I do try to keep things fresh on this blog but after the recent measles outbreaks in Canada and the US I feel that this one is important enough to revisit now that I’m on my second time around as a parent. It’s pretty much ‘Second verse, same as the first…a little bit louder and a little bit worse!’ (Hello memories of summer camp…) I’ve also added several pictures of the various medical interventions my children have experienced in their short lives to help ‘illustrate’ my point.
As a fallout from the recent outbreaks, the vaccine debate has been thrust back into the spotlight, often capturing national media attention as they interview affected parents, doctors and anti-vaxxers alike. I’m sure everyone has seen various viral posts, and/or been party to a heated debate following a strongly worded status supporting one side or the other. It’s hard not to get drawn into the argument and I freely admit I’ve entered the fray more often than not to share my own (very strong) opinions.
As I re-read my previous post on vaccines I realize that, at the time, I was being very careful not to alienate friends or readers who have made the choice not to vaccinate their children. I’ll warn you now that this is no longer the case. If you are strongly anti-vaccine you may want to stop reading now. This post probably won’t make you very happy. I’m also smart enough to realize that no matter how many logical, scientifically proven facts I’m able to place in front of you, no matter how many doctors plead with you to do the right thing, you’ll actually be less likely to vaccinate when presented with reliable information on the benefits of vaccinating your kids. It’s true. There’s a recent study out there that shows that the more information you present to anti-vaxxers, the stronger they dig in their heels. So actually it might be best if you just give this post a pass and come back next week when I delve into other topics. And now I will commence with what I can only assume is preaching to the choir…
Let me start with why I’m involving myself in this debate to begin with. Anti-vaxxers always love to open with the line that since it’s not my child/children then I shouldn’t be upset or get involved with their decisions. If I want to vaccinate then I should but let them do as they will with their kids. It’s almost laughable how wrong this statement is.
As much as I vent, I’m actually pretty easy going on a lot of topics when it comes to child rearing, regardless of what I choose for my own boys. If you choose to circumcise, or not, pierce ears, formula feed, co-sleep, pre-chew your kids food…none of these affect me or my children in any way so honestly it isn’t any of my business what you do in your own home. However vaccinating or not vaccinating your children DOES affect my kids, my nieces and nephews, friends’ kids and really the population at large. By allowing your child to wander around at school, at sports lessons, and the mall without the valuable protection of a vaccine you are deliberately putting other people and other children at risk.
Let’s break this down a little farther with some examples shall we? My 6 month old isn’t actually old enough to receive his first dose of the MMR vaccine, so as much as I would love for him to have the protection that modern science offers him, I have to wait another 6 months and cross my fingers that no cases come to my home town. And what about the kid who has already spent a year or more in and out of the hospital fighting cancer or another illness that compromises or destroys their immune system? They are medically incapable of receiving the vaccine and I’m sure they or their parents won’t mind at all if you bring your potential carrier within spitting distance of their battered bodies.
Another big question that gets asked by anti-vaxxers (just look through any debate, I can guarantee you someone will throw this one down) is ‘Well if you’re sooooooo confident in your vaccine why are you so afraid of my kids getting the disease?’. Well since you’ve asked, let me enlighten you. These diseases have vaccines for a reason. Let’s assume your child picks up one of these nasty bugs (say during a holiday trip to Disney) and you take them to my doctors office on the same day I take baby A for a ‘well baby’ checkup. Measles hangs around on surfaces for a good long while after you’ve left and since he’s still too little for the vaccine he could very likely be blessed with your child’s potentially deadly germs. Now I realize that not all of these diseases will kill my child, although it is entirely possible, but let’s take our focus off death for a moment shall we? These vaccine-preventable diseases also come with a wide selection of life-altering, permanent side effects that could affect the quality of life of any of these children who are actually unable to receive the vaccine. Brain damage, blindness, loss of hearing just to name a few. To recap then (albeit a big dramatically): My perfect and perfectly healthy 6 month old child could potentially never hear the sound of my voice again because you feel like taking a misinformed stance against ‘big pharma’. Thanks…
Although I understand that no vaccine is 100% effective (let’s be honest, nothing in life is), I don’t really worry so much about my fully vaccinated 4 year old, even with his weaker ‘preemie’ immune system. However the mind of a parent can wander in strange directions and so what I do worry about is this. Maybe he’ll head off to a day in JK and visit the library, where he picks out a book to bring home, that has just been returned by a child whose family doesn’t vaccinate. I realize it’s a long road of reasoning but what if this child doesn’t know they have measles, with their pesky 4 day incubation period, and this book, covered in their germs, makes its way into the hands (and mouth) of my youngest son who isn’t able to receive his vaccine yet? Unlikely yes, but given the current outbreaks, not impossible. As convoluted as it may seem, this path shouldn’t even cross my mind because honestly I believe every child should be vaccinated. However unlikely this particular scenario may be it is still sadly a possibility because some parents are too selfish (or stupid) to take all precautions offered to them.
