Chinese Medicine: Middle Ground in the Vaccine Debate

November 29, 2014 Updated: April 28, 2016

The first record of a doctor inoculating a patient comes from China, when a physician inoculated the son of a Chinese statesman against smallpox in the early 11th century. At that time, the method was either blowing dried scabs up the nose or rubbing them into a cut.

Currently, Chinese medicine does not practice inoculation nor does it take any kind of official stance on the vaccine debate that has become increasingly heated in recent years. A growing number of parents and some health care providers have voiced concern that vaccines may present health risks that are not recognized or adequately addressed by the conventional medical establishment.

One solid point of consensus among practitioners of Chinese medicine is that Chinese medicine can boost the immune system, helping the body cope with vaccines and any reactions they produce, in the same way it can help the body cope with any pathogenic qi—a term used to describe an agent that causes disease.


Jason Ginsberg, a licensed acupuncturist and full-time faculty member at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) in New York, said he routinely treats patients before and after vaccination to “minimize any potential side effects.” Vaccines can produce moderate reactions like rashes, headaches, fever, fatigue, and swelling and tenderness at the injection site.

Chinese medicine follows the same principles for vaccination reactions as for any other ailment, starting with a full-scale diagnosis to see which body systems are strong and which ones are weak. Treatment depends on which systems need attention and what vaccine is involved.

“There’s not one formula or one set of [acupuncture] points that I would use for … a hepatitis vaccination or an MMR vaccination,” Ginsberg explained. “It will still depend on the individual patient and their reaction as well.”

He has observed that when people have a reaction to a vaccine, the symptoms are often “very similar to what the vaccine is trying to prevent.” Thus, Chinese medicine treatments for the reaction might be similar to how the actual disease would be treated.

Lance Li, a clinical supervisor at PCOM and teacher at the New York College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said he had both of his children vaccinated. However, he thinks it’s a good idea to vaccinate children only after they are 6 months old.

“I think after six months it is better, after they get [enough] nutrients and immunity from the mother,” he said.

He himself also got a flu shot a few years ago, but it gave him flu-like symptoms, so he hasn’t gotten one since.

Both Ginsberg and Li emphasized that they would never contradict the orders of a Western medical doctor and that Chinese medicine works best as a complement to Western medicine.

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