Last week, we took…

Last week, we took Kavya to the doctor's for her four month well baby visit and next set of vaccinations. (Very nice and competent new doctor, btw -- Dr. Christina Vo of East Bay Pediatrics in Berkeley -- recommended! We need to find one we like better than our old pediatrician when we get back to Chicago, so if you have recommendations in the city, please send them along!) The poor munchkin had three shots scheduled, as well as an oral vaccine, and despite a bit of howling, handled them quite well. We had given her Tylenol beforehand, and so she didn't get a fever (like she did at her two month vaccinations, when we had forgotten the Tylenol, despite my doctor sister's recommendation). She was a little sleepy the rest of the day, but essentially fine by the next morning.

But here's the problem. I don't understand why some people are against vaccination. The supposed 'link to autism' is a myth. I realize Wikipedia is not necessarily a reliable font of all knowledge, but what they have to say on the topic agrees with all the other research I've done, and presents it in a nicely compact form. This is what they say about vaccination:

Early success and compulsion brought widespread acceptance and mass vaccination campaigns were undertaken which have greatly reduced the incidence of many diseases in many areas. The eradication of smallpox, which was last seen in a natural case in 1977, is considered the most spectacular success of vaccination. Currently some people assert that childhood vaccination causes some autoimmune disease and autism. Scientific studies have not demonstrated a link, however, the assertion found space in a United States House of Representatives report in 2003 which included the suggestion that mercury derivatives in vaccines might have been a cause of autism.[5]
Listen, I'm not a scientist. I got C's in my science classes in college, and that was on a good day. But one thing college did teach me was to trust the scientific method -- it's the only reliable way we have to figure out how the world works, and for the most part, it's tremendously effective. Sure, there are problems with it, especially when researchers go in with a set of biases and don't even know what their biases are (remind me to tell you sometime about the early research that 'proved' that men were smarter than women -- the researchers were comparing skull sizes to get that result, but they didn't realize that they were unconsciously choosing the biggest male skulls and comparing them to the smallest female skulls -- because that matched their preconceived ideas about what the 'ideal' masculine and feminine looked like...). But most of the time, especially today, researchers work really hard to set up their studies well, without bias, putting good data in, so they can get reliable truth out. I trust the scientific method -- and you can trust it too. It just works.

So given that study after study after study has found no link between between vaccines and autism, I don't understand why I keep hearing parents talking about not vaccinating their kids. I'm guessing some of them are misinformed -- they heard about that one mercury report Wikipedia mentions and just don't know about the rest. Or they've read bad books, not realizing how weak the books' arguments were. (Someone loaned me one when I was pregnant that sounded convincing at first (the Romm book, I think), but just didn't have any actual data to back its arguments up.) But I know that other parents have honestly tried to do a lot of research -- some of them even understand that vaccination works -- and they still don't want to vaccinate their kids. And I don't understand where their reluctance is coming from, even though I've read the whole Wikipedia article on the vaccination controversy. I just don't get why there's a real controversy at all. Help?

Because here's the thing. Vaccination is a joint endeavor. It works when everyone participates -- that's how we eradicated smallpox, and why we're close to eradicating polio and measles. But it does far less good for me to vaccinate my kid (and have her take the tiny but existing risk that the vaccine will give her the disease) if others don't vaccinate their kids. Every person who doesn't vaccinate puts more of the burden on those of us who do -- we take the burden up to protect our children and yours.

If I think about that too long, especially when I'm sitting in a chilly doctor's office with my little baby girl in her diaper, waiting for those sharp needles, I can get pretty angry. For every parent whose child isn't vaccinated, my daughter's suffering becomes less useful -- it's worth a little less. So tell me -- why are you doing this to my baby?

14 thoughts on “Last week, we took…”

  1. It’s in the queue at Chicago Moms. 🙂

    And yes, I can’t believe how big she is already. It’s bewildering. When she sleeps on me, she feels like a little girl, not a baby anymore. So strange…

  2. I’m a little confused about one thing: Why does it affect your child’s health if some other child doesn’t get vaccinated? As long as your child has the vaccine, they should be safe, right? (I’m definitely in favor of vaccination, but it seems like other people’s foolish choices are only hurting their own children. Which is bad enough, but is perhaps less bad than if they’re also hurting my children!)

  3. The immunity you get from vaccination wears off after a while. There’s been a real problem with pertussis (whooping cough) outbreaks in some parts of the country, specifically, because the pertussis immunity wears off by the late teens or early adult years. We vaccinate kids against pertussis because it’s most deadly for babies, but also because it reduces the likelihood of the disease spreading through the population overall. (Adults are supposed to get booster shots, but most don’t know or don’t bother.)

