My friend Sarah is the type who just thrives on being a mother. She struggled to get pregnant and suffered because of it: the thought of not having children just devastated her.
She was rewarded with a beautiful, healthy daughter — then a bouncing baby boy: carrot-top hair, sparkling eyes and the sweetest disposition. Everything was right on track, and she was happy.
The most fastidious of mothers — concerned with nutrition, safe cleaning products, good doctors, good schools and every other positive step she could take for her children, Sarah took her son in for his fifth round of vaccinations, during which he was administered a vaccine against pneumococcal disease. That day will live forever in her mind — the last day her son was really able to see, experience and interact with the world.
The early hours of the next morning are described as if the plot to a horror movie. Sarah’s son woke up in the night “screaming like she’d never heard before or again, like he was being tortured”. The incessant, agonizing sound tortured her as she struggled to do anything she could to help him. But it wouldn’t stop. For hours as they dealt with doctor calls and the ER, it just wouldn’t stop.
Sarah’s little boy lost his hearing. Due to a violent reaction to the vaccine, (one that she later learned had been reported previously), his brain swelled, his fever got out of hand, he suffered permanent brain and digestive tract damage, and is now on the Autistic spectrum.
And they suffer. The many ways that they suffer.
We are engaged in a dangerous, polarizing debate in this country. Both sides of the argument, whether it’s “pro-vaccinations” or “against vaccinations” are so sure of their side and absolutely dumbfounded by the other.
With the potential for major illnesses to return to the forefront of threat and concern… at the same time the potential for severe vaccine side effects like my poor friend and her son will forever be impacted by — is anybody really going to win? Can’t we all just stop, put down our swords and think for a second?
In order to really understand where I’m coming from and where I’m headed, I need to digress for a second. Let’s delve a bit into some U.S. history…
During the early development of this country, farmers moved West to the prairies of the Great Plains, turned over the land, and (to make a long story short) ended up creating the infamous phenomenon called “The Great American Dustbowl” in the process. A devastating time for our country, the air was so filled with dust and mess from the uneducated and financially-driven actions of the farmers that many people died, entire herds of livestock were killed off and many families experienced complete financial devastation – a true depression.
To learn more about this, I recommend the book “The Worst Hard Time”.
Because of the huge surge in wheat farming all at the same time, there was an epic surplus of the grain that was eventually rotting away in silos — too much supply for not enough demand in the entire country. To aid the farmers and economy, the government began inundating its citizens with a “Grains! 4x a day!” campaign, telling U.S. citizens that eating wheat 4x’s per day was the key to all sorts of crazy, made-up health benefits. This, of course, wasn’t true or based on health facts at all — it was to help the economy. And it worked.
The 80’s “Milk It Does a Body Good,” campaign? Doesn’t take much research to uncover that was exactly the same predicament. Too many dairy farmers. Too much supply. A slumping economy. Let’s make a glowing health recommendation for milk — that has little to do with actual medical science.
Anyways, back to the discussion at hand. The U.S. government has come out recommending that parents vaccinate their children saying, in no uncertain terms, that “vaccines are safe”. And I’ve just gotta’ ask a couple questions that, to me, are blatantly obvious:
Which Vaccines? And in What Conditions?
The most obvious “um… what?” in this debate for me is this blanket statement: “vaccines are safe and parents should vaccinate”. There are many different kinds of vaccines administered for many different reasons. These have different ingredients, different procedures for making them all by different manufacturers. While simple testing can be done to ensure a vaccines efficacy, there is no possible way to test the effects of these vaccines in real-world situations: administered with other medications, administered with all other potential vaccinations, administered in immune-compromised children and infants, administered in children prone to allergic reactions. There’s absolutely no way to test for long term effects. So… why would the government make such a declaration, when there is no doubt that, in some situations, some, of many different types of vaccines are not safe?
Let’s, please, ignore the fact that the pharmaceutical companies making the vaccines are represented everywhere in politics and pay big money to politicians to have their backs. No one can know exactly what’s going on there, or if there’s any real influence, and it just leads to circular, pointless political debate.
I like to think that the U.S. government is making this blanket-statement declaration not because its truth is ironclad, but because they believe it’s for the greater good. Simply, if some of the serious, preventable-through-vaccine illnesses rise again the results could be dangerous, expensive and out of the bounds of control.
