Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Thoughts on Vaccines

Fear, Anger, Hope, Relief, Confidence, Confusion, Stubbornness, Ignorance, Obligation, Responsibility… all feelings or states of mind that I have seen all over our society in regards to this hot topic. Some of you know where I stand, and the rest of you, will at least a little bit more if you take the time to read all of this. I apologize in advance if my observations, thoughts and feelings are all over the place in the coming paragraphs. I’m not a professional writer or scientist, but I do care an awful lot about my kids and others, which is why I haven’t been able to get these things off my mind, especially in the last few weeks.

To tell the truth, I have some hesitation in opening my heart and mind on the issue because it’s SO controversial and I know that some of you are very passionate about your beliefs and I don’t want it to hurt our friendship. Hopefully it’s strong enough to handle some disagreement and we can both acknowledge that the other is genuinely trying to make the right decision for their children.

I’ve read a lot of articles online, on BOTH sides of the issue. I’ve heard the pleas and the fears and the name-calling and the threats and the stories and the studies and the assumptions and I know that it all comes from two paradoxical roots: LOVE and FEAR.

We love our kids so much. We want the best for them. We want them healthy. We want to make all the right decisions, and sometimes we don’t know who to trust. We want them to live life to the fullest. But we’re afraid. Afraid of what might happen to them if we do or don’t give them the shot(s). Afraid of what people might think if we ask questions or change our stance. What if I don’t get them vaccinated and they get the measles or polio or whooping cough? What if I vaccinate them and they start showing signs of autism or the disease that the shot is supposed to prevent? What if my kid gets sick because of someone else who deliberately skipped the shot? What if my kid gets a baby sick and he/she dies?

I beg of you to let your decision be motivated by love and not fear. And it doesn’t have to be cookie-cutter. You might decide to get one shot but not another. You might decide to have them for one child but not the other. You might decide to spread them out and only get them when they are perfectly healthy. I may disagree with your choice but I believe you have the right to choose, and I will respect that right as long as you have done your homework. Not blindly following the advice of a doctor or a celebrity or relative or friend.

It can be hard to sift through all the statistics that don’t match up, because many reports are slanted. The adamant cries of “There is no link” and “It’s obvious there’s a link” never end. What shall we do then?

I’m going to be honest and share some of our history with vaccines from as far back as I can remember. I showed up to junior high and couldn’t get registered because I hadn’t had a certain shot. Looking back now, I realize at least partly why I hadn’t had it, because I skipped kindergarten so I was a year younger than everyone and the recommendation for whatever vaccination it was, was age 12 and I was 11. But I had to go get the shot and come back.

Fast forward to my first pregnancy. So many choices to be made and things to learn about parenting but I didn’t have a ton of spare time to research what with working full-time, moving twice, planning a wedding and going into labor early. So I just pretty much listened to whatever advice came my way, aside from the things that I already felt strongly about, like breastfeeding. I don’t remember researching vaccines at all.

We fell in love with our pediatrician. She was caring and intelligent and respectful. We got every shot they offered from the very beginning, without fear of side effects. I trusted her because in my eyes she was the expert and wouldn’t recommend anything harmful. Honestly, I was also very sleep-deprived so I was too lazy to do my own research, despite one or two friends raising questions and encouraging us to think twice. To sum up, my attitude was, “I’m sure my doctor knows best and I don’t feel like finding out otherwise. Just do what she says.” I remember Julia running a fever and sleeping more the day after each round of shots, but luckily nothing worse. Riley was still a bit more skeptical, so I agreed to split up Julia’s 12-month shots into two visits, and put off any further ones until we thought about it more and were sure it was the right decision. At that 1-year checkup (or maybe it was at the 18 month one, I don’t remember exactly), the doctor assured me that Julia showed no signs of autism, and at least one of the shots was a booster so we would’ve known already if she would have a bad reaction to it. She was agreeable for the most part but encouraged us to at least get the DTaP because a lot of children were getting whooping cough.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment where we realized/decided we weren’t going to do them anymore, I guess it was gradual. Do I think every single vaccination available is evil and would I absolutely under no circumstances ever consent to receiving a single one? No.

