Babies Are Getting Brain Bleeds—Are Vaccine Fears to Blame?


Mother Jones:

Babies Are Getting Brain Bleeds—Are Vaccine Fears to Blame?

In May, the *Tennessean *reported on a truly shocking medical problem. Seven infants, aged between seven and 20 weeks old, had arrived at Vanderbilt University’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital over the past eight months with a condition called “vitamin K deficiency bleeding,” or VKDB. This rare disorder occurs because human infants do not have enough vitamin K, a blood coagulant, in their systems. Infants who develop VKDB can bleed in various parts of their bodies, including bleeding into the brain. This can cause brain damage or even death.

There is a simple protection against VKDB that has been in regular medical use since 1961, when it was recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics: Infants receive an injection of vitamin K into the leg muscle right after birth. Infants do not get enough of this vitamin from their mother’s body or her milk, so this injection (which is not a vaccine, but simply a vitamin being delivered via a shot) is essential, explains pediatrician Clay Jones on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream below). It’s also quite safe.

So then why are some parents refusing to get it, leaving their infants vulnerable to a potentially devastating condition? It’s difficult to understand the phenomenon outside the context of a growing fear, in general, about vaccines in the US. “There’s a lot of overlap with that anti-vaccine mentality,” says Jones. Indeed, reporting on the Vanderbilt VKDB cases, the *Tennessean *explained that “Vanderbilt doctors believe incidences are on the rise because of the anti-vaccine movement.”

. . .

Science aside, evidence presented by the CDC suggests that refusal of vitamin K shots may be a major phenomenon to contend with. In Tennessee, the CDC found that at the hospital with the highest rate of missed vitamin K injections, 3.4 percent of infants were discharged without receiving one. At birthing centers in the state (a hospital alternative, often run by nurse-midwives), the number was much higher: 28 percent. (The agency also hinted that medical staff may not be adequately informing parents about the need for the shot.)

I wonder if the mothers at the birthing centers are the better-off, better educated and did their own research or just wanted everything “natural”.


Why not just give vitamin K orally? Wouldn’t it work just the same?


My guess is that it would not be absorbed quickly enough to make its way to the brain. That’s a laymans shot in the dark though.


I think that’s addressed in the article:

Jones disagrees. “We have decades of data from a number of countries, some of which have oscillated between doing the [intramuscular injection], doing the oral, and doing nothing,” he says. “And so we have good data that shows that while oral is certainly better than nothing, it is not as effective as intramuscular dosing.” In particular, with oral vitamin K, there are problems involving making sure that people take the right dose and stick to the regimen—and then of course added problems if a baby vomits up the dose. “There’s a lot of factors that could potentially interfere with the ability of the oral dosing to work,” adds Jones. “Intramuscular is the best way to do it.” (For Jones’ more thorough rebuttal to Mercola, read here.) A 2003 statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics makes a similar point, citing evidence that “oral prophylaxis” may fail more often than an injection in preventing late VKDB. (Here’s a paper discussing the cases of several infants in the Netherlands who received oral Vitamin K, but still came down with late VKDB.)


Perhaps these women were curious about any potential side-effects of the vitamin - if the child had a higher-than-average level of vitamin K, could this create problems? I really do not know the answer, but that is one consideration.

The other is much more simple - while you may question those who desire ‘natural childbirth’ as foregoing advances in medicine, vitamin K injections were never part of childbirth until how recently?

What I would truly like to see is a study of how many children actually need the injection versus how many have been given it, and also if there are any tests that could tell early on whether the child was truly in need of the injection (such as when they do the heel prick).

The ages arriving are between 7-20 weeks - another question is whether the shot is necessary right as the baby is born?

Finally, at an average of less than 1 baby a month for the past 8 months at a single hospital, is this something truly pandemic or only a local phenomenon? Is there certainty that vitamin K injections would have prevented the bleeding? Is there evidence that any of the 7 babies had received the vitamin K injection but still had the bleeding?

There are just way too many unanswered questions in this article to really decide anything on this matter. Perhaps something in the environment of that geographic region is causing an issue with the deficiency. The only thing for certain is that more information needs to be provided, and more research performed.


I am not a mother although I hope to be one someday so I don’t have experience with this sort of thing but I personally don’t see why the mothers don’t just let their babies get the Vitamin K supplement. In my own personal opinion, the fears about vaccines are irrational.


As a father of 2 children, the only concern regarding vaccines was finding ones that were NOT manufactured using embryonic stem cells. We talked with the doctor during my wife’s pregnancy about this. (Long story, but it took a lot of pressure to get the first doctor to find and order an alternative that was not made with human embryonic stem cells, and we had to pay out of pocket. Our second doctor for our second child was more than willing to order it.) And our pediatricians have always been open to ordering vaccines. Note that for some vaccines it isn’t possible to find ones that are not human derived.

But fears of disorders caused by vaccines I too think are irrational. The risk of disease that is protected against by vaccines is greater than the risk of side effects.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit