Friday, April 19, 2013

The Vaccine Debate

I consider myself to sit on the hippy end of the spectrum. I don't use hallucinogenic drugs or experiment with free love, but I'm crunchy and I know it. I am your go-to girl for questions about bread making, cloth diapers, natural cold and flu remedies, what can be recycled and how to use vinegar and baking soda to clean anything.

When it comes to parenting, our family's choices are made based on what is earth-friendly, cost-minimizing, wholesome and moral. It isn't always the easy solution we seek, but what works well for us and sits well on our conscience.

I want you to know these things, in black and white, because whenever a subject of controversy arises, it is easy to polarize views we don't agree with as "ignorant" or "negligent." I like to believe most parents make decisions for their children that stem from good intentions. When we discussed giving Abby her vaccines as scheduled, we were surrounded by media reports linking paediatric vaccines with autism. We approached this decision the same way we have/had approached all others. I had the luxury of knowing how to research topics well, thanks to my journalism background.

In 2009, we went ahead with Abby's vaccines as scheduled, beginning at two months. Like most parents, the worst part was watching my teensy baby feel pain I had allowed, and then consoling her cries. I wasn't worried about her developing autism, or the potential for it, until her one-year shots, which include one for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella). These, I had heard, were the culprit: One day you have a happy, typical child. The next you have a stoic spaced-out kid on the spectrum.

That's simplifying and sensationalizing it, but isn't that what parents were hearing? I did my own research and could find no reason good enough for me to forego her vaccinations. Sure, the idea of any of my children developing autism is scary, and something I wouldn't wish for. But I felt like I'd be falling for a scare tactic blindly if I used unsubstantiated media claims to prevent my kids from being vaccinated against some scary and still very present diseases.

I know people with polio, who have suffered measles, and who need emergency tetanus shots after slicing themselves with rusty blades. I don't want my kids to be limited in their travel opportunities as adults, nor to be afflicted with a preventable illness. So we vaccinated all of our kids. I don't feel a need to defend this decision, but to advocate for it.

The connection between vaccines and autism has been refuted, time and again, by national and international medical bodies. I know what Jenny McCarthy said, and read her book. And if any of my kids ever develop autism, I will return to her book for inspiration as a parent and guidance on how best to handle it. But she has contributed to fear-mongering about vaccines that is putting kids at risk. I don't want my kids to grow up in a world where preventable diseases make a resurgence because misguided parents opted not to vaccinate their kids.

I think it's a great idea to vaccinate your kids when they are healthy, and if this means waiting a whole winter for flu season to be over, then wait. We did. But don't use the "I'm a natural hippy mama" banner to shield you from my disdain because you did not vaccinate your kids. It is not natural, or healthy.

For Further Reading:
1- Vaccines and Autism- An Update (a blog post that neatly summarizes and properly cites its sources)
2- On-time Vaccine Receipt in the First Year Does Not Adversely Affect Neuropsychological Outcomes (medical journal article)
3- Vaccines Not Linked to Autism. Again. (Forbes article)


  1. such a huge topic. I know for me any lingering doubts of vaccinations were erased from my mind when E was so sick and because of her vaccinations we were able to test for, but be pretty sure she didn't have any of the diseases she was vaccinated against. I'm glad I trusted my own research and didn't stop vaccinations based entirely on media-hype or skewed research. I am pro-vaccine as scheduled and have no regrets.

  2. We've been staggering vaccines....18 month one will happen later this spring, but it's still happening. I also know people who've had polio.

  3. I thought it worth sharing this link as well. I followed this story a bit and was surprised how quickly the wrong information sped around the Internet. I was even more shocked that people believed what was being said without going back to the source material. The study in question was attacked since its publication as it seemed the medical community questioned the findings and reported on their dissatisfaction. Or course, all in hindsight.

    Anyway, just thought I would toss in my two cents and share the CBC story link:


  4. Wow. Jenny McCarthy is ballsy for writing that sentence. Also totally unqualified.


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