Monday, January 17, 2011

vaccination frustration

A friend recently posted a question as to whether to her friends vaccinate or not on her facebook page.  What ensued was a surprisingly respectful discussion on why people choose to vaccinate, and correspondingly, why people choose not to.  Some, like me, choose to selectively vaccinate and/or delay various vaccinations. 

Several people reading this will undoubtably write me off as uneducated, a wing-nut, a fringe parent who just can't understand the obvious good science of herd immunity.  On the contrary.  Though I may actually be a wing-nut, I'm rather clever actually, and I get the science behind herd immunity.  Some of it is even probably good science. 

But unlike much of the world, I don't see science as value neutral.  What I mean by this is:  some questions get asked, get funded, get studied.  Correspondingly, some questions do not get asked, do not get funded, do not get studied.  The business of which questions are seen as important to study and which are not, and even the way questions are framed to get asked, is a value-laden process.  (Hence, I do not believe that the holding out of science as 'fact' or 'emperical' knowledge is actually all that accurate.  Science is one way of knowing, one form of epistemology.  It is not the only one.)

People have been posting left, right and centre about the recent declaration that Dr. Wakefield's study on the MMR vaccine (many, many moons ago) which linked it to autism is scientific fraud.  I don't have problems with the sharing of this information.  But I do have problems with the ensuing conversations that occur, most of which involve bashing the intellect and decisions made by parents who are skeptical of the safety of vaccines. 

We, as parents, as expected to just take for granted that vaccines are safe, relatively benign substances to inject into our own, and our children's, bodies.  We are expected to believe that they are safe because we are told they are safe.   For one thing, all vaccines have a risk. That's why they make you wait in the office after you're finished. (And for the parents of that one in 1000th child who gets sick or dies from a vaccine, I'm quite sure the fact that the risk in 1 in 1000 isn't really all that comforting).    For another, - and here's the part that really pisses me off - when you ask your doctor or public health official what exactly makes up the vaccine you are about to inject into your child... they don't seem to be able to tell you (try it and see!).   I've looked up the ingredients to several vaccines online (yes, I'm aware that Canadian vaccines are different than American vaccines). Though most of our vaccines no longer contain Thimserol (that's mercury folks - the stuff we panic about when our household thermometers break) as they still do in the US, the flu shot and Hep B does apparently still use it.  Other vaccines do still contain very small amounts of other fun stuff like formaldehyde and aluminum.  

And yes - even though I'm told that these really nasty chemicals in trace amounts are perfectly safe to inject into my child - I worry.  I worry lots.  And you know what, I don't think it makes me a wing-nut.  I think asking these sorts of questions actually makes me kinda sensible. 

Moreover - I think it's not entirely unreasonable to be critical of big pharmacy.  There are a kajillion new vaccines being tested all of the time.  Some which might in fact be profoundly useful and others.... well. maybe not so much.  But they'll be guaranteed to make a lotta dough for some already fat wallets. (I just read about the testing of a vaccine to help people quit smoking).  I wonder how many new vaccines will my children's children be expected to take?  

For me, the decision about whether or not to vaccinate is a cost-benefit analysis.  I worry about the long-term, lifetime effects of injecting those toxins into my tots.  I do.  I worry about the possible cancer risks, infertility risks, etc. etc., especially as we are developing more and more vaccines every day.  (It would be mighty interesting to see a longterm study looking at the differences in certain health areas between immunized and non-immunized individuals - but I've yet to see one.)   But I also don't want my tots getting meningitis.  Or polio.  Or other really life-threatening illnesses.  So sometimes I choose to take the risk of long-term problems in order to guarantee my tots don't get those life threatening illnesses.  And sometimes I choose to opt out of vaccines I don't think are necessary to my children's immediate health and well-being.   You won't see us standing in line for a flu shot, a chicken pox shot, or the HPV shot.  (The altter because I agree with the criticisms that this vaccine has been pushed through without adequate testing.  That's just my take).  This is the business of being a parent.  Making tough calls, using our best judgement, trying to decide what's best for our children, despite what other people (yes even learned medical people) tell us. 

I completely respect the decisions of people who choose to, and choose not to vaccinate.  I don't think either position is an easy position to inhabit, when you really get all of the information from both side of the fence.  (Which is I guess, why I'm straddling the fence.)   L. and I are regularlyattentive to changing information, and constantly revisiting our decisions about which vaccinations we are and aren't comfortable with. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is - I'd sure appreciate that same respect from people whose choices are different than mine.

1 comment:

  1. Whilst I disagree with not vaccinating at all (because doing so not only risks the unvaccinated child, but also everyone else's child through risks of recurrence, etc.), I certainly wouldn't judge someone who disagrees or doesn't entirely understand the repurcussions of not doing so.

    I do think that the schedule should be examined, very, very much.

    I think that individually, vaccines are most likely safe. However, 'trace' amounts of things accumulate when 2, 4, 10 vaccines are given at a time. Not to mention that just because, say, the MMR vaccine is safe by itself, who is to say that MMR, Chicken Pox, and Tetanus given simultaneously won't react with one another?

    I think the discussion on the topic would be much more fruitful if everyone could calmly state their place rather than attacking those who disagree... then again, what wouldn't...