to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question. and a biggun at that. i started studying the options about thirteen years ago, when we had to decide whether or not to vaccinate our firstborn. at that time, it was still highly unusual not to vaccinate; but, being the sort who enjoys bucking the system on occasion and considering this was something that could affect the life of my child forever, i wanted to get a clearer picture of what was going on with vaccinations. smockdaddy and i read several articles, a few books, talked to different parents and weighed the pros and cons to the best of our ability. and then we decided to vaccinate. in the interest of full disclosure, we did opt out of the varicella vaccine as it was still relatively new when "big d" was still wee. his doctor - whom i adored - didn't bat an eye over our decision. he said he understood our concerns and noted only that we may need to apply for an exemption later on when we started school.
call me naïve, but i never even considered that the choice could be something that could cause any negative response. that is, until i actually witnessed a bitter argument firsthand. at an impromptu play date gathering at a local park, i witnessed two moms get into a virtual shouting match over their vaccinated and non-vaccinated children. being the nosy parker that i am, i intervened by asking the pro-vac mom what the big deal was. if her son was vaccinated, what the heck was she so worried about? she then began to argue about social responsibility -- to which i inwardly scoffed, writing her off as a wacko socialist. [this was 12 years ago; i've mellowed somewhat.] anyway, after some very awkward silence, the non-vac mom finally bundled up her son and left. it wasn't my intention to "pick sides" - i honestly didn't see the big deal. for either side. and i ended up leaving the park very upset by the whole situation because i just didn't like seeing a mom in the minority being treated like an outcast.
fast forward twelve years and the decision to abstain from vaccines has become more popular. and now i am the one who finds myself being treated like a social pariah. and, because i have lots of crunchy friends (hi guys!) who choose not to vaccinate, i've been asked to defend my decision to vaccinate on more than one occasion. i don't like being put on the defensive, so i've put even more time into researching the more liberal/freethinking/crunchy side of the argument. but i still respectfully disagree with it.
as i understand it, moms who choose not to vaccinate sometimes claim that preservatives (in particular, thimerosal) in vaccines may be linked to autism. thimerosal was removed from infant vaccines in 1999; and even after thimerosal was removed from infant vaccines, the autism rate has continued to climb. the cdc, the american academy of pediatrics, the institute of medicine and several other prestigious medical organizations maintain there is no known link between vaccines and autism. studies published in the new england journal of medicine and elsewhere also have found no link. now, i'm the most subjective person i know. i'm all about the gut reaction, feelings, and emotions. hello? my mantra is "math is hard" so exactly how scientific do you think i am? but the cdc? aap? the new england journal of medicine? these are all highly regarded sources with huge reputations to uphold. are we supposed to believe that this is some gi-normous medical cover-up they are all involved in together?
seriously, what motivates some to completely ignore the majority of the scientific data out there? one cannot write them all off as conspiracy theorists. and, to be fair, some moms that i've spoken with agree that there isn't enough scientific data to prove a link, but they contend that the bottom line for them is this: if there is even a remote chance that vaccines are related to autism, it is a risk they are not willing to take. i say, fair enough. but speaking of risks, there is another side to this coin.
the answer to the debate is not as simple as it seemed to me back on that playground twelve years ago. it was easy to be cavalier back then, but with recurring outbreaks of infectious diseases, i'm even more concerned about this debate now than ever before. even as a parent who has chosen to vaccinate all six of my children, i cannot be sure that just because they are vaccinated that my children are completely protected from these diseases -- or protected from others who may be carrying the diseases. according to the american academy of pediatrics, vaccines are only 90 percent to 99 percent effective. so the question then becomes do we as parents who have chosen to vaccinate our children think that a possible 10% chance of contracting a life-threatening disease if exposed is worth the risk?
consider this: measles, a highly communicable disease, was declared eliminated in the u.s. in 2000, but outbreaks of infection attributed to incoming travelers have increased this year. at least 131 cases have been reported so far this year alone -- the highest number of annual cases in twelve years. and whether we like to admit it or not, officials cite parents' refusal to vaccinate their children as the leading cause for this jump. this is serious, folks. this is a disease that once infected 3 - 4 million people a year, causing 450 deaths and 4,000 cases of measles-related brain infection. per annum. and there's more. there have also been outbreaks of other childhood viral diseases, such as polio and mumps, in recent years. all of which can be prevented by vaccines.
on a personal note, i am friends with a mother whose son has autism - a condition she fears was caused by vaccinations. on the other hand, i am friends with a mother who nearly died because, as an adult, she contracted measles. both situations very real and very frightening.
can there be any doubt that we all want what's best for our children? of course not. and, we need to understand that there are two sides to this debate. we need to work together, calling for continued long-term research; and in the meantime, we need to treat each other with respect and dignity.