Motherhood comes with a host of choices to make about what is best for you, your family, and your child. We at Alamo City Moms Blog have a variety of moms who want to embrace these choices instead of feeling guilty or judged for them! We are continuing our series, Perspectives on Parenting, with a look at vaccinations.
To read the other side of this perspective, the decision to take vaccinations slower, you can find Denise’s post here. [hr]
Writing a post about why you should vaccinate your kids turned out to be harder than I thought for two reasons: (1) I’m still new here and I want you guys to like me; and (2) I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t vaccinate your kids. To me, it’s like debating whether you should feed your kids or whether to change them when they have dirty diapers. I have opinions on many issues where I can truly see both sides. I’m not vegan, but I understand why you might be. I’m not gay, but I understand why you might be. But it’s hard for me to understand why someone wouldn’t vaccinate her children.
But never fear, dear reader! I turned on the Google, and it clued me in to several reasons that the anti-vaccine movement has gained ground…
Vaccines cause autism. Specifically, the thimerosal used as a preservative in some vaccinations has been linked to an increase in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Except, wait—thimerosal was removed from vaccines in 2001, and the study that linked vaccines and autism has been disproved multiple times. In fact, the author of the original 1989 study, Andrew Wakefield, admitted to falsifying data and has been called “an elaborate fraud” by the CDC. By the way, other things that have been linked to autism in studies: breastfeeding, formula feeding, chemicals, dairy products, and others. Even if it were true—if study after study after study disproving the link were wrong, and vaccines do cause autism—I’m still not sure why any parent would choose deadly diseases for their children over autism.
2. Side effects.
The side effects of vaccines can be pretty intimidating. They can include:
- pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
OK, this sounds a bit scary. I’ll give you that. However, looking at the vaccine side effects reported to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System), it’s clear that the risks of side effects from a vaccine are much, much lower than the risks from contracting the disease itself. Here’s a quick example:
Death from diptheria: 1 in 20
Death from DTaP vaccine: none proven
Pneumonia from pertussis: 1 in 8
Continuous crying, followed by a full recovery from DTaP vaccine: 1 in 10,000
Preservatives were introduced into vaccines to keep bacteria from developing in the vaccines themselves. Much to-do has been made about the toxins in vaccines and what effect they have on children. However, it’s important to look in context at the toxins in vaccines. Formaldehyde is one such example. Formaldehyde in our bodies naturally occurs as a byproduct of metabolism. In fact, the amount of formaldehyde in vaccines is less than that of apples. Aluminum is another much-cited toxin in vaccines, used to produce more antibodies in the body to increase the effectiveness of the vaccine. Although it sounds scary, aluminum is also found in breast milk, formula, and water. It’s important to remember that in science, the dose of a toxin is what makes a substance toxic. For example, it’s OK to lick soap off of your hand, but drinking a bottle of it would make you sick (so says Poison Control, whom I called about this very issue last week). The amount of (some naturally-occurring) toxins in vaccines is small enough not to warrant concern.
4. Big Pharma.
Admittedly, I didn’t know a ton about pharmaceutical companies (aka: Big Pharma) until I started researching this post. I am picturing Big Pharma as a man in pinstripes with a cigar gesturing to me in a dark alley. According to anti-vaccination activists (or anti-vaxxers, as they call themselves), it is impossible to trust the medical community because it is being funded by pharmaceutical companies, who make billions of dollars in profits from vaccines. Think about this, though: pharmaceutical companies sell one or two vaccines throughout one person’s lifetime, as opposed to prescription medicine that a person can refill many times. There is far less profit in vaccines than other drugs. Additionally, according to Cherise Allegrini, San Antonio mom and epidemiologist, doctors get no kickbacks from Big Pharma, and neither does the CDC. The CDC recommends vaccines because they are in the best interest of the public health.
5. “Illnesses that kids are vaccinated against aren’t all that bad. I had chicken pox/measles/the flu/whooping cough, and I turned out just fine.”
I’m glad for those people who had good experiences with these diseases. Personally, I had chicken pox when I was four and don’t remember it as horrible. In fact, I was surprised when I saw it on my daughter’s vaccine schedule. Then my husband explained what it was like to get chicken pox as a teenager. He was in bed with a high fever and horrible itching for a week. He remembers scratching for hours until he bled and nearly passing out at his baseball game a week later. A girlfriend of mine contracted chicken pox before the vaccine was available. She remembers having chicken pox EVERYWHERE—and I do mean everywhere (use your imagination). She had to miss three weeks of work and was hospitalized for three days. Another friend’s husband had whooping cough as a baby. His mother took him to the hospital, where the doctor immediately placed him in isolation and explained that he would have died if she had waited just a few more hours to bring him in. Another one of my girlfriends got the flu—she got her kids vaccinated but figured she didn’t need to get a flu vaccine herself. She experienced vomiting and high fever for three weeks. It wasn’t until her doctor prescribed Zofran that she was able to get out of bed. Just because one person had a not-terrible experience with a disease doesn’t mean that that disease will be mild for everyone.
So, considering those five reasons that some don’t vaccinate, here are four quick ones why I do:
1. It teaches my kids to be caring and responsible for helping others.
Not everyone can get vaccinated—some are too young or immunocomprised—so it’s important that if your child is healthy enough, they get immunized to protect the less healthy. A really good explanation of herd immunity can be found here, but essentially, we need 90% of a population to be vaccinated to protect the entire population. In Bexar County, 65.7% of kids under three have received all the recommended vaccines. That means 34.3% do not.
2. I’m not interested in playing Russian roulette with my kids’ health.
Maybe my kids will get a really mild case of chicken pox at a young age. Maybe they’ll be desperately ill and hospitalized. Maybe for them pertussis will lead to no more than a cough. Maybe it will lead to pneumonia. If I can protect them from one of life’s “what-ifs,” why wouldn’t I?
3. It’s not about just us.
Lots of parenting decisions affect only your family: cloth diapers or disposable, co-sleep or cry it out, breast or bottle. But deciding not to vaccinate affects all of us. Diseases that should be nearly eradicated (like measles) have been popping up all over the country, and it’s because people refuse to vaccinate.
4. There is no good reason not to.
Even if all the research and every CDC study is wrong, all the reported side effects are inaccurate, vaccines do cause autism and behavioral side effects, and my kids have swollen arms and cry for a bit, I’m still not convinced that it’s OK to not vaccinate them. We wouldn’t let our kids ride in cars without seat belts. We put on helmets and knee pads when they learn to ride bikes and insist that they hold our hands when crossing parking lots. Vaccinations are just one more way of keeping them safe.