  4. Not everyone is reasonable or rational, especially after they learn about a really horrible condition that seems to come about, in some kids, as a direct result of vaccinations. All the scientific studies in the world don’t help parents who watch their young baby go backward in development into a very scary place. As someone who seems to have had her moments of panic and irrationality over the health of your baby, I would think you would understand this.

    I think you should tone down your rhetoric after reading blogs like Leelo’s mother’s. If you were in her position you might feel quite differently.

    Did it ever occur to you some people do not trust doctors? It might not since you have 2 doctor sisters and a father who is one. I have a sister who is a doctor and several relatives and they have their incredible blind spots too.

    I’m sorry to be so harsh about this, but I think you are wrong…your baby’s suffering over a shot has really nothing to do with this. I should also say I am TOTALLY pro-vaccination.

    perhaps I should have waiting until it showed up on the other blog but I think you are being very unsympathetic.

  5. Jen, it’s already posted in the other blog, and there are a lot of good comments to the post there, which I think do a good job of explaining the situation on both sides.

    I’m sorry if the conversation or my tone upsets people — but at the same time, I think the anti-vaccinationists’ actions are risking not only their own childrens’ lives, but the lives of my child and all other children (not to mention adults). So even at the risk of upsetting people, I think I need to be clear, and urgent. That may come across as a little harsh, I’m afraid.

    I do, of course, understand that it’s a difficult and emotional subject, and my original post was phrased the way it was in part to stimulate discussion, because I think this is an incredibly important subject to discuss widely. I think you’ll see that if you read my follow-up comments on the other blog. I hope so, at any rate.

  6. Also, I’m afraid I don’t know whose blog you’re referencing? Leelo’s mother? Please feel free to provide a link here…

  7. I do understand the parameters of the discussion. And I did notice its posted on the other blog. Sorry to take up more space here.

    Leelo’s mother is one of many blogs by mothers of autistic children that are yes, blogs, but may give some window in to why people are “doing this to your baby” as you say. It has nothing to do with you or your baby.

    http://shroomhead.blogspot.com/

  8. Jen, I realize they’re not *trying* to do anything to me or my daughter — but that’s the problem. I suspect a lot of them don’t realize that their actions are likely to hurt other children and adults, greatly raising the chances that those other people (including ones previously vaccinated) will catch life-threatening diseases.

    Many of these parents think they’re just making decisions that affect their own kids, but that’s just not the case. (Susan explains part of why in the comment #4 above). That’s why I think it’s so important that we have these conversations.

  9. You might find this interesting:

    http://www.alphamom.com/wonderland/2007/09/another_mercurial_finding_from.php

    By the woman who blogs at Finslippy, addressing some of the concerns raised here, and with interesting comments.

    I think a lot of peple who don’t vaccinate their kids are simply operating from a base of what what they think is best for their own kids before considering what impact it may or may not have on other people; they are putting their kids at the core of their decisionmaking. This is a common human tendency — most parents consider the needs of their children before those of a vast, vague community. The reason you are interpreting it as a personal attack/affront is because of how you put your child at the center of that equation. Which is only right; you are her mother. Just consider that that is all that that parents who don’t vaccinate are doing: their children are at the center of their decisionmaking, not the child of someone they don’t know.

  10. Jenna, I think you’re still not quite understanding my position. Sure, I think of Kavi when I vaccinate — I believe in vaccination. So I don’t want to claim that I’m being entirely altrustic. But it’s also certainly true that there’s a slight risk to her in the vaccine — not of autism, but of getting some version of the disease from the vaccines. It happens, in a very few cases. So if I wanted to be selfish and only think about the well-being of my own child, I could let her not be vaccinated.

    (Although, of course, I’d have to warn her to never travel to countries that don’t practice vaccination, or come in contact with people from those countries travelling here, and be sure to always be near good medical care and have health insurance in case she did contract one of those life-threatening diseases.)

    The point is, part of why I have her take the risk is for the sake of other children. Because that’s how vaccination works — the more people participate, the lower the risk for everyone else. So I do think there’s a difference in focus between those who vaccinate and those who don’t — at least for those who believe that vaccination works. If you believe it works, then I think you have a moral obligation to participate, even if it puts your own child at slightly greater risk. Does that make sense?

  11. The question I have is, why does it have to be a one size fits all vaccine. Why do we give the same amount of vaccine to a 250.lb male as we do to a 15 lb. baby. It seems a little much. I see no harm to your baby by someone else choosing to hold off on vaccines until their bodies are better able to handle it. Mostly, no one knows 100% that their is absolutley NO link to autism. Until that happens, I am not sure I want my son( A much higher ratio link to autism)to get the MMR or chicken pox vaccine until we know more. This is a wake up call for everyone on either side of the issue. Moms should be very PROUD that they are the ones stirring this debate. I’m sure something very positive will surface because we all decided we need some answers. Let us all remember at the end of the day we are all just a bunch of parents who are loking out for whats best for our child!!

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