Way back in 1998, a mom in Tampa, Florida, named Sarah Pope "opted out" of vaccinating her first child. A decade and a half later, the author of the site The Healthy Home Economist admits that as a member of a family of doctors and nurses (both her father and brother are doctors of internal medicine, and her mother-in-law is an RN), "it took a lot" for her to reach a conclusion at odds with what she was raised to believe. Nonetheless, to this day, she says she's still "very happy" with her decision not to vaccinate all three of her children, who are now 15, 12, and 9 years old.
Sarah talked to The Stir about how she arrived at what some see as a controversial decision, what she's experienced as a result, and what she has to say to her opposition.
What led to your decision not to vaccinate?
It was a very thoughtful, conscious decision. I didn't do it out of fear. When I decided not to vaccinate, it was basic common sense. Autism wasn't really the hot button like it is now. Forget autism. It goes so far beyond that. That wasn't even on my radar. To me, if you dig into it, it's so obvious not to vaccinate. When I was pregnant, a friend of mine handed me a book about the DPT vaccine called A Shot in the Dark by Harris L. Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher. I read that book, and it gave me just enough information to go, "Wait a minute ... there's a whole other side of the story here that I'm not even exposing myself to. I need to dig in here, and I need to research further." So I went down the rabbit hole, and I was like, "Wow, there is a lot of stuff here that is not being reported, and that is not being divulged to parents in pediatricians' offices." And it concerned me.
What clinched the decision for you?
The number-one reason that I decided not to immunize back in 1998 were the ingredients in vaccines. Reading those vaccine inserts was a biggie for me. I looked at the ingredients of these shots and said, "There's no way I'm going to allow anyone to inject this cocktail of chemicals and toxins into my child's body." And to me, doctors can say whatever they want, pharmaceutical companies and the government can say whatever they want that this is going to save your child from a horrible death from a communicable disease. To me, as a mom, just looking at those ingredients, and the concept of injecting them into my child not once, not twice, but over and over again -- between birth to 11-12 years old, 68 shots in total is the current count -- is ridiculous. Here I am a mother who is interested in health. I avoid a host of chemicals and additives in the food that I prepare and feed my children and myself. Why in the world would I inject this kind of garbage into my child directly? It made absolutely no sense then, in 1998, and it still makes no sense to me. Now, there's so much more information that has come to light that has reinforced my decision over and over.
What additional information has served to reinforce your decision?
The fact that children were suffering adverse reactions from vaccines. The growing autoimmune epidemic in our children -- asthma, allergies, all manner of food intolerances, the list goes on and on. They can range from mild to very severe, up to cancer. Much of that can be attributed, in my opinion, to tricking the immune system to circumventing nature's natural building of a child's immune system by injecting vaccines into them to artificially stimulate the immune system. Now, there have been surveys done. A recent survey shows unvaccinated children are far healthier and robust than vaccinated children.
When you're asked what it would take to convince you to vaccinate your children, what do you say?
If you want to convince me to reverse my decision, give me a clinical trial. An actual, unbiased, objective study that shows vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children with thousands of subjects, and there are plenty of unvaccinated children to do this study. I want to know what the difference is. Why hasn't it been done? My answer to that is that the pharmaceutical industry and the government know that unvaccinated children are healthier, and if they actually did this study, it would obliterate their arguments for vaccination. It would be an open and shut case not to vaccinate.
What do you say to people who don't agree with your decision, who might say you aren't "listening to science" or who are afraid your kids may be putting others at risk?
I've never had an argument over vaccination. I respect people's decision to vaccinate. That's their parental decision. I respect that. I expect the same in return. I've never had anyone decline a playdate or somehow ostracize my children for not being vaccinated. People, at least in my community, respect parents' right to make the medical decisions that they see fit for their children. On my blog, I've been called out for being "anti-science," and that is just a ridiculous, hollow argument, because those of us who have chosen not to vaccinate, by and large, have dug into the science more than anyone. We're the ones actually asking the questions.
What do you say in regard to the belief that parents who aren't vaccinating their kids are contributing to recent outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough and mumps?
My children all had whooping cough seven years ago, which, by the way, they caught from a vaccinated child. The failure rate of these vaccines is something that's not being discussed. For example, there's an outbreak of mumps in Ohio, and nowhere that I've seen has it been reported that Merck, which makes the mumps vaccine, is actually in court with two class-action lawsuits -- one of them being brought by one of their own scientists saying that Merck has falsified the data concerning the effectiveness of the mumps vaccine. And they've also fudged the testing. The mumps vaccine is not very effective at all, and yet, the very small percentage of people who choose not to vaccinate are being blamed for this outbreak instead of a company that is lying, continuing to make a profit on a product that is substandard.
What do you say to people who argue that only herd immunity can keep communicable diseases at bay?
With regard to the herd immunity thing -- the holy grail of the vaccine proponents -- my choice to not vaccinate my children is going to harm vaccinated children? That is the most ridiculous, misinformed, non-scientific, non-researched argument I've ever come across. Those are the parents who are only listening to their doctors. They're only reading the CDC glossy brochures on vaccines. They're not getting information from anywhere else. Because if they did, they would know that herd immunity doesn't apply to vaccine-induced immunity. If you think about it, vaccine-induced immunity lasts 2-5 years, at the most 10 years. That's why they're wanting people to get boosters all the time. Why is that? Because anyone who is an early Generation X-er or a Baby Boomer, we don't have any vaccinate-induced immunity anymore. So, we've got more than half to the population walking around with no vaccine-induced immunity to measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, diphtheria, none of it, and yet, they're blaming the 1 percent of people who don't vaccinate their children? It makes no sense. There is no herd immunity. There hasn't been any vaccine-induced herd immunity for three or four decades. That argument makes no logical sense. It's an emotional-based argument based on hysteria. It's a game that the pharmaceutical company is playing to pit parent against parent in order to peer pressure those of us who choose not to vaccinate. And it's just not going to work. The bullying tactic isn't going to work.
What do you recommend to other parents who are "on the fence" about whether or not to vaccinate?
I think people need to look at it and not just swallow whatever their doctor says or what their friends say. Just because you're in a play group where a lot of the gals don't vaccinate, that's not a good reason not to do it either. You need to investigate it and come to a personal decision.
Does this help you understand the anti-vaccination perspective more?
Image via Sarah Pope