Note: I did not write the article with the intention of stirring controversy. However, the very nature of the topic tends to be controversial. I am simply sharing my experiences, opinions and personal journey. Please feel free to comment.
When I started this blog for Mother Nurture, I said no topic off limits except vaccines. The topic is simply too controversial. There is great science supporting the efficacy of vaccines, but concerns individual parents have regarding the injection of diseases and chemicals into their child’s body are also valid. I have been very surprised at the variety of concerns that parents have about vaccinating their children. Everything from concerns about autism and other potential side effects to whether the risks outweigh the benefits to vaccinating against a disease that is not prevalent in our country. I have been surprised that most families who have researched vaccines actually do believe that vaccines are effective and are responsible for eradicating many diseases but when doing the risk/benefit analysis for a healthy child born in the United States may decide that the risks outweigh the benefits.
My personal issue with the vaccine debate is that it is so polarizing. There is currently a trend for pediatricians to refuse care to children if their parents choose not to vaccinate. This has always really bothered me. The number one definitive statement I will not back down from at all is that it is a really bad idea to refuse care to someone because they (or their parents) make a choice that you believe is wrong, unhealthy or even dangerous. We do not withhold cancer treatment from patients who continue to smoke, it’s just plain unethical! Unfortunately, these families are forced to choose: A) Get the vaccines and feel that their pediatrician is less of a partner and more of a tyrant, or B) Stand their ground and have no primary medical care for their children. Also, some parents simply choose to delay or separate vaccines and are often forbidden from doing so and forced into making them same choices despite the fact that they do, in fact, want to vaccinate their child. Can we really fault parents for making decisions that go against the status quo, and recommendations of health professionals when they have the best interest of their child in mind?
My other problem with the vaccine debate is that there seems to be a refusal on the part of most physicians to admit that there are risks to vaccines. The research seems to support that vaccines are responsible for eradicating many devastating diseases. They also appear to be fairly harmless. But, there are, indeed, risks to any medical procedures. It seems that there is a fear that admitting the risks would cause parents to refuse vaccinations. Please, give us a little credit. Indeed, some parents may decide that the risks outweigh the benefits for their child, but does that mean we should refuse informed consent?
So, despite my plans to avoid the vaccine topic, the time came for me to make some decisions about vaccinations for my own children. And, this journey is what has prompted this blog article.
I always considered myself to be a very unselfish person. I truly believe that we all have an obligation to support other members of our culture in order to have a truly family-friendly society. I don’t mind paying taxes, making charitable contributions, volunteering my time and talents. However, when I became a mom, some of that changed. Well, that’s not exactly true, it changed when it came to vaccines. I was shocked to find myself thinking (and I am embarrassed to admit this) that I was not responsible for protecting somebody else’s child with cancer. I still want to raise my children to be kind, charitable people, but I just couldn’t bring myself to potentially harm their body to protect someone else. It’s not that I didn’t care about the kid with cancer. I would do it to myself, but not my children. I would risk my own life or limbs for another fellow human being, but I would not put my children at risk for anyone else. Isn’t that my job as a mother?
I am the type of person who never does anything just because of convention. I always research my decisions. I had previously read a few other books about vaccines. At the time, I felt those books were fairly balanced. And, at the time, I felt that with the information that I had that the potential risks (known or unknown) outweighed the benefits of some of the vaccines. Take Polio for example. I was born in 1979. No, I did not grow up watching people suffer from polio, but I do remember the vaccine scars on my parent’s and grandparent’s arms and I had a school principle who walked with a limp from having polio as a child. It is an awful, terrible disease and I definitely want to do anything I can to protect my children from it. Plus, the information I read in what some would consider “anti-vaccine” books made me feel that the vaccine was relatively safe, and it has been around a long time. So, I’m feeling good about giving my child the polio vaccine. But then I learn that there has not been a case of wild polio in the United States since 1979 – the year I was born. There were some cases of polio being contracted from the oral polio vaccine which is no longer used for that very reason. So, according to the information I had, I could possibly by increasing my child’s risk of getting the terrible polio disease by giving him the vaccine. What’s a mom to do????? So, here I was feeling “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” My child was in day care, I was feeling overwhelmed with the information and choices so we did the regular recommended
vaccination schedule. So, kid 1 got all his shots until I quit my job and started the store. Our doc is really respectful of our decisions and my kids have been really healthy so we rarely have to go. I just avoided the issue for a while since I was still unsure of what the right choice should be.
Time passed, kid 2 came along and was always with me. So, again, I avoided the issue. But, this fall it was time to start Parents Morning Out with him to give us both a break. So, as the time came for me to make some more decisions for my own children, I decided to pick up “The Vaccine Book” by Robert Sears, MD, FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics). I had several customers and clients of Mother Nurture who had read the book and were interested in his alternative vaccine schedule. My assumption was that it was a mostly anti-vaccine book but that the alternative schedule was offered as a compromise for parents to offer to their child’s doctor or for parents who found themselves somewhere in the middle. When I began reading the book, I realized that I was very wrong. In “The Vaccine Book,” Dr. Sears explains that he does support the standard CDC child immunization schedule for most children. He also recognizes the concerns that I have heard parents express myself. He addresses each of those concerns compassionately. He mostly points out that there is no evidence to support those concerns, but also realizes that that may not be enough to convince all parents that vaccines are the right choice for their child.
I love this book because it supports my belief that the parent is the expert when it comes to their child, that families should be respected as a whole and that it is the role of the health care provider to provide quality care that meets the goals of the family. I was also impressed with how easy the book was to read and how straightforward his approach is. The other vaccine books I had read seemed to offer a host of scientific evidence that was a little over my head and that I will admit that I am not qualified to evaluate.
I was very excited when I read this book. I wrote to a pediatrician friend of mine who is very pro-vaccine. I told her about the book, asked if she had read it and told her that I thought it would be good to recommend to parents who have concerns about vaccines. I was surprised when she replied that she had read it, didn’t like it and didn’t agree with it because she, and most pediatricians, feel that it causes parents to have unfounded fears about vaccines. I was especially shocked when she informed me that most pediatricians want Robert Sears removed from the AAP! This information compelled me to write back to her about my experiences and thoughts and to, ultimately, write this article for everyone else out there. I am highly concerned about the criticism of Dr. Sears by his colleagues. My experience in the 4 years I have had Mother Nurture has been that parents already have those concerns. They turn to the Sears library as a source they can trust. As proponents of Attachment Parenting, the Sears family has published several books on everything from healthy pregnancy, birth, sleep, discipline and, of course, vaccines. All of their books support gentle, healthy approaches and the intuitive wisdom of parents when it comes to their child.
I am very lucky to have a very supportive, warm and understanding physician caring for my children. He supports vaccines 100% but was understanding and respectful of my concerns. Because he trusted me to make the right decisions for my family, I feel more comfortable putting my faith and trust in him when it comes to the medical care of my children. So, I made the appointment, got my kids some shots and cried along with them. It was horrible, but we are all fine now and I feel good about my decision.
My point in writing this blog is not to convince you to vaccinate or not. My point is to share my personal journey with you and to point out that “The Vaccine Book” is not a tactic to scare parents out of vaccination. In fact, it took me from feeling like “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” to feeling comfortable about giving my very healthy children vaccines in a manner I think is reasonable. So, my hope is that physicians will stop trying to give Robert Sears a bad name and adopt his approach of respecting parent concerns and recognizing that the only true expert when it comes to a child is the parent.
Please share your experiences and concerns in the comments. But, please be respectful of each other in the discussion. I don’t mind a debate as long as it is respectful.Bookmark on del.icio.us