Lately, I’ve seen a lot of information passing through my social media feeds about the dangers of vaccines. My feeling is that people are a lot more willing to share the evils of vaccines and how dangerous they are to children than they seem to be willing to share how their experience with vaccines was totally uneventful and went just fine.
This probably has something to do with human nature. I know for me, I don’t usually share this story because I feel a little embarrassed about it, and I would never want anyone I know and love to feel judged by me.
When my daughter, Naomi, was born. I was very concerned about vaccines. I had gotten all my shots as a child and nothing bad happened to me, but had they changed since I was a kid? Friends encouraged me to “do my own research.” But I was really busy, and I felt like if any of the risk of side effects from vaccines were real that was too much risk for *my* child, and I delayed getting her vaccinated. The information that people share showing the vaccines are dangerous (“if it’s not dangerous why has the VAERS paid out so much money in settlements?” “how do you explain the increase in prevalence of autism spectrum disorders?” “doesn’t that seem like a lot of toxins to put into such a small body?“), seems compelling, and I was so overwhelmed at being a new mom and running a business that I mentally told myself “I’ll do my research later” and never really came back to it.
When Naomi was two, we didn’t have insurance. One night, she got very sick – I spent the whole night holding her in my arms trying to keep her cool and comfortable, monitoring her temperature, and wondering if I should take her to the ER or if she could wait til we could go to her pediatrician in the morning. I was so worried that she’d been exposed to measles or some other preventable disease that I re-examined the data (which is to say, I picked up the book Deadly Choices by Paul Offit that had been sitting on my shelf for two years and finally read it). Reading Offit’s book was like having a friend who was a doctor calmly explain how vaccines were and are developed, what the human immune system is capable of doing, and the diseases that vaccines are preventing. He also talked about the development of the anti-vaccine movement, and how the information is being twisted in a way that really hurts public health.
I realized that the “negative reaction” that I was so worried about is typically a fever or a rash. I thought about that night when I wondered whether my daughter was going to be okay, and I decided that I would take the rash and low-grade fever to the experience of that night any day. I also recognized that while my children are very special to me, they really didn’t have any kind of risk factor to make avoiding or delaying vaccines make sense. They had no allergies, no history of allergies, no history of illness, no genetic predisposition to anything – and honestly, they are the kids who are most likely to be fine if they are exposed to measles, polio or another disease, which is why it’s also most important for them to be vaccinated.
So, I called my pediatrician’s office and scheduled an appointment to talk about getting her caught up. She did not enjoy getting her shots, but she was fine. She got a little rash from one dose of one vaccine (her skin has always been sensitive), but it cleared up within days. My second child got all of her vaccines on time, and she is also fine.
I know that for parents raising a child with special needs, developmental delays, or other sensitive medical issues, it can really feel like the onset of symptoms was caused by a vaccine. Kids get vaccines pretty regularly for the first couple of years of life. For me, what really felt like an ‘ah-ha’ moment was in reading Offit’s book, he described the reverse situation (from a statistical perspective) – wouldn’t it be weird if no child ever died of SIDS or started presenting initial symptoms of autism in the days or weeks following a vaccination? Sadly, these things do happen, and as much as we wish we could prevent them and that we could protect our kids from everything, we just can’t. And if these things happen at random times during the first two years of life, it’s likely that it will happen for some people in the days or week after getting a vaccine.
In general, I want to acknowledge that we don’t give enough credit to natural medicine, our gut health, and homeopathy. Naturally remedies are often very effective. I keep a book by Dr. Aviva Room called Naturally Healthy Babies and Kids on standby in my house because it’s also like having a doctor friend explain most childhood illnesses and gives great supplemental ideas for treating your whole child at home. Dr. Romm also believes in the medical importance of snuggles, hugs, dancing, quiet, and nature, which I love. But I think I personally went too far by discounting the miracle that vaccines are for our public health and how much death and sorrow they’ve spared our children.
I just feel so much better knowing that whenever there is a measles outbreak, that my kids are protected and aren’t going to unwittingly pass it along to a child who’s too young, sick or isn’t vaccinated for another reason.
I hope you feel free and safe to get your child vaccinated, too. Don’t feel like you need to be an immunologist or do extensive research. I really think it’s okay to trust your pediatrician, established science, and have a little faith in your child’s miraculous immune system.
p.s. I got my first flu shot last week. I did this for two big reasons – my daughters don’t like getting shots, and I wanted to show them that mommy did it, too. Also, we’ve all had a lot of sickness in 2019, and I just don’t have the time to get the flu right now. I feel great.