Yesterday, I was sitting in Starbucks (Shout Out!) reading The Vaccine Book by Robert Sears, M.D. (who went to Biola for undergrad-Shout Out!), when an excitable seeming woman about my age approached me.
“Are you thinking about vaccinating your baby?!” She asked, excitedly (you see where I got my description of her?).
“Uhm, uhh, um, yes, sort of. I guess I already have, umm, some ideas about it…” I answered, confidently.
“So you’re anti-vaccine!?”
“Oh. So you’re pro-vaccine.”
“…Um, yes, but conservatively…”
And then she launched into a story about her and a friend who had babies together and then the friend’s baby passed away when he was 4 months old right after his shots.
“Oh, she works at Pilgrim’s, right?” I asked, actually confidently this time.
“Yes! You know her! Talk to her! Ok, bye!”
When you’re pregnant, everyone has advice, and this is not the first vaccine related chat I’ve had with strangers. There have been worse topics (like the grocery store checker who told me about someone she knew who died in childbirth-WHAT IN THE WORLD COULD POSSIBLY POSSESS SOMEONE TO THINK THIS IS AN APPROPRIATE TOPIC TO BRING UP TO A PREGNANT LADY?!?!), but this is definitely one of the more fiery topics. There is a fairly large anti-vaccine community here, probably similarly to most regions of the country. The lady who works at Pilgrim’s is a particularly sad case, and she’s kind of the new leader of the movement in the Coeur d’Alene area. I also, as you all know, work with kids who have autism so definitely am up on whole autism-vaccine connection controversy.
Here’s the thing, and it sounds kind of harsh in my head, so sorry if it comes out that way here. Babies die of SIDS. A lot of them do. I think for most parents, it’s just about the most terrifying prospect of parenthood- your baby dying, despite your doing everything you can to prevent it, for no apparent reason. You can lay your baby on his back, keep loose fabric away from his face, put him in a sleep positioner, and pray like crazy, but one morning, you may find that he just didn’t wake up. HORRIFIC. Babies also gets LOTS of shots, so it may happen right after he gets his shots. Now, if your baby gets a terrible fever or cold from those shots (which is common) and isn’t breathing as well as usual, and SIDS seems to often occur because of suffocation, it’s easy to blame his vaccinations. Also, some babies ARE allergic to vaccines. If your baby is reacting terribly to vaccines, perhaps they’re not for you.
All that to say, millions of people are alive today because of vaccines. Polio and smallpox have been (virtually) eradicated thanks to shots. We no longer even vaccinate against smallpox, as it’s been eliminated FROM THE PLANET. Diseases we now give babies vaccines against used to kill hundreds and thousands of people a year. If everyone stopped vaccinating, it is completely feasible that this would again become the norm. The reason people who choose not to vaccinate can do so without fear is because of everyone else who vaccinates despite the risk.
And vaccines are risky! There is certainly risk in sticking your child with live or dead versions of terrible diseases and other weird chemicals and substances. There is evidence that certain genetic, physical traits are common in children who have autism, and the exposure to large amounts of these sorts of chemicals can trigger (?) autoimmunity issues that may exacerbate the problem (these are the kiddos who tend to respond positively to the gluten or casein free diet). This is not autism coming out in perfectly healthy kids because of shots; this is a genetic predisposition and a sensitive immune system. I know what autism is like, and while I adore many of the kiddos I’ve worked with, I would certainly prefer to avoid the struggles that this particularly disorder brings.
But not enough to not immunize my child.
I also have no intention of following the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule. I can’t imagine that anyone who’s looked into the topic would want to do that. Including combo vaccines, this would have my six month old being injected with no fewer than TEN diseases at one go. The average six month old weighs less than 20 pounds; it is mind-boggling to me that this would be considered ok. Now, I understand that most parents find even the required number of doctor’s visits inconvenient, so to spread these out further decreases the likelihood that babies will get all their shots. But, really, the inconvenience of taking your child to numerous therapists’ appointments every week because of something preventable is nothing comparably to an extra visit with a nurse once a month.
Dr. Sears developed a revised vaccination schedule that I intend to follow with our baby. There are never more than two shots given at a time and never more than one containing aluminum at a time. Mercury has all but been eliminated from vaccines, so it’s not really an issue any more. The schedule we’ll be following involves extra doctor’s visits where you just see the nurse and the baby just gets shots, but I figure it’s more than worth it. If, heaven forbid, something were to go wrong I know I’ll be devastated, but I can know that I made an informed decision that eliminated the most foreseeable risk in the long run. When all the numbers are run (and Dr. Sears runs them), the risk of a serious reaction to a preventable disease is greater than the risk of a serious reaction to a vaccine. This is hardly comforting, I know, to parents of babies who have the reaction that ends in death. I’m sure the parents of the babies who die from preventable diseases are likewise devastated, though. And there are plenty of babies with immunity or health issues that make it impossible for them to be vaccinated. I cannot imagine the guilt one would experience if theirs was the un-immunized child that sickened another who didn’t even have that option.
So, we’ll be vaccinating our baby. I’ll soon be talking to pediatricians who our friends use to find the one who’s the most on board with this decision, as not all are. Fortunately, there are a LOT of pediatricians. Not that it is even possible to follow the alternative schedule perfectly, as in the two years since publication, Merck has pulled the separate MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) shots (you used to be able to break them up, and as this is one of the most controversial shots with the worst reactions all across the spectrum). Because they’re bastard people. Anyway, so we’re going to do our best.
There you go.