Mom's Tinfoil Hat did a short piece on childhood immunizations today, and it inspired me to organize my thoughts on the situation. First, just a little background information on my thought process. Forgive the lack of links to studies: This isn't a post that is meant to debate one side or the other, but rather one to give insight into the jumbled thought process of a mother who is 10 days from her due date.
I did not start out anti-vaccine. I guess I didn't start out pro-vaccine either. It was just one of those things that you do, like going to the hospital to have a baby. (We all see how that worked out for us.) I'm still not sure that vaccines are the cause of all the things that people claim they are, good or bad. I feel that my life is better for having never contracted diphtheria or lock jaw. Like the vast majority of those in my generation, I've never had polio. My great Aunt Birdena had braces on her legs as a result of a bout with polio in the 1940s. My father has gone through life completely unvaccinated. Having grown up part of a more traditional Quaker family, my father was born at home and he rarely went to the doctor. He had measles and mumps as a child. He's still here. My mother was fully vaccinated and she's still alive as well. My brother, myself, my husband, and most of the people I know were fully vaccinated. We're all alive and healthy. I don't know anyone with a vaccine injured child, and I only know a handful of people who are either not vaccinating or are holding off on vaccinating their children.
Given all of this, why would I question the safety and efficacy of vaccinations?
When I was a kid in the early 1980s I was given the MMR, DTP and Polio vaccinations. I think that worked out to about ten doses before I was allowed to enter school. Given the schedule at the time, I wouldn't have received more than two doses of vaccine at one time. I have no idea what was in those vaccines, but I'm sure they were chocked full of mercury and other toxic goodies. I know the DTP shot I was given has been taken off the market in the United States because of safety issues and that it has been replaced by the modern version, the DTaP. I remember getting a fever after my last set of shots before entering kindergarten. My experience with vaccines has been pretty mundane, so I didn't understand the hype behind the modern vaccine schedule. Then I looked at it.
Whereas DH and I got 10 shots before entering kindergarten, they want my child to get poked more than 30 times before she will be allowed into public school. Not only that, but some of the things they want me to vaccinate for seem dubious.
First there is the Hepatitis B vaccination. They want my child to have that right away. If I was giving birth in the hospital, there would be little chance of getting out of it. Now, there are some instances where you would want the child to be vaccinated. If the mother were infected with HepB or any of the close caretakers were carriers, then it would be a good idea for the baby to be protected through vaccination. At that point the benefits out weight the risks. However, in my situation, there is no one nearby that is HepB positive. That means that I need to weigh the risks of my newborn becoming either sexually active or an intravenous drug user against the risks of any adverse reaction. I'm not sure what the numbers are on HepB vaccine reactions, but I suspect its more than the number of newborns out there shooting up with prostitutes. I've had the HepB vaccination without problems, but I was 16, sexually active, and working in a nursing home where I was exposed to bodily fluids from people whose HepB status was unknown. It made sense for me to take the shot. It doesn't make sense for me to give my baby the shot.
The chicken pox vaccine is another shot that I question. Its one of those childhood diseases that on occasion can cause serious problems. The older you are when you get it the worse it is. I know, I was a teenager when I had the pox. I was miserable and I ended up with skin strep. I was sick for more than a month. I have permanent scars on my face from my ordeal. Why on earth then would I want to doom my child to such a horrible fate by not vaccinating against chicken pox? For one thing, my situation was fairly rare. I'm not sure why I never got the pox when I was younger, but it probably had something to do with my mother's paranoia about having us near any sick child. Secondly, chicken pox is not like the other childhood diseases we vaccinate against. Measles, mumps, and rubella can kill tens of thousands of people in a year. With chicken pox, the number is somewhere around 100, with half of those being children. The chances of my child being one of those 50 is pretty slim. There are also questions about whether the pox vaccine confers lifelong immunity. By going through what I did, I know that I will have lifelong immunity, but if I vaccinate my child, there is a reasonable chance that she will get to adulthood and her immunity will be compromised. That means unless she gets boosters (when was the last time you topped off your MMR?) she will be at risk for developing a more serious version of the disease. I'm just not convinced that vaccinating for chicken pox is the right way to go.
After HepB and Chicken Pox there is the flu shot. I don't take the flu shot, and I'm not getting it for my child. Each year there are big pushes for everyone to get vaccinated, then after flu season, a report is issued that says, "our best guess at the flu strain this year wasn't so good, the vaccine was only about 20% effective, but don't worry, we'll get it next year." That shot is so hit and miss with its effectiveness that I can't understand why anyone gets it at all. Nevermind that it is one of the few vaccines that still contains mercury.
That brings us to the question of whats in vaccines. We've all heard about the thimerisol debate. I'm not a scientist, I don't understand the intricacies of making vaccines work, but I do understand a few basic things. I know that mercury is poisonous. Any time someone opts not to put a poison into their body is a good thing. When the government takes steps to protect its people from others putting poisons into their bodies, that too is a good thing. So, thimerisol free vaccines = a good thing. Then there is aluminum. Of course there are no studies out there that say aluminum in vaccines = bad, there are some reasonable questions being asked. Mainly, how much aluminum at one time is too much? We know that aluminum can cause problems in large doses, but there haven't been enough studies into how much a tiny child can take without problems. Dr. Sears has an interesting article on it here. I'm pretty sure I would not knowingly give myself, my husband, or my cats aluminum toxicity, so I'm not sure why they think I should do it to my child. Again, I'm not convinced.
Having mentioned Dr. Sears, that brings up the modern debate. Of course there are those like Jenny McCarthy out there with Generation Rescue, but even though I admire her dedication to her cause, she's not a scientist or a doctor. For me, the debate about vaccines is best characterized by what has been going on between Dr. Robert Sears, and Dr. Paul Offit. On one side is Dr. Sears who, as a pediatrician, has seen many parents asking the same questions I am. Because Dr. Sears is both pro-vaccine, he finds real benefits in the vaccination program, and sensitive to his patients needs, he has developed an alternative schedule that allows parents to space out vaccinations without leaving any out. That means his patients are still fully vaccinated, just not on the same schedule as the CDC. Then there is Dr. Paul Offit, an M.D. and patent holder of one of the vaccines that the CDC recommends. His line is "Zere is nossing wrong vis the vaccines! Nossing bad ever happens! You are a crazy voman, krank in der kopf!" (I know he's not German, but every time I see him on TV its just what my mind does) Offit represents the majority of the medical community in that he tends to dismiss the questions of parents and likes to pin everything in mass hysteria. For someone like me, that doesn't help me see his side, it only makes me question his motives. Is he trying to protect his profits? I dont' know.
Researching vaccines is exhausting. Its hard to find reasonable people to talk to. Even though there are lots of informed moms out there, I'd like to find a medical professional that's willing to give me something other than the party line. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to worry about how safe the vaccines were. I wouldn't have to worry whether those who told me they were safe were just protecting their profits or their reputations. I wouldn't have to read articles about real families whose teenage daughters have been permanently damaged by a vaccine meant to protect them. I wouldn't be scared by the fact that one in 150 children has autism and no one knows why. The only stake I have in the debate is this child I'm carrying. I have no agenda to further other than the health and well being of my new family. Because the discussion gets so polarized so quickly, its difficult for people like me to sort it all out. As a result, I'm likely not going to vaccinate. Until the picture is clearer and I'm more comfortable with the situation, I cannot in good conscience put my child in that kind of danger. Yes the diseases we vaccinate against can be deadly, but the chance of dying or being damaged from the diseases seems dwarfed by the numbers of vaccine injured children out there. In time, we might change our minds, but I've got to see some better research first.