Friday, April 18, 2014

How a Rational, Educated, non-celebrity Chose Not to Vaccinate

There’s been a lot of vitriol aimed at the “anti-vaxxers” lately, blaming non-vaccinators for recent outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and whatever else rears its head. Some people have written posts calling parents who choose not to vaccinate “ignorant” and “selfish.”
Well, I am here to defend these parents, and I am not afraid to state right up front that I am one. It’s been nearly 25 years since I made this decision for my babies, but I think time gives me a substantial level of objectivity, since I’m no longer personally insulted by the hatred, nor am I afraid that people will think I’m some sort of bad mother—my children have all turned out to be very healthy, intelligent, and worthy human beings who have yet to spread anything worse than a cold.
I realize that people don’t like their long-held beliefs challenged, and this certainly applies to vaccinations. It is far easier to simply yell louder that vaccines are essential than it is to actually do the research. But look at all the ways the medical community has changed its mind about tests and treatments it once considered perfectly safe. Overuse of antiobiotics led to the rise of super bacteria that are resistant to the available antibiotics. Another example: for decades now, they’ve been telling women they must have mammograms. Now, science is starting to realize that this strategy has resulted in many women being treated unnecessarily, as well as other women feeling reassured when fast-growing cancers that would kill them in a few months were not detected by a mammogram.
I did not make the choice not to vaccinate my children lightly, by any means. I did not simply decry it as a government conspiracy or a medical waste of time. I initially thought like a lot of you, that vaccines were the way to go, so I wasn’t on board right away. A couple of acquaintances suggested I check out the information on both sides of the issue—a strategy that has served me well throughout parenthood.
So I researched. I read dozens of books. I looked at questions that had been asked about vaccines that the medical community did not have answers to. If I had found satisfactory answers to my questions, I might have chosen to vaccinate. But I did not. The research on long-term side effects of vaccines just did not exist. The research on short-term effects was not very convincing, either.
I probably read more about vaccines—both pro and con—than the average pediatrician/MD. I know that the medical practitioner is often influenced by several factors, such as the pharma reps who visit their offices regularly, not to mention the reluctance to buck the system. I read books by several physicians who had bucked the system, and they were basically shunned by the medical community, even though they had been previously well-respected.
At this point, if you’re reading this, I urge you to read extensively on both sides of the issue, and please avoid rash judgments on the intelligence and parental responsibility of the person who chooses not to vaccinate. If you want to have a respectful discussion of the actual science (or non-science, as the case may be), I welcome that, but unless you have read extensively on both sides of the issue, it can’t be a true discussion.
I made the decision not to vaccinate because the evidence in favor of it did not seem complete enough to me. One common reason given to me in favor of vaccines was the obvious “fact” that many diseases had been eradicated because of immunizations. Nothing proves this, however. In most of Europe, there was never a mandated immunization program as there was in the U.S., and they experienced the same decline in diseases at the same time. What I learned was that the incidence of most contagious diseases ebbs and flows. So, simply the correlation of mass immunizations in the U.S. and the decrease in diseases does not prove causality. I could just as easily correlate vaccinations with increases in childhood obesity, auto immune diseases, cancers, ADHD, depression, etc. (I believe this type of correlation is what makes some people claim that immunizations cause autism. I don’t buy that. I know non-vaccinated children with autism.) If vaccines truly worked the way we are told they do, then no one would feel threatened by my unvaccinated family, because supposedly you are immune to the disease and therefore cannot get it. In addition, if the disease can be carried by people who aren’t immune, then it can be carried by both the unvaccinated and the vaccinated, since obviously there are some who have been vaccinated who are not fully immune.
In addition, I learned that there are numerous ways to increase the strength and effectiveness of an immune system. An MD won’t tell you about these, because big pharma doesn’t knock on their doors once a week promoting it. (I realize my bias is showing.) Many of these methods are hundreds of years old and easily achieved.
The first and easiest way to promote a baby’s immune system is by breastfeeding. I will not go into much depth here, because there is a ton of information to back this up. In fact, the evidence supporting a myriad of breastfeeding’s benefits is overwhelming. Even the medical community (which, incidentally, was not always so pro-breastfeeding) now recommends breastfeeding as the best form of infant nutrition. Among all the many benefits is the mother’s antibodies are passed to the baby through her milk, which is the perfect way to help the baby fight diseases specific to the environment where the mother lives.
Giving mass doses of vaccines at the vulnerable age of infancy can put more stress on the immature immune system. Which is why some parents take a middle road approach of delaying vaccines until the baby is older, and then spacing out the vaccines instead of administering them all at once. There is some reason to believe this might be a good compromise. This way, if there is a reaction, it is clear which vaccine was at fault. People often cite the bad side effects of the diseases in question. I have seen first-hand equally devastating effects after vaccines.
But most of the information I read indicated it was best to avoid all vaccines until children were much older.
Some other ways to promote the health of the immune system are things you read about a lot these days. Herbs and vitamins are useful. Less processed food, low sugar intake, and the like help. Good gut bacteria (which is supported by breastfeeding).
Also low intake of antibiotics. My children rarely received antibiotics. And they really didn’t need to—because they had really strong immune systems that had been allowed to develop at a natural pace through breastfeeding, healthy food, and by fighting off diseases with a supported immune system. Interestingly, it was once considered a no-brainer to just pump kids with antibiotics “just in case,” and we now realize that this causes resistance to antibiotics as the formation of super-bacteria. What will a couple of decades teach us about the long-term problems with vaccines?
Let me address just a couple of diseases specifically. Let’s talk whooping cough, as this is one of the illnesses that always gets the pro-vaxxers up in arms. The fact of the matter is that whooping cough vaccine is one of the least effective vaccines given to kids, so the fact that lots of incidents crop up should come as no surprise, and should not be blamed on the kids who aren’t vaccinated.
Right now, it seems measles is a big issue in New York City and more recently in LA. According to what I’ve seen in news reports, many of those who are getting sick have been vaccinated. Again, if the vaccine worked, they wouldn’t be getting sick.
I am not entirely against vaccines. When people are older and the vaccine serves a specific need, then I see some good reasons to administer them. Foreign travel, for example. Our bodies are not used to the viruses, bacteria, and illnesses of unfamiliar parts of the world, so an older teen or adult being vaccinated prior to travel seems prudent. Exposure is perhaps another reason. If you work in a hospital, which is rampant with all kinds of nasty stuff, it might be wise to be vaccinated. But this is when our immune systems are much more developed and able to handle a big influx of vaccines.
For some people, the risks of living are scary, and that includes the risk of childhood diseases. A generation ago, before vaccinations were the norm, these same childhood diseases were the norm, and nobody thought twice about the possibility of getting measles, for example. In fact, you were the strange one if you hadn’t had the disease. A couple of things I learned through my research were that these illnesses are normal childhood illnesses that are less dangerous in young children than they are in older children or adults. I can attest to this from personal experience. I never had chicken pox as a child, so I got it at age 30 when my children had it. I was extremely sick, dangerously so. My children were hardly even uncomfortable. The other thing to note is that having a disease like measles confers lifelong immunity, a much better risk avoidance technique than an unsure roll of the dice with vaccines. Because people frequently forget to have boosters, there are more incidents of these illnesses in young adults, which can have even worse side effects than having the illness as a kid.
I do not judge those who choose to vaccinate. There are reasons in favor of it, and I know that every parent makes the best choices we can at any given time. But as I said before, I have read more on both sides of the issue than probably most parents, doctors, and the general populace. I made my decision based on information and rational thought. So please refrain from calling me ignorant or selfish. I made the best choice for my children—not selfish, just what any parent would do.