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Vaccinations- my introductory thoughts

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Vaccination is a hot topic these days.  In Momland I feel like it’s one of those things-of-which-we-do-not-speak if we want to maintain relationships.  People have strong opinions and everybody has the facts to back up their side.  I want to be really clear about what I hope to accomplish by having a series of posts about vaccination.  I am not writing/hosting this series to try and convince those of you who are already firmly anti vaccination.  If that’s your opinion I don’t expect to sway you, so you’re free to read but know that if your decision is made in obedience to your convictions I support you even if I don’t agree and I expect you to give me the same respect.  I am hoping these posts can be a source of information for those who have questions and who are still making up their mind.  There are a lot of us who have tried to do the research, but have felt overwhelmed at the amount of information and wondered who to trust.  These posts are for you.

I want to acknowledge that there are friends of mine (and family members, too!) who believe differently than I do on this topic.  Passionately.  REALLY passionately.  That’s okay with me if it’s okay with you.  I don’t have less respect for you as a parent, I don’t think you’re necessarily doing something morally wrong (depending on your motivations which could be equally wrong for vaccinating or not vaccinating), and I don’t want you to decide you and I are different kinds of moms because we have different opinions on this topic.  Of course, I don’t think we can both be right.  At some point we have to decide who we believe and that’s part of what I’ll address in my next vaccine post.  I think the only way to help you see where I’m coming from is to give you a little of my vaccination history.

When we first became parents in 2007 I heard rumblings that there was a link between vaccines and autism, but wasn’t sure what that really meant.  As we boarded the flight to Liberia to pick up our son, I didn’t have a firm conclusion in my mind about what we’d do when the vaccination question came up.  A few days later as we waited in the US Embassy building to meet with the woman who would grant Josh’s visa I found myself bouncing a fussy baby on my hip and pacing around a bustling lobby.  I tried to occupy myself by reading some of the information posted on the walls.  I came to one wall that had maybe six posters, each listing some pretty horrific symptoms.  The title said, “Do you have” and then the symptoms were listed underneath.  To make this a little more graphic for you, the words were accompanied by pictures since much of the Liberian population is illiterate.  At the bottom was a possible diagnosis and then a number to call for help.  These were diseases I had only ever heard about in history books.  Not just tropical or exotic illnesses, but illnesses that have been entirely wiped out of the American consciousness because they are vaccine preventable.  It was that moment I realized part of my indecisiveness about vaccinations was based on my American luxury of great healthcare.

I am not a doctor.  Nobody should take medical advice from me.  I have done some research, but the amount of information available is beyond my ability to read during the limited time I have available.  I know improved hygiene practices have lessened the spread of disease, but in looking at those posters in Liberia I wondered how long it would take of us refusing to vaccinate our kids before their descendants would be looking at these same informational posters to figure out what was wrong with them.  I imagined these Liberian mamas weeping helplessly over dying babies who just didn’t have access to same vaccines my kids will have.  Vaccination now seemed like an easier decision to make.

This was confirmed for us in talking with our pediatrician when we brought Josh home.  He was a very knowledgeable person and allowed us to ask him any questions.  We were confident he was doing ongoing research into this topic and trusted his judgement.  Josh was vaccinated with no side-effects other than a sore spot at the injection site.  We appreciated the help and input of this pediatrician and were sad when we had to leave his practice because of our move from Tennessee to Nebraska.

Our next two children were wards of the state and as such we had little input in their medical care.  They legally belonged to their biological parents and the state of Nebraska, so we took them in for their vaccinations on schedule and each came through without incident.

But then we had a biological child.

There are very few feelings in parenthood that have been different with this child than with my other kids.  I have found the love and bond I feel for him is exactly as deep as the love and bond I have with my adopted kids.  But when the issue of vaccination came up, I found myself questioning it in a new way.  My other children had been exposed to things I couldn’t protect them from.  They had legally belonged to someone else until after those baby vaccinations were all finished.  I felt they needed protection from situations and environments I couldn’t control so I was 100% in favor of their vaccinations.  But for this little guy that I had protected with my very life for his first nine months of existence and then was keeping close to me and in the safety of my own home, I just wasn’t sure this was the right thing.

We chose not to get the first round of vaccinations that happen shortly after birth.  We choose not to get the next round either.  I told my pediatrician I wanted to wait until he was six months-old.  She was fine with that especially since he was breastfed and not in a childcare situation, but I knew at six months I’d need a better reason to refuse than just a stall tactic.

