There will always be a big debate on vaccines. To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? The choice is often personal and I don't believe there is a right or wrong. Cruel things can be said from all sides when it's discussed. Some people believe you're poisoning your child if you get shots, others act as if your children carry the black plague if you don't.
People can have special situations where they really worry about diseases, and turn to vaccines to help protect their children. Then there are others whose children have special circumstances, damaged immune systems or allergies, where vaccines themselves are an incredibly dangerous threat.
The moms I spoke to came in a couple different flavors, because I really wanted to show that it's not a black or white issue, but many different shades of grey, for many different reasons. Kara, Bella, and Kristin do not vaccinate. Heather and Tara do selective vaccination.
Did you ever fully vaccinate? If so, what changed?
Kara: After doing lots of research, we decided not to vaccinate our son before he was born.
Heather: We had never planned to fully vaccinate. In the beginning, we planned to wait two years until the blood-brain barrier formed and then begin selectively vaccinating one at a time, but in that first year, we eliminated so many vaccines one at a time due to risk factors and lack of necessity after the second year that we realized we were basically not vaccinating and decided to stop all plans to vaccinate. We chose to add back two vaccines for the safety of our children's ability to procreate and if they do not contract chicken pox on their own.
Kristin: Yes. I used to fully vaccinate. My first and third daughters both had reactions to vaccinations. After my daughter lost all of her verbal communication skills we started researching what was best for our family and felt that it was the right decision for us to no longer vaccinate our children.
Bella: I vaccinated my first without many questions until he was about 8 months old. That's when I heard about the autism debate and thought I might want to hold off. Our beloved family doctor pushed me with fear and we kept going. He had a huge reaction at a year and I haven't vaccinated since.
Tara: This is my first, but I was fully vaccinated. I may have done the full schedule if it wasn't for the fact that I was a biology major and happen to stumble upon a lot of things. I'd never read a vaccination insert for example before getting my college vaccinations and I wasn't offered any explanation of side effects, efficacy or any indication that I could potentially not be immune no matter how many I got, or that blood titres could be done. That bothered me.
What do you do to help combat disease/illness in your own home?
Kara: We eat very healthy meals and practice good hygiene. My son was exclusively breastfed until he was 8-months-old and we introduced solids. At 2 years and 9 months he is still nursing. That was wonderful when he contracted H1N1 (before the vaccine was available, anyway) and would not eat or drink anything but breast milk. Nursing kept him from getting dehydrated and needing to be hospitalized. He bounced back very quickly and I attribute that to nursing, as well.
Heather: Natural hygiene somewhat. We do not sterilize our environment (no bleach except to whiten whites -- we use a bleach alternative when necessary), we have pets (cats and parrots), I don't freak out about my kids sharing germs. We avoid people who have been recently vaccinated for the recommended amount of time in the appropriate ways (ie. not changing diapers of babies who've had shots within the last two months). We don't hang around sick people and if our children are sick (which has happened very little), then we avoid play dates or any situation where they might spread their illness, based on the other parents' comfort. I also nurse full-term to provide important antibodies and protection from disease.
Kristin: Wash our hands frequently, take vitamins, eat as healthy as we can and I exclusively breastfeed the baby.
Bella: I try to feed my family healthy foods but it isn't always easy. Vitamin D is an everyday vitamin in our house and we use vitamin C when we feel like we might get sick.
Tara: As much as we can we eat well -- especially fruit. I try to buy some organic produce when I can. The baby is breastfed for all those immune boosters and antibodies. I do not try to "get rid of a fever" on the rare occasions I'm sick, and I don't take medications myself (no cough syrup or things like that). Sleep and rest is my remedy of choice. My husband is a different animal! For our 1-year-old who recently had a fever, we managed it for 24 hours with the proper dose of ibuprofen by weight to keep it at 101. I do not use antibacterials or chemicals of any kind unless you want to count vinegar and peroxide. The goal is to help the body heal itself and to not kill off the good bacteria.
Are you afraid that vaccines cause autism?
Kara: I'm afraid vaccines cause quite a few problems, but autism is fairly low on the list.
Heather: That is not a concern for us.
Kristin: I think it is a possibility that should be looked at. I am not afraid of autism but I think it can be an unfortunate side effect.
Bella: I'm not afraid of vaccines causing autism though I do believe that vaccines have increased our rates of autism. I don't believe that they alone cause it. I'm more concerned with other reactions from vaccines than just autism.
Tara: I do accept that for a select few a vaccination my trigger a problem in those who are predisposed perhaps autism and perhaps autism-like behaviors. It's not unheard of with other medications and treatments that an underlying issue was "set off". Some people can't take aspirin and some people shouldn't be vaccinated.
How do you deal with naysayers?
Kara: I ignore them. I have given up fighting with people. It accomplishes nothing. At the end of the day, I'm the one that has to live with my decisions.
Heather: Sympathetically. It's a difficult decision. I am well-educated and believe in my choice. We explain that, since ultimately, the decision was based on not believing in the effectiveness of the vaccines and feeling the risk outweighed the benefits, it makes no sense for our family to vaccinate. That does not mean I don't completely understand, respect and support making the opposite choice -- I do -- and ask simply to have my own beliefs respected in return.
