When I wrote about how life-saving breastfeeding is sometimes avoided in third-world countries because of superstitions, I compared that to moms here in the U.S. and other first-world countries who avoid life-saving immunizations because they have misinformed ideas about vaccinations.
Well, the comments came thick and fast. Many were furious at me for making that comparison, but I stand by my statement. And here’s why.
In impoverished countries that don’t have access to decent health care or education, death takes babies in ways we literally can’t imagine. If you are a mother in Haiti, or the Congo, or Bangladesh, you just have to be able to deal with the death of a child -- yours or one close to you.
How many infant deaths can you think of in your close circle? One? Two? Fine. Do you know the cause of each death? Yes, in our world, most deaths are explained in scientific terms. We’re even given copious theories for SIDS deaths. Death is rarely out of nowhere for us.
What does come out of nowhere, in very similar fashion, is autism. Like infant death in Somalia, it seems to swoop out of nowhere and is on the rise. When we look for reasons, they are agonizingly slow to come. People need to do research. They need to look at all the scientific possibilities. The answer is most likely complicated, involving a web of factors. There is no easy, quick reason.
But a desperately worried mom needs answers now. We look for decisions we can make and things we can do to keep this from happening, or to blame for the fact that it happened. We need control. We need something to point at.
For moms in other parts of the world, the “proof” that their decision makes sense is that they themselves managed to survive being fed muddy well water. For moms in this part of the world, their “proof” is the fraudulent studies of a discredited doctor, heartbreaking anecdotes about kids becoming symptomatic right after their MMR shots, and cynical “experts” looking to make a quick buck off of the worry they themselves drum up.
Do I trust Big Pharma? No, I absolutely do not. I think our government needs to get a much better handle on how large corporations use us to fill their bank accounts. Do I think that this extends to a huge conspiracy that endangers our children’s lives on this grand a scale? No. No, I’m sorry, I can’t sign on to that any more than I can sign on to the idea that we never landed on the moon, or crop-circles were created by space men, or aliens are being dissected in Roswell, New Mexico.
I quizzed the crap out of my doctor before each vaccine. I chatted with other moms in the waiting room. I listened to every bit of neighborhood gossip. Anecdotally, I heard of more kids getting pervasive, scary coughs that required hospitalization than getting autism symptoms after their MMR.
There are dangers to our children’s health. Very immediate dangers. Ten kids died of whooping cough last winter in California, two of them in my pediatrician’s practice. The cause is not mysterious or confusing or possible or theoretical. It’s directly the result of people being afraid of a vaccine. You can re-tell that story any way you want -- I do understand that vaccinated kids can get whooping cough too. But my statement still stands: It would not be an issue if people hadn’t stopped vaccinating their kids in response to flawed, bad science, which amounts to superstition.
When my mom was a girl, she was not allowed to play outside on beautiful summer days because polio was galloping through her neighborhood. The 1952 polio epidemic killed more than 3,000 people and left 21,000 paralyzed, some of them requiring an iron lung (an external ventilator) to breathe. You cannot overstate how terrifying this disease was, and just like we forgot how crappy things were for women as portrayed on Mad Men, we forgot how scary things were for kids before the polio vaccine.
And that’s just one disease. An unvaccinated kid who gets rubella and comes in contact with a pregnant woman can -- and almost certainly will -- cause devastating mental retardation in her fetus. Is it worth it? Do you have that much faith in your unproven theories that you can justify costing my child a normal life?
I don’t have any faith that I’ll change minds with my post, but maybe I can reach a few people on the fence. When you’re given a “fact,” check that fact. When you’re sent a link, look for the original source for that link. If Big Pharma is willing to cynically make money, you can bet crappy little naturapath “gurus” are willing to do the same. Don’t take my word for it. Think for yourself.
Does this make you re-think vaccines?
Image via UNICEF Sveridge/Flickr