Anna set up Arnica to promote natural immunity and support parents who question vaccination
For most citizens of the industrialised world, vaccination has become an accepted part of parenthood’s initiation rites; baby’s ‘jabs’ are now on a par with choosing a pram, arguing over names and painting the nursery. Anna Watson set up Arnica UK as a support network for parents who choose to swim against the tide – the significant minority who prefer to support their child’s immunity through natural methods and who feel that vaccination’s risks outweigh its much-hyped benefits. Anna’s work over the last 7 years is a fantastic example of what can be done by a single, highly motivated, empowered individual wanting to make a difference in the area of natural health. The work of Arnica UK is now fully integrated into the growing European vaccination choice movement, headed by the European Forum for Vaccine Vigilance (EFVV).
We caught up with Anna in this exclusive ANH-Intl interview.
ANH-Intl: Thanks for agreeing to speak to us, Anna. Can you give us a little personal background to start us off, please?
Anna: I think my interest in natural immunity goes back to my father. He was always very into nature – he was a carpenter and craft teacher, and wanted to be a wheelwright or a blacksmith – and at home, he’d juice carrots and my mum would make bread. So there was always an interest in nature that I took for granted at the time. My parents ‘planned’ me by going on an organic, vegetarian preconception diet, all based on a feeling my dad had. This was back in the days before the Internet existed or these ideas were discussed widely in books. And although my dad didn’t pass on any religious beliefs, he made us develop our thinking skills and was always challenging us on our thoughts and our ethics.
ANH-Intl: What inspired you to set up Arnica?
Anna: I guess the biggest change in my life was having children. I couldn’t get pregnant for a couple of years, which led me down the GP [general practitioner] and NHS [National Health Service] routes to start with. I didn’t want to take the drugs they offered, which is when I discovered Foresight – they helped me to reduce the lead levels in my body over 18 months. In the end, I got pregnant naturally, I birthed my baby at home without any sort of interventions beyond a bit of gas and air – and then there was no turning back! It was very empowering.
I figured that if 5% of parents choose not to vaccinate, and bearing in mind that my local hospital has around 6,000 live births a year, there would potentially be several hundred sets of new parents each year wanting to know more about boosting their babies’ natural immunity. They’ve got to be out there somewhere! I thought, “Right, I’m going to find these people and start a support group.” I asked everyone I knew around that time – Arnica began in 2007, so 7 years ago – and we ended up with a group of eight people to begin with. I had a very strong feeling that this was necessary and that every town should have one – a bit like herbalists!
Today, there’s about 80 Arnica groups in England. It’s hard to say how many members we’ve got, but there are 5,000 members on the Facebook group and around 2,500 people who receive our newsletter.
ANH-Intl: What are Arnica’s core values and mission?
Anna: The Arnica mission statement begins: “Arnica is a support group for parents, led by parents. We believe in a holistic approach to health and recognize a grass roots need for debate and practice, especially in this current climate where nutritional supplements, organic food, and homeopathy are under threat...Ultimately, we believe that the non-vaccinated child is potentially healthier than the vaccinated child. And that the parents of non-vaccinated children develop a resourceful approach to illness and health which is highly beneficial to the whole family.” It’s a few years old now but I wouldn’t change a thing!
ANH-Intl: Have you noticed any changes over the past 7 years in terms of interest in natural health or vaccination issues?
Anna: I’d say that the people who aren’t vaccinating are definitely more confident in their choice and they probably feel more educated: if they’re challenged by a family member or a health professional, they’d probably know what to say. Uptake of baby vaccines is still around 95%, but 5% not vaccinating is still around 500,000 people. Maybe we’ve supported 5 or 10 thousand people in their choices over the years – it’s very hard to say. I would think we have reached up to 0.001% of parents, which sounds very small in terms of a percentage. But in terms of significance then yes, even if a few thousand parents feel more informed and supported by Arnica, then it’s brilliant. I’d like to keep Arnica grassroots and under the radar as long as possible, because I think we can be more supportive in that way.
