My older son was born in 2003 and diagnosed with autism in 2007, when proponents of the vaccine/autism link were at their loudest. Since my son had displayed autism-like tendencies from birth, I never bought into this theory, and both he and his younger brother are up-to-date with their vaccines.
I find myself constantly having to defend my parenting choices where vaccinations are concerned. I get accused of not doing my research (I have), of supporting the interests of Big Pharma (I really have no feelings about Big Pharma one way or the other), and of pumping my children full of toxins (most of the ingredients in vaccines are present at higher doses in what we eat, drink and breathe).
The whole debate mystifies me a little, not only because of the overwhelming scientific evidence refuting the autism/vaccine link, but because there are those who believe that autism is such a bad thing that they are willing to force bleach enemas into their kids to “flush out the vaccines”. I hate to break it to you, but if you do that, your kid will be seriously ill, and he or she will still have autism.
A growing number of parents are basing their decisions not to vaccinate their children on myths instead of science. Some of these myths include the following:
1. Courts have confirmed the link between autism and the MMR vaccine. This myth is based on one Italian court case featuring a child who was diagnosed with autism a year after being vaccinated. The court found in favour of the child’s parents, and its ruling was based on a flawed, fraudulent report that has been discredited. And let’s face it, how much should we trust a court system that stated that a man cannot be convicted of rape if his victim was wearing jeans?
2. Vaccine shedding has resulted in more measles cases than unvaccinated kids. In one of the books in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series, Douglas Adams likened the chances of something with the odds of dropping a ball bearing from a moving 747 and hitting an egg sandwich. The odds of vaccine shedding – the phenomenon of someone catching a disease from someone who has recently been given a live vaccine – are similar. There has been the one-in-a-gazillion case of the rubella portion of the MMR vaccine shedding into breast milk, and in over 55 million doses, there have been five reported cases of shedding in the Varicella chicken pox vaccine.
3. There is almost no autism in the Amish community, which does not vaccinate. Both parts of this statement are incorrect. Most Amish parents do vaccinate, and autism does exist in the Amish community, although at a lower rate than in the general population.
4. Diseases like measles and polio have been reduced not because of vaccines, but because of better living conditions. Substandard living conditions, including poor sanitation and lack of access to a safe water supply, exist in many poverty-stricken places in Africa. While some diseases, like bilharzia and cholera, spread very quickly in places like this, the incidence of measles and similar illnesses has dropped dramatically in places that have had vaccination programs.
5. People who vaccinate their kids have nothing to worry about. A common argument of those who choose not to vaccinate is, “If your kids are vaccinated, what are you so worried about?” That is true – I’m not too worried about my kids, whose shots are up to date. On the other hand, I am worried about the elderly person who lives in the same house as me. I worry about one of my loved ones, who is immune compromised because of the chemotherapy she is currently enduring. I worry about a friend’s two sons, who are transplant recipients and cannot receive vaccines. I worry about the pregnant women I know, and about the newborns who are too young to be vaccinated.
6. Measles, chicken pox and whooping cough are normal childhood illnesses. Anytime you put the words “normal” and “illness” into the same sentence, there is a problem. Illness, by its nature, is not normal. It’s a state of imbalance, of the body not functioning the way it’s supposed to. When these illnesses were common, it is true that many people got through them without serious consequences. But there were those who didn’t. There were the babies who died of pneumonia, the pregnant women who lost their babies, the kids who died of encephalitis, the people who suffered irreversible loss of sight.
7. The risk of vaccine injury means that no-one should vaccinate their kids. To play devil’s advocate for a moment, vaccine injury may exist. In a small percentage of the population, vaccines are alleged to cause serious illness and even death. But that is not the fault of the vaccine. It is simply a tragic result of the genetic makeup of some individuals. People who are at significant risk of vaccine injury have a very valid medical reason not to vaccinate – in fact, they are among the people we need to protect via herd immunity. But to say that no-one should vaccinate because of the few who are genuinely at risk is as ridiculous as saying that no-one should wear seatbelts because of the handful of people who have been harmed or killed by seatbelts in vehicle accidents.
When making the decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate, parents need to be driven more by the facts and less by emotion and media-generated fear.
Where do you stand on the vaccine debate? Do you believe that vaccines should be mandatory with an allowance for medical exemptions?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Kirsten Doyle (Running For Autism) of Toronto, Canada. Photo credit: PATH Global Health. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.