I did research.  I read websites both for vaccination and strongly against it.  I watched documentaries.  I talked to friends about their choices.  Everyone had their own set of “facts”.  And eventually I realized as much research as I could do in my limited free time I was not going to become a medical professional.  At some point I had to trust the opinion of someone with more knowledge on the subject than I had.

I was concerned about approaching my regular pediatrician with my questions.  She’s a good doctor, but as a foster parent I felt like the relationship of trust is sacred between us.  It is a bit of a pressure I carry into the relationship and isn’t at all a reflection of her.  I need to know she trusts my judgement since I may have to bring her children who we have limited medical history on or who come to me with medical problems I didn’t create.  I didn’t feel safe coming to her with what felt kind of like conspiracy theories and I also didn’t want to argue with her if I didn’t feel like her answers were sufficient.  (I’m going to talk more about the doctor/patient relationship in a future post)  So I felt like my safest option was to send an email to our original pediatrician in Tennessee.

This doctor called me on a Sunday (see why we love him?) and let me go through my laundry list of questions about the pros and cons of vaccines. . . again.  He listened to all of them and had great answers that helped me feel like vaccinating on schedule was the best option for my son.  I appreciated his honesty in saying that it IS a risk, but that leaving our child unvaccinated was an even greater risk.

So now I consider myself a bit of a vaccination advocate and struggle to figure out how to convey my position respectfully, but passionately.  I feel like the anti vaccination crowd is attempting to establish a moral high ground.  It seems there’s a perception that if we all just educated ourselves we’d see things from their perspective.  I struggled with feeling like I must be some kind of sheep to just go along with the pediatrician’s advice, but at some point you have to decide who you trust.

I want to feel like I can control my kids circumstances enough that I’d never have to face those illnesses of days gone by.  Those posters in Liberia showed me it just takes one infected person making a transatlantic flight to potentially expose everyone on that plane and everyone THEY come in contact with to something we never would have seen coming.  Maybe that day will never come, but once it does it’s too late.

I want to reiterate that I am in no position to give specific medical advice.  I also want to say that I enjoy a level of dialogue in the comments section of my posts, but as this is a hot topic I will be closely moderating them during this series.  I’m hopeful there will be a lot of respectfully delivered information for you to read and think through.

Guest Post #1:  Did I Vaccinate my Kids?  

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16 Comments

  1. I read the famous “The Vaccine Book” or whatever it’s called, and I thought that reading that was enough for me. I thought it was unbiased, factual, and very accesible for anyone with zero medical knowledge (me) other than “I can tell what a fever feels like when I’m having one”.
    I thought it helped take this HUGE, overwhelming topic down to a pretty real level, and I also have good rapport with our old pediatrician.
    I will say, though, that I had a similar experience with a friend of mine who has been traveling to third world villages and countries all over for the past 5 years, who tells about the horrors of no vaccinations in these places. Since I didn’t read that book (or do much research) until my son was nearly 3, and my daughter 12-18 months, I think I would have skipped a few non-consequential ones, but I just didn’t know about it at the time, at ALL–that it was even a controversy, but I would still (and continue to) would for others.

    So, Maralee, when are you going to talk about circumcision? HAH kidding
    Sarah M

    • Sarah, it’s so funny that you said that! I was honestly thinking about a circumcision post on the way home from my son’s doctor appointment today (where he got vaccinated). If we can handle this one without anybody freaking out, I’ll be willing to tackle whatever 🙂

      • Is it weird that I am kind of hoping our next baby is a girl in part so we don’t have to make a decision about circumcision?

  2. Vaccination is a topic that makes me cranky, so I probably won’t be commenting, but I will be reading with interest! 🙂

  3. Very well-written, Maralee! I look forward to reading the rest. For me and my experiences in Africa, I see the complete other side to the anti-vaccine crowd. Vaccines ARE important. However, I do feel there is a great burden placed on the immune systems of tiny babies with the current vaccination schedule, so I personally believe a delayed, and modified approach is best. I also am reading The Vaccine Book and will be taking many of his recommendations.

    So are you pro or anti circumcision??? Who knew THAT would become such a hot topic! Caleb has been circumcised. It would have caused discord in our marriage had I decided that I did not want the procedure.