ANH-Intl: What are your feelings about the infant vaccination schedule?
Anna: Most vaccinations are given during the first year, certainly the ones that cause the most problems. There’s a 5-in-one, single injections at 2 months, 3 months and 4 months, the MMR at 12 months and you might be offered the BCG at birth. What’s more, immunologists are very open in stating that vaccination doesn’t raise the antibody level high enough or long enough when a baby is under 1 year old, as its immune system is still developing. One site then says that the infant vaccination schedule is to get parents into “good habits” regarding vaccination! It just doesn’t add up scientifically, and especially from a natural immunity point of view.
There’s another problem with the use of antibiotics in the under-1s. It’s now known that a single dose of antibiotics makes a child several times more likely to get asthma, and more children in England die from asthma than died from measles before we had a measles vaccine. If you go to a GP because your baby’s got an ear infection, you’ll probably be given antibiotics ‘just in case’, even though the NHS is clear that most of these cases are viral. Babies given antibiotics for an ear infection are three times more likely to get an ear infection again – and get more antibiotics. I’ve heard stories of children being given 10 doses in the first year, and then they’re given the MMR! At that point, they might not be well enough to withstand three live viruses at once.
ANH-Intl: What are your top 5 tips for boosting natural immunity?
Anna: Natural immunity is a changeable combination of many factors, including natural childbirth, breast milk and no vaccines. Managing fever and infection naturally where possible, without antipyretics and antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals. Sunlight, fresh air and nature. Lowering EMR [electromagnetic radiation] exposure. Good nutrition and quality sleep. Laughter and living authentically. Appreciation of the arts. Exercise and breathing. Kindness. Pretty sure that’s more than five!
ANH-Intl: Please tell us a little about the ‘European Manifesto Against Mandatory Vaccination’.
Anna: We’re working with the European Forum for Vaccine Vigilance (EFVV), who started nearly 20 years ago to bring together the key people across Europe who are involved in the vaccine choice movement to exchange information. In the past couple of years, we’ve been more concerned with the mandatory side of vaccination in other European countries. For example, one of our members is from Slovenia, where vaccinations are not only mandatory but given forcibly. Even if your child suffers a possible adverse reaction after vaccination, it’s not accepted and there’s no scheme to collect data, so children are being revaccinated who have issues with vaccination.
We really feel for parents in these situations, and what we want to do with the Manifesto is to alert people in countries where vaccination isn’t mandatory to the unfair situation elsewhere in Europe. We’re trying to encourage different European groups to put their names to the document and support the sentiments. We’re also going to develop a petition using the European Citizens Initiative.
ANH-Intl: Would you like to tell our readers about the Arnica essay competition?
Anna: We’re just launching a competition encouraging people to put pen to paper and write a personal story that reflects the values of Arnica – things like boosting natural immunity and supporting children naturally through illness. Or you could write an overview of the politics and the policies and the people around this topic, maybe looking at the situation worldwide. Martin Walker will be one of the judges and he’s gifted an essay to Arnica about his experiences in a Spanish hospital. People don’t need to worry if their story isn’t perfectly written as Martin’s brilliant at editing human stories!
ANH-Intl: What are Arnica’s plans for the future?
Anna: Eventually, the stories will be compiled into an Arnica book, and any profits will go back into campaigning work. Hopefully, the book will go some way toward starting more of a movement in this country; we need to help make natural immunity and natural approaches to healthcare the norm. As Martin Walker says in our essay, “‘Alternative’ medicine has to be embedded in organic alternative societies”.
We’ve also nearly completed work on a new website that uses Google Maps to show what’s going on in your community: there’s the allotment, there’s the health food shop, there’s an acupuncturist, there’s a talk on herbalism going on...I’ve been networking for years and I’m still finding new things going on even in my local area!
For full details of the Arnica essay competition and a copy of Martin Walker’s Arnica essay, entitled Reflections from the Wellness Factory, email Anna Watson at [email protected].