I may be considered crunchy when it comes to some of my parenting choices (practicing extended breastfeeding, advocating for natural childbirth choices, preferring to read Mothering over mainstream parenting mags, etc.), but my crunchiness begins to crumble when it comes to vaccines for my children.
I’ve been reluctant to broach this topic for myriad reasons. First, I have friends and family members who read this blog (and I read their blogs) who have chosen to not vaccine their children. I don’t want to alienate anyone. I’ve always hoped this blog will serve to bring people – especially moms – together, not divide them. Finally, I also have friends who struggle every day with an autistic child and can never begin to silence the “what ifs” or “whys” that constantly rifle through their mind. They want answers. I would, too.
Yet, my feet are planted firmly on the side of science in the vaccine debate. Just recently I’ve been reading even more about the potential dangers of vaccines as my husband and I faced the decision of whether or not to vaccinate our girls against the swine flu (we chose to get the vaccine for all three girls). In the past, I’ve seen the research on vaccines and the incidence of autism, and none of the data suggests a causal link between vaccinations and the neural disorder, although mainstream media would have you believe otherwise (they’ve got to keep you panicking about something).
I’ve listened patiently to my husband’s arguments (remember I’m married to a doctor) that pseudo science does what science refuses to do: It makes fallacious jumps from a “toxic” trigger (AKA vaccines) to a disease with no known cause or cure (autism) in order to provide balm to a confused, hurting parent with a sick child. Science says, “There is not enough evidence to show that vaccines cause autism.” As a mom, I can see how to a concerned parent that statement is not all that comforting.
Pseudo science says, “There isn’t enough evidence to show vaccines don’t cause autism; therefore, they must be to blame.”
But to use the old Leprechaun theory: Just because you can’t prove Leprechauns don’t exist doesn’t mean they do.
The burden of proof lies in the hands of science, which won’t – despite the fact that study after study shows the currently recommended vaccines are safe and effective – conclude, “There is NO evidence that vaccines cause autism.” It’s unfortunately virtually impossible to prove a negative claim such as this.
I wince every time my babies have to endure the prick of a shot. I know, too, that there are risks to vaccines. In fact, very few – if any – medical interventions come without any risk. It’s up to doctors and their patients to determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Modern medicine, which I’m not claiming is always an exact science, helps us make this sometimes difficult decision. In the case of vaccines, the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the risks (adverse reactions are very, very rare). (I’d present a much different position when it comes to certain medical interventions during pregnancy and labor, but that’s another post for another
day blogging lifetime.)
My husband recently encouraged me to read an article on the topic of vaccines from the November issue of WIRED. Whatever your stance on vaccinations, I highly encourage you to read the entire article; however, the following quote from “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All” by Amy Wallace really jumped out at me because it shoots straight in to the heart of the debate:
“Offit [a pediatrician and coinventor of the rotavirus vaccine], like everyone else, will do anything to protect his children. And he wants Americans to be fully educated about risk and not hoodwinked into thinking that dropping vaccines keeps their children safe. ‘The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk,’ he says. ‘It’s just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, ‘Here’s what that different risk looks like.’ Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die.’”
Put simply, Vaccines don’t ruin lives; they save them. Without widespread vaccinations, some pretty hideous diseases could make a comeback.
Still, despite what science tells me, I admit that in the past I’ve been tempted to demonize vaccines and see them as not being worth the risk. Why? Because autism has a face. Because I personally know of children who have autism. You may, too.
However, I don’t know any kids with the measles or the mumps (thanks to vaccines). I don’t know of a child who has died of the rotavirus. You probably don’t either. But Dr. Offit has. Wallace’s article shares how he watched a young girl die of dehydration caused from the infection during his medical training, and the experience fueled his desire to develop a rotavirus vaccine.
Truth is, it’s easy to start seeing the very diseases the widely recommended immunizations are administered to protect against as being no more real than the Boogedy Man. Yet, everywhere we turn and with a quick click of the mouse, we’re put face-to-face with autism. Not surprisingly, the disorder seems much scarier and real than some “abstract” disease that no outspoken, pretty celebrity is writing books about or going on Oprah to discuss.
Autism has a face – a scary one. Diseases like measles are faceless in this country – for now. But that could change (and is starting to change in some areas) if we don’t start showing parents what we could be up against if we stop vaccinating our children. While I don’t doubt for a second that parents who choose not to vaccinate are doing so out of a great love for their children, this love as well as the fear of autism is hurting the very children we want to protect.
Still not convinced? Consider these words from Dr. Offit in the same WIRED article:
“I used to say that the tide would turn when children started to die. Well, children have started to die,” Offit says, frowning as he ticks off recent fatal cases of meningitis in unvaccinated children in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. “So now I’ve changed it to ‘when enough children start to die.’ Because obviously, we’re not there yet.”
I realize I’m opening up a can of worms here, but the anti-vaccine movement is opening something much worse: The return of potentially-deadly diseases. All this said, I do welcome your thoughts on the topic. Just please no personal attacks, and keep your comments respectful.