Image by USACE Europe District
The vaccine debate is real. And it’s rough.
I, for one, am sick of it. (The ‘rough’ part.) I want all parents to have access to important information on vaccines. I want all parents to know that they have a choice. I want all parents to feel confident with their decision and not be shamed, whether they choose all, some, or no vaccines. It’s your choice. And no one else’s.
Unfortunately, a lot of harsh things are said when people are arguing about vaccines. And it’s not okay anymore. You guys hear me? I’m declaring that over. Right now. Everyone is free to ask questions, share information, and debate respectfully, but no more rudeness. No more shame. Over!!
In that vein, I’m sharing some things that people need to stop saying. (This post is in honor of my live appearance on the TODAY show, which is happening tomorrow in the 9 AM hour, EST. You can watch me talk about why some parents choose to opt out of vaccines and why I believe in choice! We call this movement Vaccine Choice, not anti-vax. Make sure you say it right!)
By the way, many of these things have been said to parents who do vaccinate, too, and that’s not okay either!
#1: “You don’t love your children if you don’t vaccinate.”
Get this straight, right now: all parents, regardless of the decision that they make about vaccines, love their children. All of them only want what is best.
We may disagree on what that means. We will make different choices. But it is never ever okay to say that parents don’t love their children because they made a different choice than you did.
#2: “Shame on you.”
What good is trying to shame someone else, really? Do you think that someone else will listen to you or change their position if you make them feel ashamed enough? Most people will just get angry, and if anything, feel even more set in their ways. They certainly won’t turn to you for information. Plus, it’s downright rude. Just don’t do it.
#3: “You’re putting your child at risk.”
There is no way to eliminate all risk. Choosing to vaccinate is a risk (an immediate one). Choosing not to vaccinate is a risk (a future one). Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk. Anything at all places your child at risk.
Of course, vaccines are not the only way to protect children from serious illness, either. Parents are the ones who are best equipped to know their child, their situation, and choose if or when their children should be vaccinated, or how else they should be protected. Parents make this call, and no one else.
#4: “You’re putting MY child at risk. You should vaccinate to protect babies/elderly/immunocompromised.”
This is really two separate arguments. First, if you believe that not vaccinating places your vaccinated child at risk, then why do you trust vaccines? If they work, then you don’t have anything to fear. Second, babies, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are at risk (potentially) from anyone who is sick. Whether they are vaccinated or not, and no matter which illness they have. It’s up to the parents of those people (or the people themselves) to protect them, not ask everyone around them to do it.
Finally, we don’t ask others to make medical decisions that could be risky to benefits ourselves. We each make the medical decisions we feel are right for us, and take on the risk we feel comfortable taking. We can’t, and shouldn’t expect, to control what others do.
#5: “Mothers in third world countries would be grateful to have vaccines.”
Mothers in third world countries would be grateful to have clean water. Plentiful food. Access to medical care. A safe place to live. And these things are much more necessary to life — especially clean water — than vaccines. A person literally cannot live without safe water. People can and do live without vaccines all the time.
Plus, those mothers in the third world don’t have any way of doing research. They don’t have access to information. All they know about vaccines is what they’re told. If doctors come into their villages and say, “You need these. They’re amazing. They’ll save your child’s life.” Of course they are going to want them! They don’t have access to another viewpoint! (Of course, if their children then come down with the measles caused by the vaccine, or polio caused by the vaccine — which has happened — they won’t exactly feel so grateful.)
I personally feel privileged to have access to science and information, as well as the ability to make my own decisions about my family’s medical care. I wouldn’t want to live in a dangerous third world country and have to accept what I was told because I simply didn’t have options.
#6: “You just don’t really understand science or you would vaccinate.”
This is so unnecessary. It’s an elitist point of view. The only way that a person would opt out or disagree is if they’re too stupid to get it? No.
There are parents on both sides who might have made a choice because they didn’t look into the facts much — maybe their friend or their doctor told them to, so they just went along with it. But there are lots of people who’ve done incredible amounts of research and have come to a careful conclusion.
Saying that their research “doesn’t count” because they don’t have a science background is just insulting — and wrong. People are smart enough to do their own research. They truly are. A piece of paper that says so makes no difference. (Plus, there are lots of doctors and other medical professionals who question vaccines or don’t vaccinate! And they clearly understand the science.)
#7: “You should listen to what doctors tell you; they went to medical school and you didn’t.”
This is an extension of the last point. Having been to medical school doesn’t make you an expert on vaccines (the average pediatrician or family-practice doctor — the doctors most people are getting their advice from — get only a few hours of education on vaccines). Plus, a good doctor should serve as a guide. The doctor should offer his/her opinion, allow the parents to do their own research, ask questions, and ultimately make their own choices.
You are the parent. You make the choice. Not the doctor. Whatever happens to your child — if they’re unlucky enough to be injured by a vaccine, or get sick with a serious illness — who is responsible? You are. Not the doctor.
#8: “Just walk through a graveyard and see all the babies that died 100 years ago because we didn’t have vaccines.”
This is not a factual argument. It’s fear-based, and it’s not even accurate.
Many of those babies died because we didn’t have access to basic medical care. Water could be contaminated and babies could get dysentary or cholera (neither of which we vaccinate for). Doctors didn’t wash their hands before helping a woman in child birth or before treating patients, which spread infection more easily. There are a whole bunch of reasons why babies died more frequently 100 years ago, most of which are not related to vaccines.
(In fact, death rates for most diseases had fallen by more than 99% before the introduction of vaccines.)
#9: “My family member died of/was disabled by __________. They would have loved to have vaccines!”
