Friends Don’t Let Friends…(fill in the blank here)
Nov 09, 2010

By Christine Vara
Perhaps I’m dating myself, but I seem to recall an ad against drunk driving that simply stated Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”.  I believe the message was effective.   It was certainly to the point.  Interestingly, it called upon the responsibility we all have to protect not just ourselves, but one another.
I wonder how this same slogan would play out in the immunization world.  “Friends Don’t Let Friends Fall Victim to Vaccine Preventable Disease” or “Friends Don’t Let Friends Forego Immunizations”. 
Yeah, I know…not so catchy and it certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue.  But you have to admit the sentiment is admirable. 
Sadly, I thought of this slogan when I recently discovered that a friend of mine is a supporter of Age of Autism – which for those of you who don’t know – is an extremely anti-vaccine organization, despite the emphasis on “Autism” in their title.  In fact, their motto is more like “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vaccinate”.  Immediately upon seeing that she “friended” Age of Autism on her Facebook page, I felt sick to my stomach. 
Despite the fact that we were only recently reacquainted after a simple, yet surprising, friend request on Facebook, I really thought I knew her better.  Not only were we roommates during our post-college days, we worked at the same ad agency, played together on the company softball team, and shared a beach house for a few summers.  Most importantly, as young women living in New York City, we always made sure to look out for each other. 
Even now, after 15 years, I still feel a sense of responsibility to share my perspective on vaccines and protect her from any Age of Autism brainwashing.  So why is it, after contributing to this blog for the past 8 months, that I suddenly don’t know what to say?
If you have read any of my posts here on Shot of Prevention, you know I am obviously a vaccine advocate.  I feel strongly that immunizations can prevent unnecessary suffering and even death from numerous diseases.  However, outside of this forum, I admittedly don’t carry myself around like a walking billboard.  Yes, I often discuss vaccine related issues with friends, family and even acquaintances on occasion, but only when it is relevant and appropriate.  Likewise, I don’t go around shouting about my religion or openly sharing my political views.  It’s not that I won’t share them.  I have reasons for my opinions and I certainly can defend them.  However, I feel it is a courtesy to only discuss these subjects when appropriate, in order to be sensitive to others who may have different perspectives and to avoid unnecessary confrontation. 
So now I am faced with a different kind of responsibility – to both protect a friend and to promote good public health?  What do I do? 
Unfortunately, all you have to do is read an article about vaccination for one to realize how polarized the opinions can be.  As seen on numerous occasions, it is not uncommon for a blog post on immunization – in any forum – to receive hundreds of comments both in favor, and in opposition to, vaccines.  The fact is, people are eager to express their strong opinions on the subject and some people just seem to have more time than others. 
But this is much more personal.  This is one friend reaching out to another on a very important, yet sensitive issue.
Now I certainly don’t want to alienate my friend.  And I realize that she may believe that I am the crazy one.  Yet, I owe it to the many people who work so hard to promote public health.  I will not only do this because I still feel a sense of responsibility to help protect her and her two children (one whom I believe is autistic), but I will also do this to honor the mothers and fathers of those who have lost their own children to vaccine preventable diseases.  Time and time again they recount their own horror stories in hopes that it will spare even one other family from the pain they have had to endure.  If they can find a way to help complete strangers despite their sorrow, than I certainly can find a way to demonstrate a bit of courage and approach the subject with my friend. 
Now the question is, what shall I say?  How can I be sure that I will be effective?
I can’t just assume that as a “friend” of Age of Autism that she is also anti-vaccine can I?  Perhaps I can simply begin by addressing the autism angle, and refer her to a reputable organization such as the Autism Science Foundation
As you can see, I certainly am struggling with this. 
Have you ever been surprised to discover that your friends or family members were opposed to vaccination?   If so, perhaps you can share your experiences here and help me determine how I can best approach the topic with my friend.     
I look forward to hearing your suggestions.  After all, friends don’t leave friends hanging.

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