Updated: Oct 6
Given that the organization named after him, The Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF), is regularly and consistently anti-vaccine, it seems reasonable to look back at Weston Price's own work to see if he held a similar position. The short answer is "no," he was not anti-vaccine, but read on for more information.
Weston A Price was a dentist who, in the early 1900s, became concerned about rising levels of tooth decay and generally poor health in his patients. In response, he carried out what I consider to be one of the most interesting studies of all time. He traveled the world, searching for isolated pockets of people who had generally perfect teeth: almost no cavities, no crowding, no under/over bite, etc. In Price's most famous book, he identified and described eleven such groups. He took detailed notes on their respective diets. The diets varied substantially among the groups but the one commonality was a lack of availability of modern foods such as refined sugar and white flower in their communities. It is a fascinating study and in my opinion, a valuable read for anyone who is interested in nutrition. The 1999 founder of the Weston A Price foundation, Sally Fallon, is known for her natural, back-to-basics recipe books that attempt to turn Price's observations into practical application.
Personally, I don't have a problem with any of that. Others may but I am fine with it and I like the idea of eating more natural foods and attempting to learn what we can from pre-modern cultures. Price's research has parallels to later work on the Blue Zones diet, in which a journalist sought out pockets of people who were more likely to live to be 100+ years old and documented their diets. That's great too. I don't mean to put any of that down. I will focus my comments on the WAPF anti-vaccine stance and seek to determine whether and to what extent they came from Dr. Price himself.
WAPF is staunchly anti-vaccine
Although founder, Sally Fallon, has said that vaccines are "not the major focus of WAPF (which is nutrition)," vaccines are a major focus. A search on WAPF's website reveals 3,260 results with "vaccine" in them and 5,040 results with "nutrition." There are also multiple Weston Price oriented Facebook groups, including groups not affiliated with WAPF, and they are full of anti-vaccine chatter that can at times overpower any nutrition-oriented discussion. Despite the founder's implied wishes that vaccines not be the major focus of the org, they have become a huge issue for WAPF members and people generally interested in Weston A Price-style diets.
WAPF has also become very political in their anti-vaccine stance. For example, here is a sampling of some blog posts from their site relating to my home state of Arizona:
Support an important vaccine bill in Arizona!
Support a Good Vaccine Bill in Arizona!
Support 3 New Important Vaccine Bills in Arizona
Help Stop a Bad Vaccine Bill in the Arizona Legislature
Great news on three wonderful vaccine bills in Arizona
Protect the right to say no to vaccination in Arizona!
WAPF is a global organization, not just an Arizona-based organization, so this kind of thing is going on all over the world (though probably to a lesser extent).
A look at Weston A Price's own research
I scoured the internet, including Google Scholar, searching for any comments from Price about vaccines. I found only one reference and it cast vaccines in a positive light.
A search through Price's famous book, "Nutrition and Physical Regeneration," yields zero references to "vaccine" or any of its synonyms.
A search through Google Scholar yielded one reference to vaccines. In this one reference, Dr. Price suggests (probably incorrectly) that a vaccine may have aided in a young man's recovery from arthritis.
So there is no available evidence that Dr. Price was ever anti-vaccine. I also was unable to find any claims on WAPF website that Dr. Price was anti-vaccine, or that WAPF's anti-vaccine stance came from him somehow.
Did vaccines exist in Weston Price's era?
Yes, there were quite a few vaccines but nothing like today. It was a time of experimentation and rapid advancement in the realm of vaccines. In 1939, the year he published his most well-known book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the whooping cough vaccine had just been introduced. The reality is that vaccines were more of a threat and had more possibility of nasty side effects in his time than in ours due to the fact that they were (a) experimental, and (b) they lacked the modern hygienic manufacturing processes we now rely on.
Where did WAPF's anti-vaccine stance originate then?
I was unable to find any reference on the WAPF site about their history of anti-vaccine philosophy. I will just note that WAPF was founded in 1999, and Andrew Wakefield published his (now retracted) fraudulent research linking autism to the MMR vaccine in 1998 [2,3]. Wakefield's false claims made a huge impact before they were withdrawn from the scientific literature, and that influence continues to this day. WAPF has been fully taken in by Wakefield's manipulated research, with over 100 webpages on their site, including podcasts and blog posts, extolling his work. To summarize, there were only 12 children in Wakefield's study which is not nearly enough to draw statistical conclusions, and he had doctored the data on these children, tainting what was already bad on its face.
In light of these problems, perhaps the Weston A Price Foundation should consider abandoning its anti-vaccine rhetoric and advocacy or changing its name to properly reflect its current mission and its departure from its namesake, Weston A. Price. It is highly misleading to say it is the Weston A Price Foundation when so much of the org is dedicated to anti-vaccine advocacy and Dr. Price himself was nearly completely silent on vaccines.
About the author
Aaron Charlton, PhD is a science and medical blogger and entrepreneur. He writes for Away Clinic and other medical clients. He also maintains a website called OpenMKT.org that is aimed at improving transparency and quality of scientific research within the field of marketing. He is sometimes quoted by the media on matters of scientific integrity.
Price, W. A. (1925). Fundamentals suggested by recent researches for diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of dental focal infections. J Am Dent Assoc, 12, 641-665.
Wakefield, A. J., Murch, S. H., Anthony, A., Linnell, J., Casson, D. M., Malik, M., ... & Walker-Smith, J. A. (1998). RETRACTED: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children.
Godlee, F., Smith, J., & Marcovitch, H. (2011). Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. Bmj, 342.