Vaccines work, and you should get them all. Your children should also have them all. This, of course, assumes that you and your kids are not in the rare category of people who should not, or cannot, be vaccinated (the very old, the very young, people with leukemia and a few other cancers, certain heart problems, and sometimes severe asthma). But, assuming you’re like 99% of the population, you and your kids should get all of the vaccines recommended by your doctor.
This is my opinion, but it isn’t “just” an opinion. It’s my educated opinion, and my education in this and related areas is actually quite a bit more in-depth than that of the general public. This is an opinion where I admit – I don’t have respect for dissenting opinions.
In many areas of parenting, my opinion is that no particular choice is “right” or “wrong”. Whether or not to co-sleep, to sleep train, to breastfeed or not, when to start solid food, to wear your baby or use a stroller…I have opinions in all of these areas, and in no case do I think my opinion is “right” – it’s just right for me. I chose to sleep train my daughter, but if you think that’s the wrong choice, that’s cool. (Unless you spend an hour every week complaining to me, over coffee, that your 20-month-old doesn’t sleep through the night, and use it as an excuse to be late for meetings and unable to get to work before 9:30…but that’s another rant.)
However, on vaccinating your kids (and yourself), there IS a right answer. There is measurable, demonstrable harm done by not vaccinating your children. Vaccines prevent childhood illnesses that used to kill children by the millions. I’m not going to provide links to every “this is the evidence vaccines work” study, but if you want to start doing your own research, this is a good place to start. (And if you’re going to try to argue that the CDC is evil and deliberately trying to get us to poison our children, be prepared for me to use the kitten setting on you.)
NOT vaccinating your kids puts them at risk. Low risk, in the modern (post-vaccination) era, but, still, at risk. Ask English parents how they feel about their kids’ “low risk” of measles right now. Worse than that, though – your choice not to vaccinate your kids puts MY kids at risk. The reason vaccines are so remarkably successful (so successful that parents are willing to forego them because they’ve never seen a child with polio or the mumps) is because of a phenomenon called “herd immunity”. The short version is this: the rare person who can’t be vaccinated, or whose vaccine was ineffective, is protected from the disease by the fact that everyone else is immune to the disease. Herd immunity requires a high percentage of the population to be immune (that is, vaccinated) in order to be effective. This number is above 90% for most diseases.
So, every parent who chooses not to vaccinate their child increases the risk of the herd’s immunity breaking down. This is almost certainly what happened in England – parents who had never seen a child with measles, but who were terrified of autism, bought into the fraudulent claims of a doctor who told them the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine causes autism (it doesn’t). Enough parents stopped vaccinating their children to allow the virus back into the population, and the current outbreak is the result.
Okay, so…I know the five or so people who read my blog already vaccinate their kids. So why am I all vaccine-ranty today? Well, because I got an e-mail from another mom at my daughter’s preschool last night. It seems she deliberately didn’t vaccinate her son against chicken pox, and has been trying, instead, to expose him to the virus so he’ll catch the disease and gain immunity that way. She e-mailed to ask if anyone who doesn’t mind exposing themselves or their kids to chicken pox wants to come over for playdates this week, because they’re under quarantine for a week and can’t go out for social gatherings. She finished her message with a note that she didn’t want to discuss her choices about vaccinating her kids.
ARGH! (Pretty much sums up my reaction.) Okay, then, I’ll discuss that choice here. This mom isn’t anti-vaccination for all things – just chicken pox (and possibly the flu). I don’t know her reasons, so I’m going to address the likely reason – the one most similar people seem to use. To sum it up: “I had the chicken pox, it wasn’t that bad, and I think it’s better to let the immune system do its job than to vaccinate for harmless things.”
This argument is…just so very poor. First, vaccines MAKE your immune system “do its job”. That’s how they work. Second, chicken pox is not harmless. Yes, those of us of a certain age all had it, and we survived. Chicken pox is not typically lethal. It can, however, have serious medical complications, which are particularly risky if you’re pregnant, immune-compromised, or an adult who has never had the pox. In addition, the immune system doesn’t always do its job with regard to the virus that causes chicken pox. The body fights off the acute infection, but many people (if not everyone) carry the virus in their nerve cells for the rest of their life, and people over the age of 60 or with compromised immune systems, who have had chicken pox, are at risk for a much nastier disease (Shingles).
So…this is a wrong choice, in my opinion. Yes, we all had it. But this isn’t a fun memory – I would much rather have been vaccinated, personally. You’re putting your child at risk of complications, both now and in their future. In addition, you’re putting everyone else at risk – everyone who is an adult but didn’t have the chicken pox or the vaccine (in my day, we didn’t all actually have it – most of us did, but not all). Anyone who can’t be vaccinated. Anyone whose vaccine didn’t work for whatever reason.
As my friend Shannon says, quoting her daughter’s pediatrician, it’s tantamount to child abuse. It’s an immoral choice. That’s my opinion, and, in this case, it’s not “just” an opinion. I have charts and graphs to back me up.
(Note: I really like this woman, and respect her. She’s not a bad person – she is, in fact, a really wonderful person. But, in this one case, she’s making a choice that I find morally reprehensible…and since she doesn’t want to discuss it…well, I can’t decide whether I hope she finds her way to this blog or doesn’t.)