Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stop Being a Jerk About Vaccinations

So, I’m going to write about vaccinating your kids . . . and not vaccinating your kids. I’m not going to try to convince you to do one or the other. I am, however, going to ask you to dial down the snark when you come across a parent who chooses not to vaccinate their kids.

My kids are 12, 10 and 4 years old. When the oldest two were babies, I never once questioned whether or not they should receive vaccinations. Everyone got them and I didn’t know anyone who hadn’t – I didn’t even know that there were people who chose to opt out of vaccinating their kids, or that there were laws to allow parents to do so. It was a non-issue for me.

During the years my two kids were very young, I gained a huge interest in a “natural living” lifestyle, a non-traditional lifestyle. I read about and became friends with people who farmed in the city, made their own clothes, homeschooled their kids, made all their food from scratch. I also began learning a lot more about pregnancy and childbirth, and all the politics and issues surrounding natural birthing methods vs. managed, medicated births. If I’d had my way, we’d have moved to a farm where I could live out my “back to the land” fantasies and my kids could roam the outdoors and become BFFs with the wildlife.

At the same time, I was learning more about Autism, including the belief of some that certain vaccines are likely to cause Autism. In addition to everything I was reading online and the people I saw in the media, I knew someone whose son is on the Autism spectrum, and she believes his Autism is linked to his vaccinations. She’s no hippie – in fact she was a successful mental health professional with a very traditional lifestyle.

When I became pregnant with our third kid, I became determined that I would not repeat some of the mistakes I’d made with my pregnancies and births and early parenting, with my older two kids. Now, I didn’t have any major mistakes I was grieving over, but I felt that maybe I’d dodged a bullet on certain things. Like vaccinations & Autism. So I began looking more into the Autism/vaccination connection and read some really compelling stuff. What impacted me even more than the possibility of vaccines leading to Autism was how vaccinations had increased so dramatically over the years. Kids today get A LOT of shots, y’all.

So Ashley + natural living + having another baby + current events = ASHLEY IS SCARED LIKE WHOA OF VACCINES.

When our son was born and due for his first round of shots, I expressed my concerns to his Dr., who talked to me like I was an idiot. I’m sure he gets tired of explaining his point of view to freaked out parents, but guess what? That’s his job! I was told that he would no longer keep my son as a patient if I didn’t let him get vaccines. At this point, I hadn’t even said to him that I refused to do it – I’d told him about what I’d been learning, and that I was scared. 

We compromised – our son would get his vaccinations, but he would receive a certain one (the one that is rumored to be the Autism culprit) later than the CDC schedule recommends and he would only receive vaccines that were free of mercury or Thimerosal (which contains mercy). The mercury/Thimerosal thing wasn’t an issue because most vaccine manufacturers had begun removing these preservatives anyway because of the possible links to bad reactions/side effects. This was required by the CDC.

At a later date, when I was at the Dr’s office for my baby son’s checkup and shots, the nurse was telling me about the vaccines he’d be getting that day and mentioned one I wasn’t familiar with. I asked what it was, and she again repeated the name. I asked again and she then explained that it was a “super booster” which combined five different vaccines into one shot. Combining vaccinations into one shot isn’t new to vaccines, but this specific combination was new to me, though I was familiar with the vaccines, in their individual form. I asked why they’d been combined, and was told that it was recommended by the CDC.

So reader, I have a question – if something is recommended by the CDC, the people who make the final call on what vaccines are important for our society – would you assume that the CDC recommended something that was medically necessary? I did.

I asked why it was recommended (and mind you, I wasn’t being a jerk about it – I was curious and wanted to be informed) and the nurse sighed and went to get the Dr. The Dr. told me that the CDC sets the vaccination schedule (i.e. your baby gets the MMR shot at XX months old, your baby gets the chicken pox shot a XX years old, etc) to coincide with well-child visits (when you’re supposed to take your kid to the Dr. whether they’re sick or not, to see how they’re doing developmentally) so that kids would actually get their shots. If parents have to make a different appointment just to bring their kid in for shots, the appointment often doesn’t get made or is skipped, and the kid gets behind on their shots. So the CDC schedule is more about making sure the kids GET the shots, than the medical necessity of having shots on a certain timeline.

I.E. there was NO medical necessity for my baby to have a shot that combined 5 different vaccines into one. I don’t know how long that particular combination had been manufactured, but it wasn’t around 6 years before when I’d had my last baby – so at most, there was 6 years of research tracking how this type of super booster impacted the health of children who received it.

I didn’t like that and I didn’t like that I had to ask and ask and be treated like I was an annoyance to get this information. So I asked if it was possible for my kid to get those shots individually the way my older kids had. Again with the sighing and tone of annoyance – but yes, they could do it, I’d just need to schedule extra appointments and they’d have to postpone the first shot because they now only carried the super booster and didn’t have the individual shots any more, they’d have to order them.

Since then, this has pretty much not been an issue. My kid gets his shots, he doesn’t have Autism, and I’ve followed along as the debate continues to rage between the Vaccines-Cause-Autism/No-It-Doesn’t camps. I thought of this all again because recently on Twitter, a friend tweeted about asking her kid’s pediatrician whether a vaccine contained mercury, and the Dr. said he had no idea and didn’t know how to tell. And then when they figured out, it turned out the vaccine did have mercury!

Now, consider the history of medicine and pharmaceuticals, in the U.S. alone. Have we not  - over and over – learned of things that the medical community thought were not only safe, but good for you, that turned out to be horribly unsafe and bad for you? To the tune of birth defects, genetic mutation, irreversible damage and death? This stuff is still happening today – a new drug comes out on the market and it either takes a while for it to be fine-tuned (even after approval from the FDA) or it is later recalled for dangerous side effects? Have we not seen examples of the healthcare industry making decisions that were bad for people but good for profits? Have we not seen people try to hide the damage they’ve done because it will cost them everything if they were discovered?

Medicine and our modern healthcare industry has done amazing things to better the lives of people around the world. They get SO much right. But who can argue that they never get it wrong? Within the last 100 years we thought the answer to mental illness was lobotomy. We put pregnant women into twilight sleep to give birth. We have seen the rise of pharmaceutical companies and the massive amount of wealth they generate. Doctors used to tell heart attack patients to use margerine, it was supposed to be healthier for them than butter. This was only 20 years ago, folks! So knowing all of that, why is it so outlandish that parents might be concerned with the increase in vaccines, and possible links between vaccines and other illnesses?

As I said in the beginning, I am not trying to make an argument that one should or should not vaccinate their kids. I do wish, though, that when people hear of someone who isn’t vaccinating their kids, they will have more compassion. I know a lot of people who don’t vaccinate their kids and they aren’t stupid, or uninformed. They aren’t careless (including with the health of others), they aren’t narrow-minded and unable to consider opinions outside of their worldview. I’ll tell you the truth – most parents I know do vaccinate their kids and most of them don’t give it a second thought and haven’t done a MINUTE of research into what’s being pumped into their kids. Those I know who don’t vaccinate – without exception -  researched the hell out of all of this stuff before they made the decision. Yet they’re treated – without having been asked about their personal circumstances – as the irresponsible ones. I don’t think that’s fair.

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