When I urged people to comment about their own experiences/outlooks on vaccinating their kids, I expected I might get some drama in the comments. That didn't happen, and I can only conclude that my readers are people of class, style, and integrity, a rare breed who effortlessly respects other parents' child-rearing decisions. Obviously, I have the awesomest readers on the internet. You guys rock.
What I *didn't* expect is that I would actually learn something. I kind of didn't mean to, actually. Reluctantly-learned lessons are the hardest. (My last reluctantly-learned lesson was on Christmas Day, when I watched this documentary that Chris bought me. Boo.)
Before I get into the meat of the post, I'd like to point out two links left by my (classy, respectful, knowledgeable) readers.
How Anti-Vaccination Hysteria is About Sex, Accidentally Helping Big Pharma - Anything But Science
Right. So, before Gwen was even born, I did some research about vaccinations. I went into it with my own biases and shortcomings - for one thing, I'm terrible at research. I have two very specific impressions of my time on this task, and I am now struggling to be as fair and respectful as my readers as I share them with you.
First, I found a parent-run site dedicated to the dangers of the MMR vaccine and claiming that it made their children autistic. It was everything you'd expect: heavy on rhetoric and personal anecdotes, light on facts, statistics, and hard data. Parents would submit their "stories" - often just a few sentences - that all amounted to the same thing: my child was healthy, happy, and intelligent; s/he got the MMR vaccine; s/he is now diagnosed autistic. After wading through a few pages of this, the impression I got was that these parents were desperate for someone to blame. I can understand that - I'd be doing the same thing, if it were my child.
Next, I found an article written by a pediatrician, using correctly-spelled words and proper grammar and even a convincing argument. He used the same concept Dooce mentioned, herd immunity, and argued that the reason we don't see polio anymore is because our health care providers mounted such an effective vaccination campaign against it. He pointed out that due to the MMR scare, some countries saw a significant dip in vaccination rates, but no corresponding drop in the autism rates.
That was enough for me - I was convinced. Herd immunity made sense to me, and I soon learned, as suspected, that the MMR hysteria was media-fuelled frenzy based on a hoax. However, I then drew a bad conclusion. Like those who assume every Christian is like this or this or this, I assumed every anti-vaccination parent was a crazy hippie who took our advanced health system for granted. From her birth until today, Gwen has had every vaccination the health system recommends, on the schedule they recommend.
Then I asked you for your opinions, and the can of worms was opened. I was mildly surprised to see my friend Jen - a nurse - comment that "We are choosing to vaccinate for everything except chickenpox," and state that she had not taken that decision lightly. (I guess I'd assumed that any mainstream health professional would be toeing the line as far as vaccinations were concerned.) In reading her comment about the research she'd done, I realized that I had not come close to educating myself adequately about the issue. As she wrote about the vaccination schedule, I realized I didn't even know what vaccinations Gwen had already had, or which ones might be considered controversial or dangerous. Shame on me.
Then today, I had some spare time and followed the link that Rhea posted to Ian's Voice. I was shocked and appalled at what this family experienced, and was soon brought to tears: both in sadness for their loss, and in shame for myself at not learning about this earlier. I dug out Gwen's immunization record and learned that she has, in fact, had the Hepatitis B shot, an allergic reaction to which caused Ian's death at only 47 days old. I thank God that Gwen has had no adverse reactions to any of her shots.
Clearly, I have more learning to do, but I think it's likely that I'll continue to vaccinate Gwen. She's already had one of the dangerous ones and done fine (thank God thank God thank God) and at this point I see no compelling reason to stop now. I feel guilty that I didn't learn more about this ahead of time, but what's past is past. The MMR is next on the docket, and I don't buy into the autism business for a second, so I have no issues with that. I guess after that I have six months to research the next group of shots and reassure myself that they're alright too.
Whatever your personal stance, it seems clear to me that the vaccination schedule and/or ingredients could be improved. As Jen asks,"Has anyone ever questioned the Canadian government about why they encourage all pregnant women to get the Flu Shot (that contains mercury/Thimerosal) yet we're sternly warned not to eat tuna because of its mercury content?" Doubtless there is an advocacy group out there doing just that, and pressuring the government to do something about it. In the meantime, we all just keep doing the best we can for our kids, swimming the seas of mis/information and trying to stay afloat. Best of luck to all of you, my wonderful and respectful readers.