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    Categories: Science

Parents Say No to Vitamin K Shots, Babies Get Brain Damage

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Before 1961, 1 to 1.5% of all babies born would, within the first week of their lives, experience bleeding from the nose or umbilical cord. It wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t fatal.

A smaller percentage, approximately 10 out of 100,000 babies, would experience later bleeding in the brain. Of those, 20% died and 50% were left with long-term brain damage.

Both of these bleeding issues were caused by a Vitamin K deficiency. In 1961, doctors started giving newborns intramuscular shots. This reduced the total number of babies with Vitamin K deficiency bleeding to approximately 0. There were only a few rare cases in babies with particular underlying diseases.

So in 1960, there were about 4 million babies born in the US, which means 300 to 400 babies got brain hemorrhages that year and so 60-80 babies died. Today approximately zero babies in the US die from Vitamin K deficiency thanks to one simple shot.

I know about this thanks to Dr. Clay Jones, who was on this past week’s Inquiring Minds podcast. He was talking about the subject because alarmingly, anti-vaccine fear mongers are encouraging parents to instruct doctors to not give their babies the shot. They believe the shot is unnatural, that it’s unnecessary, and that it’s painful. They also believe it causes leukemia thanks to one poorly done and since debunked study from the ‘90s.

In reality, there are no side effects to the shot aside from minor bruising around the injection. Doctors could avoid this by giving the Vitamin K as an oral dose, but studies show the oral dose is much less effective than the intramuscular because it may not properly absorb. It can be vomited up, other medicines could interfere with it, or parents can simply forget to give the baby the daily pill.

Dr. Jones points out that there was a recent rash of 7 cases of Vitamin K-deficient bleeding in newborns at one hospital. Of those, 4 were hemorrhaging in the brain, two of which required neurosurgery, and another baby had bleeding from the intestines. None of the kids died, but the worst cases will face serious seizures and developmental delays.

That’s bad enough, but how long before babies begin dying again for lack of a safe, easy shot they can get before they even leave the hospital? Once again we see the serious consequences that anti-science propaganda can have on the most innocent of people.

Rebecca Watson: Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

View Comments

  • Rebecca Watson,

    Wow, this is so sad. This kind of stuff happens when people believe pseudoscience instead of real science.

  • I don't understand how this is legal. How is doing this different from beating kids to death or refusing to feed them?

    • I don't think this is a particularly helpful comparison to make. On the one hand we have parents making a misinformed decision because they believe it is best for their child, on the other hand we have a person in an out-of-control rage beating a child to death. Can you really not see the difference? This kind of attitude only reinforces the divide between ignorance and well-informed decision-making by ostracising all these unfortunately ignorant parents whose primary aim is nevertheless to raise healthy children, believe it or not. Yeah, what kind of sick parent wants their child to be healthy, right?

      • Lots of people that harm children have good intentions and think they're doing the right thing. People who molest children often believe that what they are doing is beneficial to the child. Yes, we risk alienating them by locking them up but we wouldn't dream of allowing them to continue sexual relationships with children just because their concern for the child was sincere.

        These women come by their ignorance honestly, but the best way to make it clear that they are hurting their children is to stop giving them mixed signals and act the way we do when parents hurt children in any other manner. Treat them like criminals and they'll figure it out. Or they won't and they'll have their kids taken away and do time. I find it absurd that we don't have the right to make our own decisions about taking minor risks with substances but we can give a baby AIDS and let it die with no consequences.

        • If your suggestions here were practiced children would come to far more harm than they do by missing a vitamin K injection. As the stats in this post point out, failure to give vitamin K at birth translates to 1 in 20,000 babies with permanent brain damage and 1 in 50,000 deaths. In contrast, removing a child from their parents and putting them in foster care in the US (not where I live, but where I could quickly find some stats for) equates to 32 substantiated cases in 10,000 of child abuse. Anyone who is familiar with child welfare will tell you that substantiated cases will be far below the actual figure. Child abuse may not be brain damage or death, but can carry equally significant impact on adult functioning. In short, your "treat them like criminals" suggestion is ludicrous and wouldn't improve outcomes for children one bit.

  • Well, when was the last time you heard of someone getting hurt by a fan blade? It doesn't happen anymore. Fans are like the safest things ever. But you know what does hurt people? Fan guards. Did you know that kids could get their fingers trapped in those guards and it can chip someone's teeth if they were to fall on one? Like the vitamin K shots, we need to rid the world of fan guards before it's too late and everyone has chipped teeth and sore fingers. People could possibly mildly get hurt because of all these so-called "fan guards." I'm starting a WhiteHouse.gov petition, who's with me?!?

  • "They also believe it causes leukemia thanks to one poorly done and since debunked study from the ‘90s."

    ...have we not spent the last fiveish years going through this exact same thing with vaccines=autism? WTeverlivingF?

    • These things last way longer than you might think. Wakefield's original Lancet article was published in 1998, and only retracted in 2011. However, it raised red flags almost instantly, and at least 3 epidemiological studies showing no link of vaccines with autism were published by 2002. (These are the first 3 of the studies cited in the BMJ article. There have been many more such studies since then.)

      So we've been fighting the since-proven-fraudulent (and not just mistaken) vaccines=autism for 16 years, 13 years with definitive epidemiological proof. The battle against ignorance is the longest war in human history.

      • It's actually the same people. Apparently they're against all injections. Strangely, they seem to not mind 'unnecessary expensive urine vitamins', e.g. taking a gram or more of vitamin C every day.

  • Urgh, I wish I'd said something in our hypnobirthing classes. Midwife was just totally supportive of a couple who wanted to not have the injection. My eyebrows hit the roof when they said it and I looked it up later but too late then to call them out on it. Fortunately it's a low risk and they were fine, although they had the baby in hospital in the end anyway so may have had the injection as the doctors didn't even ask us. Probably the one to be angry at is the midwife, she should know the lack of risk and the potential outcome without it.

    • Oh yeah, I think the pain thing was the only reason they were against it, the whole hypnobirthing classes thing was weird. Apparently you not screaming while pushing it out makes the baby more contented O_o... So then not sticking a needle in the baby also makes it more likely to be a calm quiet baby. The midwifes description of a hypnobirthing baby as never crying would freak me out, they always cry at some point unless seriously ill! Anyway both of ours didn't even notice they were being injected and I didn't even notice any significant bruising.

  • My best friend is an anti-vaxxer and it's really hard to think that if something had happened to her babies because of this? I already don't agree with her decision to not vaccinate her children, but it is unbelievable how much under the radar people can go with their children with home births and not finding pediatricians.

  • "In reality, there are no side effects to the shot aside from minor bruising around the injection. Doctors could avoid this by giving the Vitamin K as an oral dose, but studies show the oral dose is much less effective than the intramuscular because it may not properly absorb. It can be vomited up, other medicines could interfere with it, or parents can simply forget to give the baby the daily pill."
    Hmmm, in Germany you get a few (3 IIRC) oral doses together with check-ups from your paediatrician. Seems like there are multiple ways of ensuring safety