    My pet pieve with all of these camps is the way some act like it’s moral decision. Who knew it could be a moral issue on whether or not you co-sleep???

    Thankfully there have not been any “mommy wars” in my circle, which has been a blessing!

  4. Vaccinating my child was the first parenting decision I made that opened my eyes to the fact that I would probably disagree a lot with my friends over the years. (This coming from a mom who adopted her firstborn at 7 weeks. I managed to bypass all the decisions related to pregnancy and childbirth!) I felt so overwhelmed with what to read and who to listen to that I picked three beloved authorities in my life and listened to their advice: my mom (aka The Public Health Nurse), my dad (also an RN) and my pediatrician. I was a blessed relief to make that call and then let the rest play out.

  5. Thank you for writing this with grace and patience. I think your perspective is clear and refreshing. I, too, have stood by as a vaccinating mom, frustrated by the passionate approach of my non-vaccinating friends. We make the best decisions we can for our children based on the information we have. We don’t give every flu shot to our children, and I’m still praying about and researching the gardasil vaccine as my daughter just turned 10, but I still strongly believe that vaccinating (on a delayed schedule, usually) is the best choice for MY children.

    • Please don’t take my comment about “passionate nonvaccinating friends” as condescending — i didn’t mean it to sound that way — EVERY mom should be passionate! I have just felt particularly attacked in this area and unsure of how to deal with it. You’ve done a great job of that, and I’m thankful for your example!

  6. I think vaccines must be considered separately rather than as a lump – they are very different. Some have live viruses, some use questionable ingredients, some are for very serious illnesses, some are for illnesses that are largely only inconveniences, some have a long history of safety, others are very new, sometimes they are combination vaccines, etc. It does take a little sorting through, but I think it is wise to do so. “The Vaccine Book” (mentioned above) was an enormous help to me.

  7. Very good post. I have a long history with this subject and wont even share where I stand…but I will tell you where I am passionate. I’m passionate about loving other moms. I’m also passionate about the fact that God leads us all if we ask Him. He knows my children and their bodies better than I do…so if we find ourselves feeling a certain way, its good to ask and do the best we know how to do, and trust Him with the results. I find being right means too much to most moms (including me at times!). If youve been given clarity for your family, thats gift enough. We dont need the approval of others. I share if asked.. Otherwise, I find, its best to be grateful and certain in your own heart and mind for your own children! Thats responsibility enough! I couldnt shoulder the responsibility for another family! 😉

  8. What a lovely hot topic 🙂 At my last nanny job with twin foster babies who were legally wards of the state but the parents were working on reintegration and for reasons related to the situation did not retain medical authority, though they came to every doctor’s appointment and thus nearly every visit was a polite-but-extremely-tense showdown between me and them and the most laissez-faire pediatrician I have ever encountered. Which was unfortunate. The parents were wanting to not vaccinate the twins at ALL thanks to Jenny McCarthy’s book and I very much disagreed, especially since particular research was already circumspect. We eventually compromised on the most delayed schedule known to man, involving one shot per visit per week, for 10 weeks (as we had to play catchup on all the shots they had missed). In winter. I think a little piece of my soul died every time I hauled that stroller across the icy parking lot AGAIN.

    So while I am pro-vaccinations and have a variety of friends who are not, I can always appreciate when someone has taken the time to do their research on either side, rather than give into mob mentality or fear-mongering. In which case, I will do my darndest to persuade them to do some reading.

  9. I was a doctor long before I was mother so when it finally came time for me to vaccinate my own child, the decision was easy. Like others have mentioned, I get frustrated by the deluge of bad info out there. As a doctor I also try to calmly present my side and answer questions my patients or friends have. I am strongly in favor of vaccinations, but do not try to force my opinion. There are some vaccines I feel more strongly about – having a daughter during this year’s very bad flu season made me a bit more paranoid than usual about flu and pertussis – but ultimately I know that most parents are trying to do what is best. I actually declined the hepatitis b vaccine normally given at birth because I tested negative during prengnancy and the vaccine is lumped into the combo given at the 2, 4, and 6 month visits so it seemed like overkill.

    As someone who has traveled to developing nations I also have myself been extensively vaccinated and never had any issues other than the sore arm I get from tetanus.

    I always appreciate when we can all be respectful of each other as we make parenting decisions. I look forward to the rest of the posts!