Kristin: Typically I do not tell people we are not vaccinating. I don't feel it is anyone's business so I've not really encountered too many naysayers. For those on the internet I just remember how scared the thought of polio and other infectious diseases made me and try to cut them some slack. Fear is a powerful thing!
Bella: If a person strictly states that vaccines are what they choose for their family and I'm welcome to do what I choose with mine then I smile and leave it at that. However, if a person brings in misinformation then I will correct them. I do not handle well any negative speech on people's beliefs that non-vaxers are killing and endangering people.
Tara: In a pill centered culture such we are in, it can be difficult to explain that the "one size fits all" doesn't really fit all. Just because you can get "into" something doesn't mean it really fits and some people just don't fit at all. If you want to clothes to fit your unique body then you need to have them tailored. Medications (vaccinations included) are like that.
What do you think about the "herd immunity" argument?
Kara: It may be true, but MY child is MY responsibility and priority. I'm not going to make him the sacrificial lamb to preserve herd immunity. I don't feel that vaccines are safe. I'm not going to vaccinate him "for the greater good."
Heather: That's a loaded one. Honestly, I don't put much stock in it. I've read the arguments for and against and the arguments against rang truer for me. But even if I believed in it, I wouldn't risk my children's lives for a theory, particularly when I don't believe vaccines can fulfill that role in the theory. Our decreased immunity to measles is a case in point to me that in taking away our natural herd immunity, it's removed all 'herd' immunity
Do you feel vaccines have their place?
Kara: Not in my life.
Heather: Absolutely! If the unsafe substances were removed, the diseases separated and many fewer were on the schedule, we might have chosen a different road ourselves. In third world countries where the risk of disease is much higher, vaccines are a wonderful, life-saving tool.
Kristin: I do feel they can have their place but they shouldn't be taken lightly. Research and do what you feel is best for YOU!
Bella: I do not feel that vaccines have a place. I understand why people choose to use them, I did once. Vaccines do more harm than good and I do not ever plan to use them.
Tara: Absolutely. It's not the vaccinations that are the problem, its how they are marketed, distributed, and administered that I have issues with. It is unwise to scare people to either vaccinate or not. That's not good health management. We visit a farm every year and for that reason I started with DTaP. I got it for the T component mainly. Two doses only: one at 6 months and one at 9 months and that is a 90 percent chance of immunity. I followed Dr. Sears' recommendation to boost efficacy and lower reactions with vitamin C and Vitamin A. Because the pertussis part is the one that causes the reactions for the most part I refused other suggested vaccinations on the schedule. Chicken pox I will never allow until the teenage years. Contagious doesn't equal deadly and I am truly worried over eradicating a relatively benign illness ... what is going to take its niche I wonder? I have no use for the rotovirus or flu vaccinations because we are low risk and healthy.
How do you feel about the AAP's vaccination schedule?
Kara: There are too many vaccines, too soon. A lot of people say, "Well I was vaccinated and I'm fine." They don't realize that the schedule has changed since they were babies. Kids now get many more vaccines. It's not the same.
Heather: I disagree with it strongly. Even where I find vaccines potentially beneficial, I believe the schedule that the AAP uses (which is heavier on vaccines than any other country in the world) is dangerous and needs modification to better suit individual children based on their individual pediatrician's recommendation (as well as being measured by weight ratio) and to start at a later age, when they are less likely to have severe side effects.
Kristin: Too many vaccines are given at once and too early in life. If vaccinating I do not suggest following the AAP's vaccination schedule.
Bella: The AAP's vaccine schedule is ridiculous! HOW do they justify pumping the same amount of stuff into a newborn's body as they do a 200lb man's body? Even worse, before a year most babies receive over 20 different shots! Dangerous and ridiculous!
Tara: Appalling. There are too many "catch all" and the "stick them multiple times and hope" approach saves money but does little for the individual. Hep B is not on the infant schedule because they need it, they put it there (they admit) to try and catch the high risk groups that will develop in 15 - 20 years. I take issue with that. There is no consideration for where we live or health status or family history. Why, for example, would a breastfeeding baby not in day care and with little contact with other children in the risk group for HiB need 3 or 4 doses when if you get it at 15 months you only need 1 and its more effective (the vaccination insert I read says so!)? The insert also says that it isn't recommended that HiB be given with other vaccinations. How many people are told that?
I hope this not only busted some misconceptions, but also was a good example of how everyone is just trying to do not only what is best for everyone, but what is best for their child specifically, and everyone has different reasons for the way they do things.
Many issues such as car seat safety and breastfeeding can have some really cut-and-dry rules, and you may think that vaccinations do, too. But the thing is, there are always going to be exceptions, and there are always going to be people who don't fit within certain molds. There are always people who are just going to do what they want to do, period, despite information, facts or societal acceptance. Just as some women can't or don't breastfeed because of various reasons, some children can't eat peanuts because of allergies, some children do not get vaccines because their parents have decided it's not right for their family or because they have a unique reason why the risks outweigh the potential benefits.
The binding theme here is that you need to educate and choose for yourself. Don't blindly trust any doctor, organization, or other person. You need to do what feels right to you, and when you've educated yourself and found a choice you are comfortable with because you have spent a lot of time coming to that conclusion, no one should be able to make you feel guilty or angry by questioning you ... and if you find yourself offended by mere facts, consider that maybe that's a sign within you that your stance should be reconsidered.
Image via wellcome images/Flickr