There are a wide variety of (dumb) reasons that people choose not to vaccinate their children and I’m sure we’ve all heard them. Pharmaceutical companies are trying to make sheep out of us! Vaccines contain environmental poisons that will harm my children more than the illness itself! Getting sick helps them create strong immune systems! Autism! Vaccine ‘Injuries’! The sky is falling! *wraps head in tinfoil and hides in a corner*
Each and every one of these has been dis-proven by credible, current, scientific studies but let’s be honest, the people who believe any one of these aren’t going to take the time to research any point of view that doesn’t support their particular brand of crazy.
The one reason that gets to me the most, however, is the parents who have chosen not to vaccinate because their child gets upset when they have to have a needle. Are…you…kidding me???? What this parent is essentially saying is that my child might be affected by measles because their 4 year old cries for 5 minutes after receiving a potentially life-saving immunization. This sounds like a great opportunity to teach your child that sometimes the things that keep us well are uncomfortable but necessary. I have a 4 year old, do you think he likes getting shots? Heck no! Do I? Nope! But do we? Absolutely yes.
As for our personal experience with vaccines, I have two preemies, both of whom have spent time in the NICU. One of my boys had to be resuscitated and the other was born with pneumonia as well as immature lungs and struggled to draw breath for a solid week. I’ve had enough of watching my kids struggle medically and if I can do anything to help make them healthier, stronger and happier, then as a parent that is my job! V has had all of his vaccines as per our doctor’s (and Health Canada’s) schedule. He has had his flu shot every year he’s been able to as well. Both boys have been accepted into the RSV vaccine program for their first year because as preemies they are at risk for the virus that could land them back in the ICU. No thanks! V actually received the second dose of his MMR vaccine, and his chicken pox vaccine, on the earliest possible date, his 4th birthday. Why? Well August was born 3 days before and for V to even be let in the doors of the NICU to meet his younger brother we had to bring in his full immunization record. Not that we wouldn’t have done so anyways but we had even more motivation than most to get it done as soon as possible.
The NICU doesn’t cater to ‘philosophical’ exemptions and for very good reason. Would you like to know why they required that we prove, on paper, that our oldest was fully immunized, especially against chicken pox? A few years ago, one ‘thoughtful’, anti-vaxx parent brought their child to visit a new family member in the NICU. 2 days later their child presented with chicken pox and therefore every single resident of the NICU (micro-preemies and up) had to receive their chicken pox vaccine, even before it is typically recommended. I wouldn’t have been able to function if I’d had a child in at that time. Can you imagine looking at your 2 lbs, 27 week preemie wondering if they’d suddenly be subject to a terrifyingly high fever and itchy spots on top of the challenges they already face? That, to me at least, is unforgivable and yet another reason why anti-vaxx parents should revisit their questionable medical choice.
Having a second (early) baby isn’t the only reason I’ve revisited my stance on vaccines, one other element that has also changed in our lives this year is that V goes to school! He’s in JK and one of the things we had to submit for his registration was his vaccination record. What shocked me is that there is an option for anti-vaxxers to submit a form stating their ‘philosophical’ exemptions. Because of this, in the height of the measles outbreak, I actually called my son’s school board to find out its policy if cases were to spread to our town. Thankfully they’re sensible people and, worst case scenario, during an outbreak, those children who can’t produce documentation proving that they are fully immunized would be sent home until the health unit declared an all clear. Since there is really no way to know which kids are vaccinated or not until an outbreak happens, it definitely helped me feel more at ease that this issue would be handled appropriately by both the school and health unit, in order to keep all of our children safe.
Now publicly run and monitored schools are one thing but, as a note to new parents who are considering daycare (especially unlicensed home daycares), make sure you inquire as to the provider’s policy on immunizations. I’d hope that an individual who professes to care so much about children that they have their own business minding them, would also care enough to insist that all children in their program also provide full vaccination records.
I’m sure that by the end of this particular post you, as the reader, were either nodding along, or experiencing cartoon-like smoke billowing from your ears, but this is an issue I feel incredibly strongly about and it’s very cathartic to have a platform in which to speak my piece. In my mind ‘civic duty’ doesn’t just apply to towing the legal line, it also extends to doing what we can to medically protect those around us. My entire family is fully vaccinated and will continue to be so in order to protect, not just ourselves, but friends, family, and acquaintances who rely on us to provide that barrier. To those of you who continue to eschew vaccinations, I realize that us mere mortals must look pretty small from your exalted perch on that high horse but for the good of everyone around you, get over yourself, get informed and for the love of God, get you and your family to your doctor for your updated vaccines!