that."

However, the BMA's director of science and ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: "Replacing proven vaccines, tested vaccines, vaccines that are used globally and we know are effective with homeopathic alternatives where there is no evidence of efficacy, no evidence of effectiveness, is extremely worrying because it could persuade families that their children are safe and protected when they're not.

"And some of those children will go on to get the illness, and some of those children may go on to get permanent life-threatening sequelae, or even to die, and that's a tragedy when the family think they've protected their children."

Image caption,
Katie Jarvis said she had protected herself against flu with homeopathic treatments

Sequelae is a pathological condition resulting from a previous disease or injury.

The practice of replacing conventional vaccines with homeopathic alternatives has been condemned by the Faculty of Homeopathy.

It said there was no evidence for homeopathic treatments being able to protect against diseases, and said patients should stick to conventional medicines.

Replacements for vaccines were also dismissed by the UK and Scottish governments but many homeopaths believe that remedies can help lessen the side effects of conventional vaccination.

The BBC Scotland programme examined claims that members of a small organisation, the Homeopathic Medical Association - which has about 300 members across the UK - were offering replacement vaccines.

It approached the association's six members in Scotland. Three of them said they provided the MMR remedies to patients and said they would be happy to do so again.

Ms Jarvis also claimed she could protect patients against other diseases, like polio, tetanus and diphtheria. She claimed she had protected herself against flu with homeopathic treatments.

NHS Highland - the health board covering Inverness - said it was considering withdrawing funding for homeopathic preparations.

Bosses will make a decision on the matter at the board's meeting in October.

Chief operating officer Elaine Mead said: "It is important that NHS Highland can demonstrate the quality and clinical effectiveness of all of the treatments currently provided at times of more scarce resource.

It is right that we re-look at any investment in this area in the light of the current debate between clinical groups."

Magic or Medicine - Homeopathy and the NHS which will be shown on BBC One Scotland on Monday, 13 September at 1930 BST.

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