Vaccines: Peer Pressure, Propaganda, or Prudence?

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

source: DFID

Do you vaccinate your kids?

If you choose to opt out, you are probably made to feel guilty every time you turn around.

My three children, ages 6, 3, and 2 mos., are a hodgepodge of partial vaccination schedules, opt outs, and lots of questions.

The Pressure to Vaccinate

When I was in the pediatrician’s office with my 5-day-old son, unstable with cascading postpartum hormones, an advertisement drew me in.

The large, eye-catching text said something like “You Don’t Want to Go Through…” but it may as well have been screaming, “Good Parents Get Lots of Shots!”

My emotions flamed as I wandered closer to examine the propaganda.

The flyer described a family’s loss of their 5-week-old daughter to pertussis. Babies cannot be vaccinated for pertussis until 12 weeks, so the goal of the image and accompanying story was to promote adult boosters for pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

The heart-wrenching story was about this family, and I have to say, it did pull at my heart. But I was still angry about the high pressure I felt to vaccinate and the “all or nothing” mentality I sensed.

Instead of being touched or saddened about the death of a child, I wondered who paid for the ad. I felt aggressively reactive to the phrasing, as if I was being personally attacked.

But Who’s Right?

The only way I am justified for my reaction is if I’m right, that vaccinations come with risks and ought to be approached with great caution. That would mean the grieving parents trying to make a difference for other babies are wrong, since they’re promoting vaccinations for everyone, from babies to the elderly and all ages in between.

Sometimes I get so entrenched in “being green” and having to push (hard!) against the culture to achieve what I think is the best for my family that I forget about the journey, the decision-making process, and the fact that nothing is black and white.

I might not be right all the time.

Sometimes, I can just be confused. (Although that won’t help when the next round of scheduled vaccinations comes.)

The Pendulum Shifts

source: futureatlas.com

It’s said that the great benefit of vaccines is that when everyone is getting them, the disease is more or less eradicated. Or at least it feels that way.

When there are precious few skipping the vaccine, they benefit from “herd immunity,” the idea that an unvaccinated child will not get a certain disease because there’s no one to pass it on to him/her.

In recent years, as the numbers of unvaccinated or less protected children has risen to 13%, there have been outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough and measles. In the case of whooping cough, those most at risk are the newborns whose parents haven’t even made the decision for shots or no shots.

Kids who weren’t fully vaccinated twenty years ago were still relatively safe from disease because they could ride on the coattails of the largely vaccinated population. Now our children cannot.

Is that any reason to vaccinate? Is there a social responsibility to keep everyone safe by vaccinating everyone?

The Many Faces of the Vaccine Issue

We’ve probably all heard about the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, and how that ended up being fabricated research that has been stoutly nullified by the medical community.

However, the stories of parents who watch their children slip from the rambunctious joy of toddlerdom into an autistic shell cannot be erased. Our hearts have been touched by celebrities and average American parents alike who are convinced their children’s autism was caused by vaccines.

Now the other side is gaining voice: the parents who have lost children to diseases for which there are vaccines in place. (If you choose not to vaccinate, make sure you can read that page of stories and stomach it…)

Nothing is Easy

“The days when people obeyed doctors’ orders without question are over,” says Barbara Loe Fisher, co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center in Vienna, Va.

We’re stuck with this overload of knowledge, no longer able to blindly follow a checklist put forth by the government or the American Academy of Pediatrics without wondering if they might be wrong.

How do we balance the chiropractors who are spreading the “you don’t have to vaccinate” news with the pediatricians who won’t treat kids who aren’t vaccinated with the fact that some doctors receive bonuses if all their patients are vaccinated?

I wish I knew the answer, because my children’s health depends on it one way or the other.

What’s your response to the vaccination question? Is it something you’ve looked into?

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.