Everyone who chooses not to vaccinate has a unique combination of reasons for refusing them. Contrary to popular belief, most parents aren’t ditching the shots because of Jenny McCarthy or Andrew Wakefield, so let’s just stop throwing that around. Here are a few of ours:

1.      God designed our children with an immune system. He didn’t mess up, and I’m going to trust that it will do its job if we give it the right tools (sleep, water, eating the right foods and using natural medicine when needed). To me, it feels a little bit like the Tower of Babel to go trying to create artificial immunity.

2.     The original strains of many vaccines were cultured in the cell lines of electively aborted human babies. These are still available for purchase online, which I find appalling. It just doesn’t sit right with me…ethically, spiritually, physically. Some people think well, what’s done is done, and now some good can come of it, the sacrifice of one baby is worth saving the lives of people who would otherwise die of a vaccine-preventable disease, but I disagree. “By His stripes we were healed.” I could be wrong, but it feels a little insulting to think that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough and we need some additional shedding of innocent blood to rid our world of sickness. For you vegans out there, you might be interested to know that they also use embryos of animals. [Note: I did not say the shots your kids are getting contain actual cells from aborted babies. This is a common misconception among some non-vaccinating parents. So don’t go misquoting me].

3.    The side effects of many vaccines are about the same as or worse than the disease itself. You can find this information in the package insert, but sadly most parents don’t bother, and I worry that many pediatricians don’t either. I know for a fact that there are doctors who just prescribe whatever is promoted by the rep who brought lunch that day, without any further research. I know all doctors are not equal, and most have good intentions and a sincere desire to “do no harm” and help people. But they’re not perfect, and it’s our responsibility to do our part and not just leave our children’s health and parenting decisions completely in their hands.

4.    This isn’t the biggest reason for me, because our family probably consumes these in some of the foods we eat so I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but just for your information, I will list some of the ingredients commonly found in vaccines: Mercury…although this has been somewhat eliminated, even some “thimerosal-free” vaccines still have a trace amount. Aluminum, linked to Alzheimers. Antibiotics, which destroy the good bacteria thereby hindering natural immunity. Formaldehyde. MSG, a neurotoxin.

5.     The immunity that MIGHT come from a vaccine is inferior to the natural immunity that comes from getting the real thing, or better yet, as babies from the breastmilk of a mother who has developed immunity after having the disease. I had chickenpox when I was about 2 years old (with scars to prove it), and I’m fine. My grandma had the mumps as a child and lived to be 84. Are those reasons enough to refuse all vaccinations? Of course not. Neither is seeing a picture of someone who died of Tetanus cause for us all running out and getting “caught up” on our shots.

Now let’s talk about just a couple of the reasons TO vaccinate. I will use italics because I’m not convinced these are true or factual.

Vaccines have eradicated many diseases, so we should keep using them. If you read enough, you will find research that concludes that these diseases were already well on the decline before vaccines were introduced, due to improved sanitation and what-not. This argument will probably never end so you decide which you believe.

People die from vaccine-preventable diseases. It’s irresponsible to refuse the shot. Let’s talk statistics straight from the CDC. According to their website, before the measles vaccine was introduced, approximately 1 in 10,000 people who got the disease, died from it. Now let’s take a look at vehicle related deaths: 1 in 1,000. So, make sure to buckle up, don’t run red lights and stay under the speed limit on your way to that play date with an unvaccinated child. Now correct me if my calculator is dysfunctional, but it looks to me like your child is 10x more likely to die on the way than he/she is from measles, and that’s assuming the child has it and spreads it to yours. Anybody up for mandatory banning of motor vehicles? *crickets*

Herd immunity. First of all, that term lends itself to treating people like cattle. But Oh Boy. This is a doozy and I’m a little scared to attack it because I haven’t spent my adult years developing a thesis on epidemiology. But I will just counter with this fact: Vaccinated children can shed the virus they have been injected with, and infect other vaccinated or un-vaccinated children. So you can be mad at me because my child may get the disease from someone else, and then infect your child who is too young to get the shot, and/or I can be mad at you for infecting my child with your child’s shedding virus. Or, I have a better idea. You can do your best to beef up your child’s immune system, and I’ll do my best too, and we’ll stay away from each other if a fever pops up.

