Sunday, February 13, 2011

Vaccines and Decisions

I have never been so torn on an issue, perhaps in my life, as I am on the subject of vaccines.  Right now, I have the luxury of indecision.  Because of one of my meds (the immune suppressant), my doctors have decided it's best for my son to be unvaccinated for the time being, and I have the medical seal of approval to postpone the decision of vaccination.  My son did get DTaP before I went on these meds, and technically he could have inactivated vaccines, but we're holding off until I'm 100% sure.  You can't "un-vaccinate"; once it's done, it's done.

For those who do not vaccinate, a medical exemption is the holy grail of paperwork.  For those who believe in the importance of complete vaccination, my situation is a terrifying limbo of irresponsibility.  I see both sides of the issue, and I'm stuck.

Most parenting issues have become clear to me with research.  Breastfeeding, circumcision, spanking, co-sleeping, babywearing.  They're pretty clear-cut, and most research sits on one side or the other.  Vaccinations... eek.  Not so clear.  I have done hundreds of hours of research on vaccines, and I'm still incredibly torn.

Borrowed from Peaceful Parenting, in case you want to say "I'm vaccinated and I'm fine"
Our children are being vaccinated against many more things than we were.

I have reached 2 conclusions, both of which are controversial.  Isn't this whole topic?

1 - Vaccines are not useless.  They do work.  Maybe not as well as advertised, but they have value.  The rabies vaccine prevents the spread of rabies among dogs.  The influenza vaccine does actually reduce the incidence of flu it purports to prevent.  Since the widespread vaccination of the American public, the diseases for which we vaccinate have decreased precipitously.  I am still immune to measles, mumps and rubella, 25 years after my last booster, diseases I did not have naturally.  Vaccines generally do protect against the diseases they claim to, a majority of the time.

2 - Vaccines are not 100% safe.  They have risk.  Vaccine-related injury is real, adverse reactions are real, and to the rare number who experience them, the injury is often worse than the disease the vaccine is intended to prevent.  It is possible that vaccines damage the overall health of a person's immune system.  Unvaccinated children are, overall, healthier than their vaccinated counterparts, experiencing less chronic and acute illness during childhood and early adulthood (these studies are imperfect in design but still compelling).  Parents who consciously choose not to vaccinate are not morons; they are generally better informed and educated about the issue than those who vaccinate. 

Ethically, I am opposed to the concept of forcing a child to endure pain and sickness, against their will, to prevent potential future harm.   The child is not in immediate medical need or danger, like a child who needs stitches. I am opposed to sacrificing one child for the benefit of many; the herd immunity argument doesn't sway me.  One child should not die so that millions can live; that argument holds no water to the mother of the dead child, nor should it.  I believe in the inherent ability of the natural immune system to handle routine illness, and I believe that a bored immune system is a dangerous thing to have, increasing risks of allergies and auto-immune responses. 

Logically, I am opposed to the reintroduction of measles and polio into the general population, and I do believe that vaccines have something to do with the decrease of diseases (but not all - Polio in particular has a really interesting link to pesticides).  I don't want to see a Rubella outbreak.  I have heard the cries of a baby with pertussis, and they are heartbreaking.  If my son were to experience harm as a result of a vaccine-preventable illness, or worse, were to pass that illness on to another child, I would be devastated.

Emotionally, vaccinating feels wrong - no mother "looks forward" to a visit for shots.  On every other parenting decision, I have trusted my "gut" or "mommy instinct" and it's always been right.  Here, in this one circumstance and no other, I am expected to restrain my baby, cause him pain and potentially cause him harm, to avoid the potential of harm.  This isn't about fighting a diaper change or being annoyed about being in a carseat; the pain is real, the immediate harm is real (even if it's only a mild fever and a sore leg).  If you physically restrain an adult against his will and stab him with a pen or a thumbtack, it is called assault.  I spent a lifetime terrified of doctors and needles.  Babies today are mandated to have triple the number of vaccines that I had; every child I know is petrified of going to the doctor; their parents have to lie to them and bribe them to get them in the door. 

Intellectually, I realize that people used to die of vaccine-preventable diseases in great number, and that my ancestors would likely think I'm crazy for even debating this topic.  Vaccines are considered among the world's greatest medical discoveries, one of the greatest discoveries of human history, by minds greater than mine.  My pediatrician is in favor of most (but not all) vaccines; I respect her opinion as a medical professional.  I respect her years of experience and expertise.  I also know that the entire American pediatric business model revolves around vaccines, and without a visit every 2-6 months for a shot, pediatricians offices would be a lot emptier than they are now.  Money talks.  Vaccines make literally billions of dollars a year for doctors and pharmaceutical companies, both via direct and indirect sources.