  10. Hi! I live in Italy and it’s a Western nation. We used to be the 7th most industrialized nation, ahead of Great Britain, before a couple of decades of political ‘demise’ undid that. A lot of disease here have disappeared though vaccines. Some are only known through books or movies. Right? Well, Italy has a HUGE amount of coastline, ungarded and ungardable, so pretty much anybody with a mind to enter Italy can.This happens all the time. Thus, there is no medical screening of these illegal immigrants. Once you are in, you can go through the paperwork and find a measure of legality. But still, NO MEDICAL SCREENING. And about 2 years ago there was a MASSIVE health scare because a form of meningitis we are vaccinated against….s tarted striking around our peninsula! People reported to the ER and croaked shortly afterwards. It felt like a horror movie. Eventually, it turned out somebody who had NOT been vaccinated for this disease came to Italy and settled. He then began to spread it, unwittingly, to all of those he came in contact with! Some with stronger immune systems rebounded. But kids and people with weakened immune systems did not. I believer we had 9 deaths. That opened the eyes of a LOT of people! Interestingly enough, the fact that all Italians are vaccinated (or I should say were,as things are changing even here) against Tuberculosis helps the authorities identify illegal immigrants from say Romania or Albania, who aren’t. And last but not least, my generation was the last to be vaccinated against the pox. We had so much pox here in previous centuries, we all got the vaccine. Now it’s a disease that no longer exists. HERE it doesn’t. But say someone from a pox infested country moves here, well…. from my generation onward, everybody is game to catch it.
    I just think that in our globalized world, one can’t think anymore about ‘well, we live in a safe place’. There is NO safe place for diseases, as all it takes is someone going by on their way to somewhere else, and the germs are in.
    Thanks for the very interesting article! I feel we aren’t that many holding to this conviction so it’s very interesting to read and see where you are going with it ; )
    Blessings,
    Jessica

  11. Great post! I am encouraged by the reminder to approach this topic with grace. It is a topic that parents and medical professionals get very passionate about, and while some may be passionately wrong, the motives behind the passion (to protect children) are good motives. It’s not like anyone intentionally trying to start a measles or autism epidemic. However, I don’t understand why there is still so much bad information available. I just googled “vaccination causes autism” and found as many sites advocating this opinion as discrediting it. The study that started the scare has been discredited based on faulty to down right fabricated research and the lead author has been stripped of his medical license because of it.

    Your statement that part of your indecisiveness on vaccines was based on our American luxury of great healthcare is very insightful and true about so many of us. I think the lack of severe epidemics in our country has led us to believe it can’t happen here, so we are more afraid of small amounts of aluminum and formaldehyde than potentially fatal or debilitating diseases.

  12. I’ll look forward to reading your post about who to trust. I hadn’t really thought of that being the core of the vaccination issue, but I think you’re right. It’s actually the core of a lot of our parenting hot-button topics, and also the core of most of my disagreements with my mother-in-law.

    I always like the way you approach these sensitive topics, and I think you do a great job of being respectful to everybody. Of course, it helps that I almost always agree with your opinions to begin with!

    I’m kind of surprised that medical care is something the bio families get to decide rather than the foster parents. The state of Nebraska is trusting you to take care of these kids, and make so many other decisions about them (like how to train their behavior and moral development), yet they micro-manage their health care? Doesn’t make much sense to me!

  13. Maralee,
    I found you through Trinity Medical Associates looking for my lab results. I have Whooping Cough, aka Pertussis, and didn’t know that it was still possible to get Whooping Cough. It sounds like something from the Dark Ages. However, when you are in ministry, you will encounter people who have not been vaccinated and have not ever been kept in a safe environment. I know where I got it. It came from an inner-city child who I comforted as he was sobbing. As soon as my cough subsides (in China it is the 100 day cough), I will get my booster. I don’t know how I failed to get one, but like you said, we don’t even acknowledge some of the live diseases that still exist “out there” and are quickly taking a foothold in our country again. Some people say it’s happening because of all the vaccinated people. There are many people who would NOT allow to vaccinate me or anyone I love. However, there are people who want the best for me in the health care profession, and like you, I trust them to do what is best for me. Thanks for this posting. I, too, have family members whose children were not vaccinated. Some of those children are now adults and have gone and had themselves vaccinated.

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