Secondly, there’s an uphill battle. It’s a really difficult (if not impossible task), to separate out the vaccines that aren’t as necessary (or the vaccines that have more known and severe potential side effects) in any sort of simple education campaign. This is not a simple issue: there’s just so darn many of them, so many different reactions and so many different situations in which they’re administered.
And, all in all, children and adults with vaccine reactions are much more rare than the routine, successful vaccines. The chances anything will go wrong are there, but slim. So it comes down to a decision: 100% protection of my child from the vaccinated illness vs. not knowing if my child will get or transmit the illness (but knowing they will not be vaccine- damaged).
The decision to vaccinate can seem very cut and dry. I can respect all of these arguments and understand why many decide to just get all vaccinations that are recommended by the CDC and their doctors. We want to trust the CDC. Trust our doctors. I have no bad feelings towards people who take this approach for their own families. I’ve taken the time to consider this line of thinking, and it makes sense.
Having watched my friend and her son suffer, having researched this debate at no end, I will take a slightly different approach with my kids. I don’t think a parent has to choose an “all vaccines” or “no vaccines” side — I want to make educated decisions about which vaccines my children are administered.
I know I’ve probably already raised the pulses of a few who feel passionately about all vaccinations being administered. But there’s more to this thinking, so give it a shot. (I swear no pun was intended, but this did just bring a smile to my face).
Take the example of the vaccine that damaged my friend’s son. This vaccine is administered to infants to prevent invasive pneumococcal disease and otitis media. The CDC reports that the incidence of invasive pneumococcal diseases in infants up to one year of age is 31.4 children out of 100,000 per year, with death occurring in 0.22% of these children (so one child out of 100,000 children dies per year from this).
Given the reactions my friend’s child and other children have had to this vaccine, when compared to the .0003% chance of my child getting this illness by the age he was vaccinated, I would likely choose not to get this one. I understand that puts my child at a higher risk for pneumococcal diseases. I also take into consideration that we have excellent advancements in medications that can help prevent and treat these rare diseases if they were to occur. I understand the chances my child will have the same reaction are rare; I am someone who doesn’t want to take those chances. In both camps, pro-or against vaccines, aren’t we really just making different versions of the same decision in this particular case: protecting our child from the rare instance of getting the disease, or protecting our child from the rare side-effects?
Another to consider: The Varicella Vaccine (a.k.a. The Chicken Pox vaccine).
Get Chicken Pox as a child, and you’re forever immune. The vaccine can wear off in 5-8 years. 5% of all children vaccinated develop a fever and rash. Since an attenuated live virus is actually administered, this vaccine states openly that it’s more dangerous to immunocompromised patients, and side effects have included pneumonia, meningitis, fever and, well, chicken pox.
No one used to fear and condemn chicken pox like we do now — in fact, parents would have pox parties to GIVE their children the Chicken Pox to make them immune later in life. Personally, I don’t want my children to be vaccinated for this, I want them to let it take its natural course, so they never have to worry about it again. This decision is further compounded by the fact I have some diagnosed autoimmune concerns to add to the mix.
Interesting to note about Varicella: the vaccine is developed with the use of embryonic cell lines from aborted fetuses. Depending on your political views, that’s a fact that, of course, is not widely publicized (though it’s on Wikipedia) and may spark some thought.
Anyways, this is just a little more information on two out of the multiple vaccinations our children get. Isn’t it worth taking the time to get and consider the information on what we’re vaccinating against and what we’re risking in doing so? Then making our own decisions from there? I think so. I just so desperately want the name-calling, anger and insults to stop around this issue: it’s complicated, and both schools of thought have true merit. Parents are all just trying to care for their children the best way they know how, and they should have the right to do that.
There are several wonderful, “thank goodness we have them!” vaccinations that I will surely be administering to my children. There are others I will choose not to.
But, as a moral to all this, can we agree that parents like Sarah… can we at least agree to respect them? Talk about strength: not only does she have to raise her little boy struggling everyday, but to have to be mocked, shunned and nearly bullied by those who want to insist to her that what happened to her son “can’t happen”. That “vaccines can’t damage children”. Some have even called parents like her names, “idiots” for choosing not to get certain other vaccines. I certainly think she has that right. It’s heartbreaking.
Some vaccines can do damage. And one certainly did.