But here’s the deal: the world we live in is broken, and only in heaven will sickness be gone for good. “But, Joanna, you haven’t seen a patient dying of measles or whooping cough, because they were unable to be vaccinated and some anti-vaxxer got this kid sick.” You’re right, I haven’t. Does that mean we should all go get vaccinated? Hmmm. What about all those OTHER patients the media likes to ignore? You know, the ones that have been injured, sometimes fatally, by a vaccine. Those are someone's children, too. What if there’s a better solution but it’s not so simple because not everybody will ever cooperate? What if there is NO solution because disease will always be here and we need to just do the best we can? I want to be sensitive to those who have watched their own children or patients suffer or die from an illness, so I hesitate to harp too much on this. Please forgive me if I’ve offended you. 

There will always be those that claim, “Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective” and those that assert, “Vaccines are not as safe and effective as they say they are.” Some people back this up with conviction and years of study, while others just say it because they’ve heard it said enough times. I beg of you, whichever side you’re on, to keep asking, and seeking, and knocking, even if you KNOW you’re right. Try to see the other point of view, because you might see the light and change your mind, and/or become even more convinced in your position and then be able to confidently share that truth with others. So if you’re going to be staunch on one side, at least be able to say, “I’ve looked at the reasons to vaccinate (or not) and this is what I believe is the best for my child.”

Now listen, I’m all for caring about the health of other people’s children. It’s no secret that I care more about my children’s than yours, and I’m sure you feel the same way. But this whole notion that I should have to put my child at risk in order to save your child from risk just doesn’t add up to me. Again (and forgive the gravity of this scenario), the odds are much greater that I will fatally injure your child in a car crash than my child infecting your child with a vaccine-preventable disease. Why isn’t anyone calling me names and threatening to throw me in jail, for daring to drive anywhere? We all take risks, every day. Each parent decides what is worth the risk and what isn’t, and what they’re willing to do to protect their kids, and other people’s kids. Got a peanut allergy? You won’t find me serving PBJs to my kid on our play date. Going through the most fragile steps of alcoholism recovery? I’m not going to break out the booze when you come over. But I will not stand by and let someone put a virus in my child’s body in order to (arguably) decrease the odds of some other child catching it.

One day you’ll read an article about a toddler that showed signs of autism the day after getting vaccinated. The next day you’ll read an article about a baby that died of whooping cough because he was too young for the vaccine and the parent of whoever he got it from didn’t want to vaccinate for whatever reason (I can assure you it’s not because they didn’t care about your child, it’s because they care about THEIR child). There will probably always be fear-mongering on both sides. But one thing that bugs me is the hatred and anger and name-calling between parents on opposite sides of the fence. I get it, we disagree. Figure out what you think is the best choice for YOUR CHILD (that’s the one you’ve been entrusted with, this isn’t communism), and then leave it in God’s hands. Hope that he or she won’t die of the disease they were or weren’t vaccinated for. But don’t try to get others to do it your way by sending fear or guilt into their hearts. If you want to motivate someone to change their mind, the best way to do it is (with kindness) to present them with unbiased, double-blind studies, un-slanted statistics, convincing them that the shots (or lack of) will be of greater benefit than risk to THEIR child, not others. By the way, you CAN send your child to public school without “mandatory” vaccinations. Or you can just home-school. But I digress. =)

I guess I’m not really here to try to talk you out of vaccinations. Is that because I’m afraid you’ll skip them, get sick and blame me? No. Is it because I don’t have the tiniest clue what I’m talking about? No. I just felt like I needed to get these thoughts off my chest and share with y’all.

*Please feel free to comment with your {civil} opinions and questions. If things get nasty, I may have to take this post down. Love to you all.