Image by USACE European District
There is a pro-vaccination article circulating the internet right now. You may have seen it — most people have. It was originally published at “Voices for Vaccines,” and later republished on Slate, Jezebel, and several smaller blogs. The blogosphere is abuzz with this story. It’s called “Growing Up Unvaccinated.” There are two general thoughts about it right now:
Good, finally. Maybe all those silly anti-vax people will finally listen and get their kids vaccinated.
This is pure propaganda nonsense. Who is she kidding? You can drive a Mac Truck through the holes in this story.
I can’t prove one way or another if the story was real. Maybe it was. Or maybe it is only propaganda. Here is the most important thing to remember, though: this is one woman’s story and opinion. It is not science. It is not data. It is not a reason to make a decision on this very important issue. Anecdotes from either side are just that: anecdotes. Ignore them.
Why All The Fuss?
For some reason, many people who strongly believe in vaccines are very fond of saying “The plural of anecdote is not data,” and they immediately dismiss any story about vaccine reactions or any anecdote that may be “anti-vax” no matter how many there are. Yet, they’re spreading this story as far and wide as possible. They’re championing it. What a great story! What a great way to get peoples’ attention!
It should be understood that everyone, regardless of their opinion on a topic, will naturally side with information that confirms what they believe, and will be naturally critical of information that goes against what they believe. It is called confirmation bias. That is exactly what is happening here. The people sharing the story don’t seem to understand that they are engaging in this behavior; if they do, they don’t care.
Since I’m not a fan of emotional manipulation and attempts to force people into making certain medical decisions, I’m going to break the article down and explain why so many are angry about it. I’ll point out all the sections that have raised questions or concerns and explain why they have. Then I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you believe this story or not, as well as — as always — what decision on vaccines is right for your family.
I don’t abide by bullying…and that’s what this was (or at least, that’s how it’s being used).
Breaking Down the Story
My goal is to share several inconsistencies as well as simply incorrect or abusive statements.
I was brought up on an incredibly healthy diet: no sugar til I was one, breastfed for over a year, organic homegrown vegetables, raw milk, no MSG, no additives, no aspartame.
Aspartame wasn’t approved in the UK until 1982, and wasn’t used in many popular products until the late 80s. The author, according to her bio, was born in 1976. It wouldn’t have been an issue for the author, very likely, since it wasn’t really in common use until she was older.
…I would’ve killed for white, shop-bought bread in my lunch box once in a while and biscuits instead of fruit like all the other kids.
This statement sets up resentment towards the parents — implying that parents who offer their kids a healthy diet are doing them a disservice, that their children will rebel, and dismissing the impact that a healthy diet has on a person’s overall health.
As healthy as my lifestyle seemed, I contracted measles, mumps, rubella, a type of viral meningitis, scarlatina, whooping cough, yearly tonsillitis, and chickenpox, some of which are vaccine preventable. In my twenties I got precancerous HPV…
There were no vaccines for most of these illnesses. Only measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping cough. Viral meningitis, scarlatina, tonsillitis, chicken pox, and HPV did not have vaccines at this time. Mixing these illnesses all together in a long list makes it look scarier than it really is. Vaccines, even if they work as intended, do not prevent against other illnesses (like tonsillitis). Some parents believe that they do, but this is simply false. HPV is a sexually-transmitted disease that can be prevented by abstinence, safe sex practices, and regular pap smears.
…mummy might have cancer before it was safely removed.
I can’t help but note that the author overcame all the illnesses she faced. She did not have any complications, lasting damage, and obviously did not die. She doesn’t even mention any hospitalizations (until age 21, which was not for a vaccine-preventable illness) — so they couldn’t have even been that bad.
So having the “natural immunity sterilised out of us” just doesn’t cut it for me. How could I, with my idyllic childhood and my amazing health food, get so freaking ill all the time?
This statement implies that the steps her mother took — alternative health and good food — were (are) useless to prevent disease, and that vaccines are the only (best) solution. It casts doubt on relying on a healthy lifestyle. (Although, again — she may have gotten sick — but she came through just fine! Could that have been because of her lifestyle?)
My two vaccinated children, on the other hand, have rarely been ill, have had antibiotics maybe twice in their lives, if that (not like me who got so many illnesses which needed treatment with antibiotics that I developed a resistance to them, which led me to be hospitalized with penicillin-resistant quinsy at 21–you know that old fashioned disease that killed Queen Elizabeth I and which was almost wiped out through use of antibiotics.
Ah, there it is. Vaccines are the solution. They prevent (all) illness. But, wait a minute — she developed resistance to antibiotics by the age of 21? Most “super crunchy” parents do not get antibiotics very often, if at all. They use natural remedies to treat. So why did she have antibiotics all that often? Either her parents weren’t really crunchy, or they are trying to say that when natural remedies “inevitably” fail, people fall back to using antibiotics (apparently frequently). Casting more doubt on using natural remedies.
As for quinsy, it occurs when you don’t treat strep throat (but wait — didn’t she have antibiotics a lot? wasn’t it treated?), it did not kill the queen, who was 70 years old (in the 1600s, when this age was extremely old). It’s also extremely uncommon because strep throat is usually treated early on. These are simply a bunch of false statements to make antibiotics look like major champions and natural remedies look useless.
I struggle to understand why I know far more people who have experienced complications from preventable childhood illnesses than I have EVER met with complications from vaccines. I have friends who became deaf from measles. I have a partially sighted friend who contracted rubella in the womb. My ex got pneumonia from chickenpox. A friend’s brother died from meningitis.
