The Vaccination Conversation

As moms and parents, we are all just trying to do what’s best for our kids. We try to pick the right daycare, get the perfect car seat, have them eat the healthy foods, take those expensive vitamins, you know all the things we stress so much about (I’m sure you can relate, mama). That being said, I am pro-vaccine, because I believe this is the best I can do right now to protect my son from disease.

I know these days there is a continuously growing subgroup of people who are choosing to not vaccinate their children and in general, may fear Western medicine- and your reasons are not completely irrational. I will tip my hat to the fact that there are some risks associated with vaccines and have been rare incidents of injury and death.

We may have a difference of medical opinion, but I respect that you are trying to do what you believe is best for your child and having the responsibility to make BIG medical decisions that will potentially impact the rest of your child’s life is a huge weight. I don’t want to diminish the anxiety, the stress, and the burden that comes with the responsibility of being the person who has to make these types of decisions.

Hopefully by now, you’ve learned that vaccines do not cause autism (ASD); this whole myth was compiled by Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues who falsified data to create this irrational argument to support the anti-vaccine crusade and strike fear in the hearts of many parents. Did I mention he lost his medical license and his whole career to support this fallacy?

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After this falisified research came out, more and more people have jumped on the anti-vaccine bandwagon after big name celebrities like Jessica Biel and Jenny McCarthy also started making these claims.

Actually, ASD and many other development disorders have a high genetic heritability– meta-analyses reveal concordance rates or the probability that identical twins share the same genetic makeup (a.k.a. will have the same disease/ disorder), range anywhere from 58 to 91% (Tick et al 2015) and 21 to 31% concordance for dizygotic twins (paternal twins). There is also an increased likelihood that if one child has autism, another will as well (NIH, 2019).

The exact genetic markers involved in ASD have not been fully understood and need to be further studied, but clearly, there is a large body of evidence supporting that there is a big genetic component involved.

The other factors that have been indicated as possible risk factors and have yielded significant research are prenatal exposures to rubella, neonatal cytomegalovirus infections, paternal age effect, maternal inflammation as a result of infection, and exposure to harsh chemicals and drugs (Dietert, Dietert, & Dewitt, 2010; Hallmayer et al., 2011; Grabucker, 2013).

Moreover, researchers have not found any link between vaccinations and autism (Taylor, Swerdfeger, & Eslick, 2014). I have a few articles linked below if you’d like to know more about autism and vaccines.

Additional articles about Autism and Vaccinations

Any way, I just wanted to clear the air about that topic, because it is not my focus of today’s post. Honestly, if you believe that, you should probably stop reading now.

My plan is to further discuss the top factors that I believe impact a parent’s decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate while entwining my own rationale for choosing to vaccinate. So here we go.

What are the reasons parents choose to vaccinate or not?

1. Personal Experience

Our perspectives on any given topic are shaped by our personal experiences- whether they be positive or negative. Our experiences influence our thoughts, behaviors, how we respond to others – even the ones that are deeply buried in our subconscious.

Obviously, holding a degree in psychology and working in a research lab would make me more biased to vaccinate. But for you, you may have known or heard of someone who had a bad reaction to a vaccine or maybe even died.

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Beyond my education and work experience, my decision to vaccinate was greatly influenced by how I contracted shingles, an extremely painful rash with blisters that breaks out on the body typically following the pattern of a nerve. Besides giving birth, it was the single most painful experience of my life.

Okay, Sarah. You are young. Only the elderly get shingles.

Wrong. 1 out of 3 people who has had chickenpox will contract shingles at some point during their lifetime- it’s the exact same virus, varicella-zoster virus or herpes zoster. This virus can lie dormant for years and is often triggered by periods of intense stress.

So how do you prevent the chickenpox?

The magical chickenpox vaccine.

Unfortunately, my chickenpox vaccine was skipped as a child. I have been vaccinated for everything else, but somehow that one was left out, hence the shingles at 23.

Just to seal the deal for you. Before Christian and I knew what this rash was, we were sleeping in the same bed and in close contact. He was even touching it. Gross, right?

Did I mention that this disease is highly contagious?

Luckily for Christian, he never got shingles… BECAUSE HE WAS VACCINATED FOR THE CHICKENPOX.

Case closed for me.

More on Shingles

2. Lifestyle

Another big factor that contributes to a person’s decision to vaccinate or not is their lifestyle. Unlike these celebrity anti-vaxxers, I, myself, am not rich and do not have the luxury to keep Izzy unvaccinated. As I have shared before, Christian and I both work full-time so Israel goes to daycare and will more than likely attend a public school.

Nowadays, more and more parents are choosing to not vaccinate, making the school cafeteria and classrooms petri dishes for previously eradicated diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox to spread from kid to kid. I’m going to touch more on this in reason 3 below.

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These celebrity anti-vaccine advocates have the privilege and luxury to not vaccinate (more than likely their nanny is fully vaccinated). Maybe they stay home with their children. They may even have private tutors to teach their children math and English.

They do not share the same reality as the rest of us so should they be preaching to the rest of the population how to approach a topic that does not really pertain to them?

Will their child really ever encounter another person who is infected with a contagious disease?

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More than likely not.

Touching a little bit more on the topic of privilege and lifestyle, I’ve heard part of the argument against vaccines being supported by the fact that people aren’t getting these diseases any more. I’ll touch on the concept of herd immunity in a moment, but that statement only applies to citizens of countries that readily available accessibility to healthcare and vaccinations.

In low-income countries, such as those in Asia or Africa, who have weak healthcare infrastructures, thousands even millions are infected with the measles, malaria, yellow fever, mumps, hepatitis, tuberculosis, pertussis, rubella, and Polio. Children die in these low-income countries with poor health care, because they simply do not have access to vaccinations (SG Scientific Blog. 2016).

