Mommy Bloggers “Babble” About Vaccine Myths (Part 1)
In the past few days I’ve been reflecting on several articles about childhood vaccination that have been written from various parent perspectives. Since I also write from a parent perspective, on a blog that is entirely dedicated to immunization issues, it is intriguing to see this topic generating such diverse discussions on prominent mommy forums such as Babble. The fact is, when it comes to vaccines, there are about as many opinions on the subject as there are parents.
Unfortunately, the majority of mommy bloggers avoid topics like immunization for the simple fact that these discussions tend to elicit strong personal convictions that lead to a slew of heated exchanges. No matter what is said, or where someone stands on the issue, there is bound to be harsh criticism.
Because of this, I want to first applaud each of these writers for openly sharing their perspective. Over the course of the next few days, I will attempt to highlight several of the articles that have caught my attention. Of course, I expect that my interpretations will be different from yours, and so I encourage everyone to read these post for themselves and then come back to share your responses with us here on Shot of Prevention.
This is the article that first sparked my interest. Ironically, the title was reworked to read the “The Worst Things People Say About Unvaccinated Kids”, along with the an editor’s note which explained, “The title of this post has been changed and the word “myth” has been removed to emphasize that this post is the opinion of the blogger.”)
While I suppose the editor’s note was added to soften the blow of criticism, in this article Kate Tiejte lists five “myths” she takes offense to regarding her choice not to vaccinate her children. For each myth, she personally responds in an attempt to argue her reasoning for not vaccinating.
As someone who is privy to these debates all day long on both this blog and the Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, I have to admit that I wasn’t as surprised by her list, as I was by her responses. While Katie appears to be referencing real-life dialogue, it seems that her content was derived from conversations with people who aren’t very articulate in the matters of immunizations.
For instance, her first complaint is in comments such as “You better keep your unvaccinated kid away from mine because I don’t want mine to get sick!” She responds that in order for her child to get another sick, they would have to actually be sick. While I agree and can’t imagine anyone would argue that fact, I do see how she could misinterpret the concern that parents of vaccinated children have when encountering unvaccinated children.
Those who are well-versed in matters of immunizations are probably aware of research that shows unvaccinated children to be more likely to fall ill with a vaccine preventable disease than a vaccinated child. Additionally, most educated vaccine advocates acknowledge that vaccines have their limitations and they are not 100% effective, in 100% of the population, 100% of the time. However, a vaccine not given is 100% not effective and parental concerns center around the fact that a vaccinated child may fall ill and a non-vaccinated child is more likely to get a vaccine preventable disease.
Even if the author chooses not to accept this information, the point that needs to be emphasized is that we are not just talking about being sick, as in the case of the common cold. Most vaccine preventable diseases are fairly serious for children, often resulting in medical complications, hospitalization and sometimes even death. (These are the exact risks that are evaluated by the experts, and the reasons why a vaccine is ultimately recommended.) What’s even more concerning to most vaccine advocates is that the infants and children too young to be vaccinated, as well as some individuals who are unable to be vaccinated due to various medical conditions, rely on the protection of others in the community. The concern here is that if more and more parents choose not to vaccinate, then we will see an increase in the amount of disease circulating, which can directly impact the health and well-being of all children – both vaccinated and unvaccinated. (Yes, I worry about Katie’s children as well as my own.)
While I agree with Katie when she says “unvaccinated children aren’t magical disease-carriers,” I have to disagree with her assessment that “many are rarely sick. If they are they’ll stay home!”
I only wish these statements were true. While I most certainly keep my kids home when I know they are sick, as Katie most certainly does, neither of us can control the actions of other parents who choose to send their kids to school sick. And how about the incidences when a child is contagious before the onset of symptoms? And what about the sick children who visit the doctor for diagnosis or treatment? If a child visits the doctor with a case of a vaccine preventable disease, they can be spreading their illness to others in the waiting room. (There are documented cases of this, where a non-vaccinated child contracts a vaccine preventable disease and then infects other children both in school and in the doctor’s office. This is not a myth, but a real life scenario.)
Another problem for Katie is when others suggest that children should be vaccinated “for the greater good”. While it is understandable that she may only be concerned with her own child, she claims that she would only agree to vaccinate if there is “absolutely no harm to my child, guaranteed”. Unfortunately, what she fails to acknowledge is that every parental choice is a matter of risk assessment and that no one can offer her any guarantees.
First instance, how is she guaranteed that her child won’t actually catch a disease? If they did, could anyone possibly guarantee that it would result in absolutely no harm to her child? Perhaps she fails to recognize that her own decision not to vaccinate her children poses it’s own set of risks. (Risks that, thankfully for her children, are significantly reduced by the fact that the majority of people in this country DO vaccinate, which helps prevent the overall incidence of disease.)
I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t understand that vaccines carry risks. By law, information regarding these risks are distributed to a parent whenever a child is vaccinated. However, the risks and benefits of the vaccines and the disease are both taken into account before a vaccine recommendation is even made. What would be helpful, is if parents took these assessments into consideration when making a choice whether to vaccinate or not.
The most alarming statement in the article was regarding the suggestion that “Your child will die of measles or another preventable illness!” While I can imagine others trying to elicit fear, her response to this statement is somewhat concerning. She explains that this is unlikely because “The primary reason for complications/death from measles, according to the WHO is vitamin A deficiency. She goes on to say that if she discovered her children where deficient, she could simply supplement with vitamins.
While I’ll agree that a healthy diet, rest and exercise can strengthen an immune system, it’s impressive that she feels she would be able to predict when her children might need a supplement. However, the bigger concern is what supplements she believes could ward off other vaccine preventable diseases like meningitis, pneumonia, or pertussis.
She concludes with the myth that “If you don’t vaccinate, your kid can’t go to school!” Again, I’m not quite sure who she has been talking to, but if she cares to join the conversation at the Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, she will quickly realize that educated vaccine advocates are fully aware of the medical, religious and philosophical exemptions that exist in various states. In fact, even those that favor vaccines often debate this subject, questioning whether exemptions shouldn’t be more difficult to get, or debating what kind of documentation should be required. There are even some people who believe personal/philosophical exemptions shouldn’t exist and others who feel that schools should make their exemptions public so that parents can be aware of the risks to their children while attending schools.
While I am grateful that this author has brought up the conversation about vaccines, I am saddened that she has limited her exposure to forums in which the participants are not able to clearly express their concerns with her decision in a way that she understands. It may not change her mind, but at least she might like to know that parents who vaccinate don’t all respond in the five ways she outlined. Perhaps, if we continue to keep the conversation going, we can all gain a better understanding of what prompts parental vaccination decisions.
I know this article provided me with a bit of insight into Katie’s decision. What about you? I’m curious to know, what are your impressions of the article? What were you surprised to learn? How did this author’s perspective make you feel? Add your comments here and check back tomorrow when I highlight another mommy blogger’s perspective.