Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic: vaccines

Editor April 16, 2015 Comments Off on Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic: vaccines
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic: vaccines

So for today let’s talk about something we can all agree on–vaccines.
Hahaha. I’m just kidding. Nobody agrees on vaccines, but let’s talk about it anyway. And by “let’s,” I mean “I.”
I’ll go ahead and put it on the table right away–I think kids should be vaccinated. If you feel differently, I’m not going to yell at you about it or anything, because yelling at people I don’t know makes me uncomfortable. I only yell at close friends, family, and the Ole Miss Rebels.
So I was listening to an audio cast of Frontline’s updated “Vaccine War,” which aired March 30 on PBS. If you haven’t watched/listened, I encourage you to do so. There’s some interesting stuff there, and it sparked good conversation between my husband and me.
Mostly we batted around the question–are we socially–morally?– obligated to vaccinate our kids?
For me, the conclusion I came to is: yes.
Not that I vaccinated my four kids out of benevolence. I thought of them, and only them, when I made that decision. And with my firstborn, who arrived in December 2005, it was a decision I was terrified to make. I read online because you’re supposed to “do your own research” on vaccines. So you can “make the best decision for your family.” These are things parents/moms are always saying on the internet. I came across dozens of terrifying anecdotes, parents claiming vaccines caused their children’s autism/seizure disorder/severe allergies/brain damage/death.
As my son neared his first birthday, I was terrified for him to receive the dreaded MMR vaccine–after all, “research” had linked it to autism. That research has been thoroughly debunked and the doctor stripped of his credentials, but it was too late. The fear was out there. Like an innocent person accused of a crime, despite being cleared of all charges, the accusation lingers. People wonder. Misinformation regarding vaccines and autism persists.
Babies are typically given the MMR at 12 months, but my son was nearly 2 when I allowed him to receive the shot. I had earned an MD from Google University at that point and was educated enough to dismiss the AAP-recommended schedule and come up with a schedule of my own, vaccinating here and there as my anxiety allowed.
My son is now 9 and fully vaccinated, as are my younger three children. When I finally looked at the science, at the published studies from reliable academic sources, I found vaccinating to be the best choice–for my kids, and for everyone else. My kids are vaccinated for their own protection, but contributing to herd immunity is a nice side effect. Herd immunity occurs when a large percentage of a population is protected from a disease–through vaccination, perhaps–thus providing a measure of protection for those with no immunity.
Newborn babies depend on herd immunity to protect them from whooping cough until they are old enough to receive the vaccine. Medically fragile children depend on herd immunity because they are unable to be vaccinated.
But as more parents choose to opt out, the herd gets weak. There are chinks in the armor, and we see a pertussis epidemic in California, a measles outbreak in Disneyland.
Why are these parents opting out? Why not protect your child from disease? The answer: fear. Parents fear the vaccine more than the disease, likely because we’ve never see the disease. The threat of polio, measles–it feels nebulous and unlikely. Like the threat of nuclear war–it’s out there, it’s unpleasant, but what are the odds, right? (I’m on a roll today with the bad analogies.) Vaccines carry risks–we know that because it’s right there on the handout they give us at the pediatrician’s office. They are scary. And very rarely, they happen. But the complications from the disease are there on the handout, too. Read them, fear them, because the risks associated with the disease statistically outweigh the possibility of a severe vaccine reaction.
It’s scary stuff, and our kids’ health is on the line. Your kids and mine. Look, I’m not an activist for public health, nor am I sold out to Big Pharma. I’m just a mom, and I make the best decisions I can. And when it comes to vaccines, my choice affects your kid, and your choice affects somebody else’s kid, which brings me back to social responsibility.
Shouldn’t we feel a certain amount of responsibility for the newborn who isn’t immune to whooping cough and could die if she contracts it? She can’t protect herself at such a young age, but we, the herd, can do what we can to protect her. Just as we depend on the herd to protect our own children.
Her suffering is preventable.
Thanks to vaccines, my kids are protected from many diseases. But some children can never be protected. They are too sick, too young, too fragile. Are we to say they’re not our problem? When it comes to the welfare of children, who cannot make decisions for themselves, shouldn’t our concern reach beyond our own household?
I think it should.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at sliindelife@gmail.com.)

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