Vaccine articles abound these days. Not to mention Youtube rants, Facebook debates, pithy graphics and pinnable quotes. It’s the issue-du-jour in the parenting universe; one that doesn’t seem to be losing traction, even as both sides make little to no progress in changing minds.
In fact, those most invested in the issue seem to be polarizing to greater extremes – discussions devolving into calls for lawsuits or criminal charges, shocking rumours of evil intent and ugly name-calling.
Straw man arguments are all the rage in this discussion. You know the kind. Present your opposition’s case in the most ridiculous, laughable way, then swoop in like a hero to knock them down to size. Be sure to add a few nasty insults disguised as jokes. Appeal to fear. Appeal to a sense of superiority. People eat that stuff up.
It’s fun. Fun to read about all the ways I’m right, right, right. Fun, even, to sneer at the ridiculous claims made by the “other.”
I was prepared to jump right in. As much as I like to think of myself as a moderate, a conciliatory voice in a sea of extremists, this issue hits me right where it hurts.
So I wrote a post. Out of fear, anger, even pain. Lashing out… but, you know, in a funny and readable way. It probably would’ve done well, if I’d gone ahead and published it. I’ve seen a lot like it out there. No doubt read and shared by only those who agree already. And this one pushed all the right buttons. With a so-adorable-you-could-die picture of my cancer-fighting daughter at the end. The KO punch. Take that straw-morons!
Self righteous. Self indulgent. Pointless.
Because most parents don’t lead with their minds, they lead with their hearts. Especially when it comes to the safety of our children. Which is why this vaccine debate can get so very ugly, so very quickly. It taps into our primal defense system.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m right. But I’m going to try to set Mama Bear aside to make my point. This is important. But it’s not personal.
At the core, it is an issue of world-view.
Do you trust the scientific and medical community?
What do you value most highly: personal liberty or communal responsibility?
Ultimately, what do you fear?
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, it all comes down to fear. Either way, parents take a risk. A risk because vaccinations are neither 100% effective (and wane over time) nor are they 100% safe (not much in this world is). A risk because these diseases might (and in some cases are) making a comeback, putting my child at risk to contract, and spread, a preventable illness.
I’ve been a homeschooling mom, on the granola-crunching, tree-hugging, all-natural west coast. I know many families who choose not to vaccinate. My kids are friends with their kids. In our corner of the world, about 30% of children aren’t fully immunized. These parents are simply behind or doing what they think is best for their children. I know this. I even understand why.
When it came time for us to decide, we put our trust in traditional medicine. Not because I believe in blindly following the dictates of medical professionals like the infallible gods that they are (read this with a great deal of sarcasm), because it makes sense. This is not an unstudied and untested field – the medical evidence is public, accessible and clear. This is not a money-making scheme – vaccinations account for less than 2% of Big Pharma profits. This is not a conspiracy by a powerful elite – these are fellow parents who choose to vaccinate their children also.
Ultimately, I decided to do what I could live with. What if my child became ill, suffered permanent damage, or even died, because I chose to flout convention? What if another child did? I’d heard the stories my Grandpa told of a year spent in an iron lung. Of many who died. Polio. Small pox. Measles. Entries in a text book about deadly epidemics that seem like ancient history to us. Is it right for our family to reap the benefits of progress without doing our part for the future?
But none of that matters now.
You see, I don’t have a choice anymore. My daughter doesn’t anyway. Chemotherapy is stripping her immunity and we are at the mercy of the herd. At a time when every illness looms large and terrifying.
This is fear. Not a remote, theoretical possibility of harm, but one more skirmish in the day-to-day fight to keep death at bay.
So you understand why the question of “preventable diseases” seems SO much more important right now. Our instructions are clear: if she is exposed, even briefly, to one of these illnesses (or to someone who has been) we are to bring her immediately to the hospital. Full on emergency.
Did I mention that my best friend caught Whooping Cough last year? It was brutal. Nothing theoretical about it. And right in our own back yard. My daughter’s already so sick, I don’t know if she could survive that. Did you know that measles kills 400 children per day? North America used to be protected, but it’s back now and it’s a deadly disease. There were over 300 cases of it in our province last year. Did you hear about the NHL mumps outbreak? And on and on and on.
Danger lurks around every corner. Especially for us.
Despite my initial reactions, I’ve always known that those of us who choose not to vaccinate our children are neither monsters nor idiots. Though we’ve come to very different conclusions, we are the same – concerned parents.
Do the risks of immunization outweigh the benefits? Are reports of outbreaks overstated? Are the effects of measles, mumps and whooping cough (among other things) less dire than we’ve been led to believe?
I don’t think so. I really don’t. Since my daughter’s life is at stake I wish I did. I would rest so much easier. For once, I hope I’m wrong.
All I ask, from all my fellow parents, is that these decisions not be made lightly. Do the research. Not just the stuff that’s fun and easy to read, that makes you feel good. Look beyond the condescending attitudes and prejudices on both sides to examine the evidence. Consider the source – is it reputable… qualified… is there accountability… is there an agenda?
That’s all I can ask.
Because you’re deciding, not just for your own kids, but for all of us who can’t vaccinate. For all the infants, for those with allergies, for those whose vaccinations have worn off or didn’t take, and for those whose immune systems are already damaged.
Be absolutely sure that you are doing the right thing.
She’s counting on you.
So here’s me, using the emotionally manipulative picture anyway. Couldn’t resist…
February 5th, 2015 at 10:35 pm
Christie, you are amazing! If I were you, I don’t know if I’d have the grace and maturity to not publish the angry rant post. But wow, this post is so well written and thought out. You’re right, all of us are making these decisions out of concern/love for our kids. Sigh…. I just wish like you that more parents who have chosen not to vaccinate would research sources other than their friends “who told them” and think the exact same way. Thanks for sharing this, and the picture 🙂
February 6th, 2015 at 2:25 pm
Not sure it’s maturity, just that I was raised in a culture that deeply mistrusted scientists and majority opinion. It’s a perspective I understand. I believe that an objective and intelligent examination of the issue supports vaccinations, but who’s going to bother with that if they are being attacked and vilified? That said, it’s hard to dial down the emotion on this one.
June 18th, 2015 at 8:35 am
I have some friends who have chosen not to vaccinate. Friends that researched the hell out of the topic before making that choice. And not just the fluffy stuff either or the vaccines cause autism type stories. As, for the record their daughter has autism despite the fact that she is not vaccinated. For us the decision was pretty easy to vaccinate, similar to your story of your grandfather, I remember growing up with my Mom’s stories of having had meningitis, TWICE in her lifetime. I couldn’t take the risk. And yes, like everything else they don’t always work (my brother still got sick with everything under the sun, like getting mumps, which I still clearly remember). But the more that do vaccinate for kids like yours it really could be the difference for them.