The Vaccine Question
One of the questions many new parents have is “What about vaccines?” The media (social & otherwise) is filled with stories, truths, half-truths, and biased agendas from every point of view. The one thing I am certain of is this – all good parents want what is best for their child(ren) and all good medical practitioners want what is best for their patients.
The real question then is – What is best??
The answer to that is not a simple one when it comes to issues of health, immunity, well-being, and vaccines. I can’t tell you what the best choice is for your family. And I can’t tell you that there will be no consequences from your choices. What I can tell you, is that at the end of the day you and your family are the ones who will have to live day in and day out with the effects of your decisions. Not the federal or provincial/state government. Not the medical community. Not the vaccine manufacturers. Not the complimentary health community. Yes they are all impacted by the ripples of your decision – but you and your family are at the epicenter, and the people you interact with in real life are the first ripple outside that circle.
There are three things that I think are important to keep in mind when exploring the issue of vaccinations:
1 – Don’t succumb to puddle vision!
In first aid scenarios, “puddle vision” occurs when you arrive at the scene of an accident and see a “puddle” of blood. That puddle is so eye-catching that it pulls all your attention to it and causes you to miss out on the bigger picture. You might even miss out on evaluating a far more serious injury that needs your attention or a threat to your own well-being. When it comes to vaccines, there are some big scary stories out there. As soon as you begin researching vaccines you will come across stories of unvaccinated children irreparably harmed by the illness they weren’t vaccinated for and stories of vaccinated children irreparably harmed by the vaccines intended to protect them. While these stories ARE compelling, they are only one piece of the puzzle. Don’t allow them to make you miss out on the bigger picture. When the risk of ‘something’ (take your pick!) is for instance, 1 in 10 000, the person who IS the 1 in 10 000 may well have a harrowing tale to tell. But that harrowing tale is only true for them, not for the other 9 999 people in their pool. If you can, avoid the personal accounts and stories altogether. If you can’t, remember to keep them in their proper context.
2 – Don’t compare apples to oranges.
Just because something is a substantial risk in a geographic region, or to a particular sub-group of the population, doesn’t necessarily mean it is a substantial risk to you/your family/the people you interact with in real life. Eating peanuts is extremely dangerous to someone with a peanut allergy. That doesn’t mean that eating peanuts is dangerous to all people, everywhere, always.
3 – Consider how you feel about the impact your decisions could have on your community.
While it is harmless for non-allergic child Jane to eat peanuts, if she eats peanuts then goes to play with her highly-allergic friend next door Jill, Jane’s choice could cause serious or even fatal harm to Jill. This doesn’t necessarily mean Jane has to stop eating peanuts altogether, but her parents and Jill’s parents need to be conscientious about the interactions their children each have with the wider world and the potential consequences of those interactions. (Please note that this is NOT referring to the contentious concept of Herd Immunity but rather to the general idea that the decisions we make for ourselves can impact those around us).
Remembering all of that, regardless of which “camp” you choose to be in, (full vax; partial &/or delayed vax; no vax) I think it’s important to understand to the best of your ability the risks and benefits of your position. And its important to think through worst case scenarios.
If YOUR child is the ‘1 in 10 000’ who contracts a serious illness or experiences a serious side effect…. How will you feel? What will you do? What are your treatment options? Will you regret your choice? Will you blame someone else for it? Where will you find support as you move forward through the traumatic experience? If YOUR child is the ‘1 in a million’ who dies from an illness or vaccine injury… Will you regret your choice? Will you blame someone else for it? Where will you find support as you move forward? The consequences of vaccine decisions are very real and while I don’t think it is wise to make decisions based on fear, I do think it is wise to consider all the possible outcomes… even the unimaginable ones.
How then do we go about making a decision when the stakes are so high? Start with the facts. Get a copy of the vaccine schedule for your area by doing an online search for “vaccine schedule _____ _____ (your province or state and the year), or contact your doctor, or your public health authority.
The Ontario, Canada schedule is available here.
The schedule for your area will give you the trade names of the vaccines currently used. You can then do a search (online, through your doctor, or through your public health authority) for the manufacturer insert &/or prescribing information for each vaccine. Oftentimes there will be links and references to other sites which explain things like what the ingredients are in the vaccines, what the risks associated with the vaccines are, and what the infection rates are for the particular illnesses.
Once you have this basic background, you can expand your knowledge base by searching in medical journals – such as the American, Canadian, and British Medical Journals - and in databases like PubMed & Cochrane - for related studies, and also by searching sites like Statistics Canada for raw data on things like the number of cases of illness or injury, most commonly impacted demographics, etc.
You will want to gather the information necessary to ascertain what the odds are overall of getting sick or vaccine injured, seriously sick or seriously vaccine injured, or even dying; what the risk factors are; whether the risk factors apply to you. Once you know this, you will be well on your way to determining which set of risks you are most comfortable choosing. Whether you choose to fully vaccinate on schedule, partially &/or delayed vaccinate, or not vaccinate at all, there ARE risks associated with all three paths.
You may wish to explore the ingredients in vaccines and their effects on the body compared to effects on the body of the illness and its treatment methods if contracted.
You may wish to explore how the immune system develops and how both vaccines and naturally-contracted illness could impact the immune and other bodily systems.
You may wish to explore when the highest periods of risk are for each illness or injury, compared to when immunization by vaccination would be considered complete.
You may wish to explore the historical trends of the illness and the impact that vaccines did or didn’t have on those trends. Be sure to look at sites from a variety of perspectives on this issue as it is easy to pull out just one piece of history in order to illustrate a particular point, when looking at a larger slice of history may paint a different picture.
I know it’s a lot to consider. It would be far easier to defer to someone you trust and simply do what they recommend to you. Whichever path you choose, know that there are also complimentary health options you can explore to support your child’s immune system. Herbs and homeopathy are just two of the many modalities which are available, so be sure to reach out to a naturopath &/or homeopath with experience in this area if you want to explore these choices further.
Remember that you are doing the best you can for your child, and no one can ask for any more than that.
References, Resources, and Recommended Further Reading
Health Canada on Vaccines
Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System
Ontario, Canada Vaccination Schedule
CDC on Vaccines
USA Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System
WebMD Children's Vaccine Overview
Ask Dr. Sears - The partial &/or delayed vaccination approach
AAP rebuttal to Dr. Sears
Vaccine Risk Awareness Network - the Basics
National Vaccine Information Centre
Pathways to Family Wellness: Immune Mechanisms & Consequences
Vaccine Free: Homeopathic Alternatives
Herd Immunity by Levi Quackenboss
'Make An Informed Decision' book by Dr.Mayer Eisenstein
The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Childcare (skip the sections on circumcision & breastfeeding in this book though!)
The Parents Guide To Natural Healthcare For Children by Karen Sullivan (this is probably my all-time fav childcare book with a wide range of info and options... but its out of print so get your hands on a used copy while you still can!)