The most likely explanation for the first statement — that she hasn’t met anyone with complications from vaccines — is that it isn’t something people talk about. Plus, vaccines weren’t that commonly used until the late 80s in the UK, so cases of these illnesses were more common and vaccine reactions, obviously less common. It certainly isn’t something the media talks about. But it’s everywhere. As for the other illnesses, these complications are, in fact, rare. Knowing a few people who did have complications doesn’t mean that they are actually that common.
…anecdotes are the anti-vaccine supporter’s way.
100% incorrect and insulting. There is a wide body of scientific evidence to support the notion that vaccines may not be as safe as believed, and that there may even be benefits to catching some of these diseases. Anyone who says this clearly hasn’t done a thorough search into the anti-vaccine science and is attempting to discredit the entire notion. There are even doctors and researchers in prominent positions who have spoken out and asked for more research into vaccine safety, but the have been ignored. (Bernadette Healy, for one.)
I was studying homeopathy, herbalism and aromatherapy; I believed in angels, witchcraft, clairvoyants, crop circles, aliens at Nazca, giant ginger mariners spreading their knowledge to the Aztecs, the Incas and the Egyptians and that I was somehow personally blessed by the Holy Spirit with healing abilities. I was having my aura read at a hefty price and filtering the fluoride out of my water. I was choosing to have past life regressions instead of taking anti-depressants. I was taking my daily advice from tarot cards. I grew all my own veg and made my own herbal remedies. I was so freaking crunchy that I literally crumbled. It was only when I took control of those paranoid thoughts and fears about the world around me and became an objective critical thinker that I got well. It was when I stopped taking sugar pills for everything and started seeing medical professionals that I began to thrive physically and mentally.
This entire paragraph is nonsense. It’s mixing ‘normal’ things — like being cautious about fluoride in water (which, by the way, the vast majority of the UK doesn’t even have) — with ‘out there’ things like tarot cards and clairvoyants. It’s subtly suggesting that anyone who believes in anything natural is basically crazy and believes in magic, not solid, science-based natural options. It also suggests that herbal and natural remedies are “sugar pills” and that this sort of natural life is driven by paranoid, irrational fears.
Where to even start? I can’t. It’s simply nonsense. Perhaps she had these issues (some have said she’s been diagnosed with bipolar), but this is not how most people who choose a natural lifestyle think.
If you think your child’s immune system is strong enough to fight off vaccine-preventable diseases, then it’s strong enough to fight off the tiny amounts of dead or weakened pathogens present in any of the vaccines.
This is a red herring. Nobody who chooses not to get vaccines does so because they think their child can’t handle the antigens. They are concerned about the other ingredients in vaccines — a fact that almost all pro-vax people intentionally ignore. Injecting aluminum (injecting, not consuming orally, which is very different) into a tiny body is very concerning. The actual antigens are not.
Don’t teach your child to be self serving and scared of the world in which it lives and the people around him/her. And teach them to LOVE people with ASD or any other disability for that matter, not to label them as damaged.
This is calling all parents who don’t vaccinate selfish. And saying that by saying that children with ASD need to “recover” from vaccine damage (which many mothers do believe), is labeling them negatively. I don’t have a vaccine-injured child, but I can only imagine how heartbreaking it is to read these words if you do have one.
…knowingly exposing your child to childhood illnesses is cruel; even without complications these diseases aren’t exactly pleasant.
No, they’re not. But neither are potential vaccine complications. No parent wants to see their child suffer, but they have to weigh the risks and benefits of any choice so that they can do what is right for them. Parents who choose not to vaccinate don’t do it so that they can get their kids sick. And if their kids do get sick (no matter what they have), they don’t leave them to suffer, they offer comfort measures! This is…implying parents are heartless and don’t really love their children if they don’t vaccinate, which is ridiculous.
Those of you who have avoided childhood illnesses without vaccines are lucky. You couldn’t do it without us pro-vaxxers. Once the vaccination rates begin dropping, the less herd immunity will be able to protect your children. The more people you convert to your anti-vax stance, the quicker that luck will run out.
Another appeal to herd immunity, and a subtle threat to vaccinate “or else.” Most people who don’t vaccinate don’t believe in herd immunity and are not afraid of these illnesses.
On a personal note, my kids have had rubella, pertussis (including the baby) and likely mumps, and we have had no issues. Nothing scary. No complications. Not even a visit to the doctor. Kids can, and do, come through these illnesses with no problems.
The Bottom Line
There have been wild accusations flying around, accusing the author of actually being an employee at the CDC. I can’t find anything to confirm that.
And you know, maybe it is just one mom’s heartfelt, fervent story. Maybe she did have a terrible, illness-ridden childhood and she now believes vaccines are the answer. And that’s okay.
What isn’t okay is the way her words are being used. They’re being used to judge and shame parents. They’re being held up as an example of what will happen if you don’t vaccinate your children. They’re being regarded as some sort of universal truth. That is terrible.
One person’s story is one person’s story. Nothing more or less. It may jumpstart your desire to research an issue, but it shouldn’t push you into a decision. And anyone who would send you such an article and then tell you that you should make a decision because of it is wrong, and to be ignored. (I know some people send it out of concern, like “hey, did you see this?” and that’s okay. It’s the people that say “See, you were wrong, here.” that’s bad.)
If you are an unvaccinated adult, would you fill out this quick survey please? Thanks! (Survey closes on 1/18.)
Have you run across the Growing Up Unvaccinated post? What do you think?
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