Polio kills.  Mumps is bad.  Tetanus, Diphtheria, Hepatitis, pertussis, HiB, meningitis, all of them - this is bad stuff, and I don't want my baby to get any of them, if I can help it.  Hell, my double exposure of chickenpox (at 13 and 32, thanks immune suppressants) was miserable enough that I'd happily have taken a shot in the arm instead of 6 cumulative weeks of misery!  Regardless, I am too informed to respond to the "less mercury than a can of tuna" line. 

I am asking for feedback tonight, on what ultimately made your decision, one way or the other.  I don't have to make a decision right now (in fact, I can't) but I could use some guidance. 

Why did you decide to vaccinate your child, or choose to skip or alter the standard schedule?


  1. Hugs to you. My oldest was fully vaxed until after 2. Then my son had a reaction at 4 months. None of our children have been vaccinated since then. I still continue to research and pray. We have a strong family history of auto-immune issues and I believe that increases our chance of a bad reaction.

    I have a couple of recent posts on vaccinations that you might like.

    It sounds as if you have done a lot of research, too. I would say keep studying and praying. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, either. Blessings to you and your little ones!

  2. My decision was rather simple. I was not vaccinated and was educated about the risks of vaccinations when I was old enough to ask why I didn't get shots and all my friends did. My parents are against vaccinations and what research I've done just reinforces that stance. I feel the way you do about not wanting those diseases reintroduced into society but something tells me that if it's going to happen, it's going to happen. All the diseases we have vaccinations for were introduced after the decline of the disease started. So, logically, vaccinations did not erradicate those diseases. I never want my child to suffer and in my opinion a stronger immune system is the best defense against any and all types of illness.

  3. I choose to at least delay. I also think that logically vaccines had nothing to do with the decline of VPDs. I am also leary of the 30 some odd required vaccines. I live in a community where I believe mine are the only unvaxed. I am not afraid that they will catch or give anything. BUT I do think it could happen. I wonder about the live vaccines.

    Also, I really worry that vaccines push disease into the adult population who is much more at risk from chicken pox, measles, mumps, rubella, etc. Most VPDs are childhood diseases, even Hep A is usually minor in children. Why not let their immune systems fight these germs and then at a certain pre pubescent age, check all kids for immunity THEN if necessary, vaccinate those who need it? That's my plan for my kids. Check my son for mumps and my daughter for Rubella immunity at around 10-12. But they are 1 and 3, so.....

  4. I'm about to have my first child and my husband and I have decided to not vaccinate. Both he and I were raised by parents who also chose not to vaccinate, so we both grew up unvaccinated. In addition to the research that we have done(which did nothing, but confirm my belief against vaccinating) I have as an adult twice been vaccinated(once was a tetanus shot received in the ER, after a car accident and without my approval and the other was a Rhogam shot received after a miscarriage, also not exactly with my consent). I developed a tumor and an auto-immune disorder shortly after the tetanus shot, which was made far worse and then a whole myriad of allergies and sensitivities and a general decline in health after the Rhogam shot. Those experiences just make me more resolute about my belief that my child(ren) will be better off not being vaccinated.

  5. Really well written piece. Of your two points though, I'd go back and research #1, and look for the CDC graphs that show 90% of disease decline before mass vaccination, so thus attributatable to sanitation and infrastructure improvements much moresoe than vaccination. Also look for the graph of the death rates from flu - its not having the impact we are being led to believe. Also, the definition of polio was changed just as polio vaccination was appearing, and only 2% of true polio cases are paralytic. The Research Mommies on FB has these in their pictures.

    Always remember there are religious exemptions in all but 2 states and philisophical in about half.

  6. I really like how you wrote this. Your anguish over what to do echoes mine. I have chosen not to vaccinate yet- my son is 15 months and is unvaccinated thus far. I continue to do research, but so far I am not convinced that I should give him the shots.

  7. You seem to be dedicated to making the right decision for your family.
    I'm providing a link to my blog where I wrote out how we came to the conclusion to not vaccinate. I hope you'll find it useful!

  8. My daughter is fully vaccinated and future children will be, too. My husband is in the military and worked as a medical missionary, so he has seen first hand the results of vaccine-preventable diseases during his travels. A dear friend of his, a brilliant young man in his 20s, is crippled from polio because he was born in a country where the vaccine simply wasn't available.