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As Americans and citizens of other countries with access to readily available healthcare, we simply cannot fathom this reality. We just do not see the deleterious impacts of these diseases, because it’s just not common here- because of our privilege to have vaccines in the first place.

We are so blessed to even have the choice to choose whether or not we vaccinate our children. That’s the reality.

3. Altruism

As I mentioned, I wanted to touch on herd immunity which functions on the principle that the majority of the population or “the herd” is immune to a given disease (through vacciantion), and therefore, able to stop its spread. (Dictionary, 2019).

Essentially, a person who is not immune can be shielded from encountering a disease if everyone else is vaccinated and immuned. Simply, the disease cannot spread from person to person and ends up becoming basically nonexistent in that population anymore.

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The disease becomes lost like a needle in a haystack.

But like I said, herd immunity only works if the majority of people (approximately 95%) are immune. With the increasing anti vaccine crusade gaining momentum, herd immunity is beginning to falter when numbers grow beyond 5% of the population (Oxford Vaccine Group, 2016).

Okay, not my problem Sarah! Let those who choose to not vaccinate have their way. The rest of us will be fine.

But it’s not that simple, even though I wish it was. Babies and immunocompromised individuals rely heavily on herd immunity to protect them from contracting these contagious diseases, because they cannot or cannot yet be vaccinated for those particular diseases.

Hence, why I stated altruism was reason #3. Altruism is the practice of selfless concern for others’ wellbeing without looking for your own gain. I bring altruism up for discussion, because many people believe vaccinations are a personal choice, and they are only obligated to themselves or their own children.

But I am asking you these simple questions.

  1. Is it really a personal choice if other people who cannot make this choice for themselves are depending on you?
  2. What if you or your child could not get the MMR vaccine or Polio vaccine and lived in an area where there was an epidemic, would you be advocating against vaccines then?
  3. Would you want someone else to do this to you or your family if the roles were reversed?

Just some food for thought.

4. “Research”

In today’s world, the web is saturated with resources and information about any topic you could possibly want to learn about. By typing in a single word or phrase into Google, you immediately have access to thousands of articles, blogs, websites, and information about the topic you are researching, whether its about symptoms of a cold or a yummy taco recipe!

Unfortunately, in some of those links, there is false information and illegitimate research. Earlier, I brought up Andrew Wakefield as an example about how falsified data mystified a link between autism and vaccinations.

You really need to be careful about what you read and believe on the Internet (I’m so cliche I know). But for real, some of the websites that discuss “research” about vaccinations are operated by conspiracy theorists, or people who have no background in science or very limited understanding of how research works.

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I really want to encourage you to do your own vaccine research- and not take what I say as truth. But I cannot stress enough that you should be sourcing legitimate information from government agencies like the CDC and FDA and from scholarly articles in a peer-reviewed journalnot from some conspiracy website or a blogger (Ouch, I just insulted myself).

I emphasize using these type of resources over some website you found by using Google. There is an extensive process before any vaccine can be put on the market, or any vaccine research can be published…unlike some blogger who can write an article and use the best SEO so you find their work at the top of Google.

To put a vaccine on the market, it takes about 10 to 15 years. There are so many steps to this process- they have to do research, discovery, pre-clinical testing, clinical testing (~7 year process), and then go through a period of regulatory approval.

Vaccine Testing and Process Resources

Moreover, scholarly articles about vaccines in peer-reviewed journals undergo a lengthy publication process as well. Grant approval. IRB approval. Journal approval. Journal submission edits. So many different eyes – of those with PhDs- look over the article and make the researcher question their life’s work.

It’s so rigorous and tasking that it’s extremely difficult to find anything illegitimate in these journals. After the Wakefield incident, journals are hyperaware and will call out any bull they see.

In summary, do your own research but make sure it’s legit.

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In Conclusion

Your parental decision to choose to vaccinate is extremely difficult, and I cannot stress enough that I know you are trying to do what’s best for your kids. In my life, I’ve found that my own personal experience impacts my decision-making, and it can be difficult to see beyond my own perspective. – I cannot fully understand your decisions because we do not share the same experience. For this reason, in my own limited understanding, I choose to trust medical advice and safety regulations put in place by those who are a lot smarter than me.

I also believe our own unique lifestyles heavily influence whether or not we choose to vaccinate. As I mentioned, my lifestyle exposes my son to more people who could carry an infectious disease whereas yours may not. Your children may stay home with you and not have to encounter the chickenpox from a classmate and later develop shingles.

That being said since Izzy is often around a lot of people, we vaccinate to protect those who cannot. I choose to do not only what’s best for my own child but also for the group. The eradication of these infectious diseases depends solely on the principle that the majority is immune so those who are not can hide.

Lastly, your own “research” whether real or fake is influencing your decision making process. I hear this a lot from antivaxxers, “I’ve done my own research.” But I often question the creditability of their sources. If you are going to make a sound argument or a stand for something as impactful as this, make sure your research is legit and not from a conspiracy theorist website.

I understand that there have been injury and death associated with vaccinations, but statistically these incidents are extremely infrequent. The truth is that there are no alternatives to vaccines to protect someone from infectious diseases. Instead of completely throwing in the vaccine towel, I’d like to suggest that if you are unhappy with what’s currently on the market, demand from your governmental officials to improve vaccines or contribute in some way to vaccination research.

Perhaps, make a donation or consider a career in vaccine research.

Vaccination Donation Programs

What has most influenced your decision on vaccinations?

Share below in the comments!

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