Whether you are a patient, a friend, or a stranger who got this from someone else, thank you for taking the time to tackle this difficult topic. Clearly, you are doing this because you love your kids enough to make educated decisions about their health care and for that, I applaud you. A bit of context before you dive in: I wrote all these blurbs originally as facebook posts. August is officially immunization awareness month so in August of 2014 I decided to post each day about a different educational topic. Since then, I’ve added some new material, edited, updated, etc. I try to keep this blog current. Numerous friends and relatives had asked me for reading material because among those who know me, I’m the vaccine girl. It’s kind of a hobby (OK obsession) of mine. I love vaccines. I’m not ashamed to say it. BUT, you should know that there was a journey involved for me to arrive at this place.
I grew up in a medical family, surrounded by physicians so clearly vaccines were universally recognized to be the greatest medical advancement of all time, saving more lives than any other innovation of the 20th century. I got every vaccine that was available to my parents at the time. Somewhere in my first year of residency, however, I came across the name of Andrew Wakefield in my readings. I started finding all these new ideas out there, mostly on the internet. There were these studies proclaiming that vaccines cause autism. Vaccines cause auto-immune diseases. Vaccines contain toxic ingredients. Vaccines cause epilepsy. Vaccines don’t even work, it’s all a scam by the government and pharmaceutical companies to make money, keep kids sick, etc. Well-meaning and trusting doctors are being lied to by organizations like the FDA and the CDC. I was appalled and dismayed. We can’t possibly be unknowingly involved in a plot to poison innocent children for profit, can we? CAN WE? I went to the literature. I devoured every piece of reading material I could get my hands on. I read all the books, pro and con. Over time, I began to see an emerging pattern – the people making these scary claims didn’t really have much to back them up. They had studies, don’t get me wrong, but on closer reading the studies they quoted were poorly designed. Sometimes, they were good studies, they were just being misinterpreted. Little by little, I came full circle back to my original stance. Vaccines ARE the greatest innovation of the 20th century.
That being said, vaccine safety is also a legitimate concern. Adverse events are real, albeit rare, but when it’s your baby we’re talking about the rarity doesn’t really make a loving and protective mother feel better. Furthermore, because vaccines work so well, these diseases are pretty much gone. If I choose not to vaccinate my child, what’s the likelihood that there will be any negative consequences to that decision? They’re never going to be exposed to diphtheria, seriously. (Seriously, have you ever met anyone who had diphtheria?) It’s not unreasonable to say, hey, the risk of exposure is miniscule and the risks of vaccines scare me. Therefore, I will not vaccinate my children. The problems come when more and more parents make that decision. In time, we start to see the breakdown of herd immunity. That’s when the diseases start to come back. And then, the decision becomes even more difficult. I am still afraid of the potential risks of vaccines but now my child might actually be exposed to measles. Now what? I guess what I’m trying to say is that I understand it’s a tough decision. I understand that parents are scared. I have kids. The idea of anything harming them literally makes me start to hyperventilate and have chest pain. With all my readings and research over the last decade, I can honestly say I’m more afraid of vaccine-preventable illness than I am of vaccines.
The blog posts are intended to be light-hearted and entertaining and provide a primer on vaccines. No doubt you have further questions and I encourage you to bring them to me. Like I said, I’ve been working on this for over 10 years so I have a lot more material where this came from. If I don’t know the answer to your question, I’ll say so, but I’ll help you find the answer. Keep searching, keep reading, keep being a good mommy or daddy who loves their children. Cheers!
- Doctor Kate