Any death or disability is tragic. Absolutely.
But. There’s no guarantee that vaccines would have prevented the death or injury. Vaccines themselves don’t come without risks (yes, people can and do die from vaccination, too). I understand it’s really hard if you know someone personally who was disabled or killed by an illness, but this is a purely emotional reaction, not a scientific one.
We need to keep this debate about the available science. There’s always, always, always a small chance of something bad happening (see the part about ‘risk’ above), but we must balance risk vs. benefit.
#10: “Parents who don’t vaccinate are just listening to that debunked 1998 study or Jenny McCarthy.”
I pretty much stop listening when someone says this, honestly. It shows they have no idea what this issue is actually about.
For the record — the 1998 study was on bowel disease in children with autism and had nothing to do with vaccines. They found the MMR-strain of measles in the bowel of some children and noted that some of the parents said that their children “changed” after receiving the MMR. They concluded that the issue should be researched further, to see if there was a possible link. They did not say that the MMR caused autism. Ever. And the original results have been replicated…more than 25 times. (A bunch of us in the vaccine choice movement have actually spoken to Dr. Wakefield…myself included. Trust me, that’s not what the study was about.)
As for Jenny McCarthy, I know her son has autism. I know she believes it was caused by vaccines. I know that she has used biomedical treatments to help him recover. I know that she is a proponent of “green the vaccines.” I know basically nothing else. No mother makes such an important medical decision based on “what celebrities are doing.” Maybe she chooses an outfit for her child or how to style their hair because a celebrity did it, but not something this crucial. This is just a dismissive saying, it’s clearly wrong, and it’s said to shut down the discussion.
#11: “The CDC/AAP/etc. wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t safe.”
Eh…I’m just going to mention smoking and cocaine. The medical establishment used to recommend those, too, and we now know they are harmful. Sometimes, the medical establishment is wrong. Maybe they mean well, maybe they are making a recommendation based on how they interpret the available evidence, but our understanding of these issues evolves constantly. Just because they currently recommend it doesn’t make it right.
#12: “Vaccines are the only way to protect your children; without them they WILL die, become deaf, become sterile, etc.”
Vaccines are not the only way to protect your children.
You need to know that whether or not you vaccinate your children, they could get sick. If they’re vaccinated, they could be injured by vaccines. There are no guarantees. These dire outcomes are rare, but they are possible.
But — they are rare.
Young boys can’t become sterile from mumps. Only post-pubescent males can become sterile, and that’s really rare (mumps doesn’t usually go to the testicles at all; if it does, it usually affects just one side; and if it affects both sides, usually there is some fertility remaining, even if it’s reduced. True sterility is exceedingly rare).
Most people won’t go deaf from mumps or measles. 1 in 10,000 or fewer (of cases). And fewer than 1 in 10,000 typically die. To say it “will” happen is absolutely false.
#13: “You have to vaccinate to go to school.”
You do not have to vaccinate to go to school.
48 states (all except MS and WV) offer religious exemptions. About 20 states also offer philosophical exemptions. All 50 offer medical exemptions, but they’re harder to get in some states than others. Most of the time, all you need to do is sign a waiver and your child can attempt public school without some or all vaccines.
It’s your choice, not the state’s.
#14: “Vaccines do not cause autism. End of story.”
Ah, not quite. Or, well, not at all.
It’s recently come out that a key study that the CDC used to “disprove” a link between vaccines and autism was falsified. Statistically significant data was omitted from the results. That data showed a 340% increase in autism among African-American boys when they received the MMR prior to 36 months of age, instead of after. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Thompson, admitted this in a public statement.
It’s also true that a number of other studies show links between ingredients in vaccines and autism, or similar neurological disorders.
It’s also true that we’ve done very few studies on the link, the studies have been (generally) poorly designed, and that we have never done a vaccinated vs. unvaccinated study. This question is far from settled, but from the evidence we do have (scientifically and anecdotally)…we can say, yes, vaccines do cause autism.
Not everyone, obviously. Certain people are more at risk than others. But just like we say that cigarettes cause lung cancer (even though many people who smoke do not develop lung cancer), vaccines cause autism.
#15: “We were vaccinated, and we’re all fine.”
The 1980s schedule and the 2014 schedule aren’t even remotely the same.
Most of the vaccines in the 1980s contained quite a few more antigens and no adjuvants (aluminum). Most of them have been removed from the market (OPV polio and DTP definitely have). The schedule consisted of MMR (1 dose), DTP (5 doses), and OPV (4 doses). All in all, children received around 10 shots in their first 6 years, covering just 7 diseases. Up to 4 different diseases are addressed at just one visit (DTP + OPV).
Today, vaccines contain aluminum. Children receive up to 6 shots in one visit. They receive 36 shots in their first 6 years, covering 14 different diseases. Up to 8 different diseases are addressed at one visit.
These are just not the same! Saying “we were fine” does not mean our kids will be fine, with this vastly increased schedule.
Plus, honestly? We’re not fine. Many people have autoimmune disorders. Many people are overweight. A lot of people have allergies. A lot of people have learning disabilities. A lot of people (1/3) have cancer! I don’t know about your definition of “fine,” but it’s not mine. We don’t fully know if these things are related to vaccines or not, but I’d investigate that a lot more closely before we declare they’re not related and keep vaccinating so heavily. No other country does it, and no other country has rates of these chronic illnesses quite as high as we do.
I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t vaccinate. Any choice comes with its own set of risks. I am here to make sure that I share accurate information, including the information that isn’t easy to find. I want parents to know what’s out there before they make this very important decision.
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What things do you think we should stop saying in the vaccine debate?
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