    The bottom line at my house is this: we believe the statistics on vaccine safety and efficacy are overwhelmingly positive and are willing to risk a relatively rare adverse effect for the benefits.

    Recently I read a very pro-vacc book by Dr. Paul Offit called Deadly Choices. He's straightforward about historical problems with vaccines and discusses adverse effects well while debunking many of the things we hear in the popular media. The information provided on herd immunity was, I thought, particularly insightful.

    To be clear: I'm not trying to foist my opinion onto anyone, nor do I judge families who make a different decision, I'm just putting this out there to answer your question and provide a little different viewpoint than I see other commenters have had.

  9. I'm a mama to 3 munchkins, all partially vacc'd, spread out one at a time, beginning at six months, then every three months, skipping some totally and skipping the last shot in every series. In my research, I looked up the vaccine schedules for countries with universal health care and *shocker* they more closely resemble the US lists from long ago. Imagine that.
    What is most distasteful to me about the whole issue is the implication that the *only* thing we, as parents, can do to protect our children is to vaccinate them. What about breastfeeding, what about nutrition and sunlight and exercise and stability? Surely they have some impact, yes?
    Still, I've made some choices that surprise me. Take chicken pox. I am confident my kids could handle the illness with little problem and I have tried to have them catch the pox, but at this stage I doubt it will happen. My husband travels constantly and more often than not I am caring for three children (as an attachment parent) on my own. Do I want to live through three kids with chicken pox? No. I really think that would suck. So the older two got one vacc and we'll see how it goes.
    PS: I do notice one clear benefit - none of my children show any fear of needles at all. Shots they've had are no whoop whatsoever. They actually like to watch.

  10. Have you come across the book "The Truth about Vaccines" by Dr Richard Halvorsen. I found it to be really well researched, cross-referenced and very fair. He doesn't recommend not vaccinating but his book helped us to decide not to. I'm convinced that currently living in the UK with our lifestyle that the risks of vaccination outweigh the benefits. I wouldn't rule out vaccinations if situations change but will always try to avoid them where possible.

  11. I am the mother of two girls aged 19 and surprise, surprise, I am now also the mother of a 4 and a half month old baby boy...I am a nurse and worked for a pediatrician for almost three years...I never saw in all that time a child have more than a mild reaction to vaccines..but I did see a child die from whooping was horrible and unnecessary..he was almost two years old..behind on vaccinations because he had a parent with an immune suppressing illness...he suffered greatly before he died..every parent has the right to choose what is best for their child but for everyone who chooses not to vaccinate because you don't want to take a risk to protect against something your child may never come in contact with..think about this..people take aspirin to prevent heart disease they may never get anyway..we take vitamins to protect against illness we may never get..these things are not without risk, but we see more benefit than potential harm..vaccines are the second most important medical advance behind antibiotics..I applaud parents who don't vaccinate, but I also look at the world we live full of potential harm from everyday life..why not give your kids one less thing to worry about..which would be worse...VERY small risk of vaccine injury or very great risk of long term harm or death caused by polio or whooping cough?

  12. Also, I would like to mention, that although I do applaud all the well meaning parents..I know you feel you are doing what is best for your children..but, in saying that, I know based on medical science, that if we raise a whole generation of children who are not vaccinated, they become vulnerable to disease even though these diseases may currently be eradicated from our country..all it would take would be for one person from a third world country to come to our country carrying polio, diptheria or whooping cough, and we could have a potential epidemic..just something else to ponder..

  13. Thank you, Kerri - your arguments are absolutely valid, and why this issue is not clear to me. I am questioning the concept of herd immunity after my husband had his titers checked and discovered that he (along with, apparently, up to 50% of the 30+ adult population) no longer has immunity to measles, due to secondary vaccine failure.

    If that is the case, why haven't we seen a measles epidemic? Not a rhetorical question - I am honestly curious. The whole vaccine discussion is complicated and controversial. I'll keep learning, thanks to wonderful folks like you, who give me food for thought.

  14. Hi. Yep I hear your arguments. I to have done so much research and have (for the moment) found some content in my decision not to vaccinate. For all the reasons you mentioned and with the effort to give my children the strongest immune systems they can have so that if they do get any of these diseases they will recover fully, as most people did when these diseases were around. I know I can always change my mind or when old enough my boys can do the reading and decide for themselves. I can't change my mind once it's done. There are just too many unknown risks, short and long terms for me to do this to my children. All the best with your decision. :)

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  16. it is a hard decision and depends on particular situation