LAST WEEK, in the midst of a global measles outbreak,* an anti-vaxxer mother in the USA made headlines when she non-ironically took to her ‘natural health' anti-vaccination Facebook group to plead for advice about how to prevent her three year old from contracting the disease.
Almost needless to say, innumerable variations of the answer, “Have your child vaccinated!” came pouring in swiftly, mercilessly and justly from the internet.
As parents, we all make the best decisions we can in our specific circumstances: to breastfeed or bottle-feed, when to introduce solids, disposable or cloth, sugar or kale, etc. Therefore, I usually subscribe to the great and mighty Amy Poehler’s philosophy of “good for you, not for me”. But when it comes to choosing not to immunize a child, it is actually, “bad for you and bad for me”.
As a mom, and particularly as the mom of a child who has had life-threatening health concerns, I continue to feel bewildered and profoundly frustrated by the unconscionable and unnecessary suffering — and sometimes death — of children because of the choices of adults (who themselves are usually vaccinated).
I’ve gone around on this issue a lot before and objectively I understand why people are a bit freaked out by vaccinations:
They stick needles in your child and it hurts them. (But FYI, it hurts them a heck of a lot less than, say, diphtheria. The pain is usually very momentarily and not very significant).
You have to trust that what trained professionals say is in that needle, actually is. (Remember though, this is one of the lowest risk exercises with one of the greatest payoffs you will experience over the next 18 years when having to let go and trust your child to the world. Welcome to parenting.)
The protection that your child is receiving does not seem “worth the risk of giving your child autism”. (Note: this is absolutely not even a thing and so is not worth disputing any further.)
Jenny McCarthy scared you. (I understand; Jenny McCarthy scares me too — but that doesn’t mean I’m going to take advice from her.)
The stats say that even if you don’t vaccinate your child, the risk of them getting those diseases is incredibly low anyway. (Uhhh yeah, that’s because we are fortunate enough in the developed world to be able to vaccinate. But if we stop vaccinating, those diseases will come back. It’s called herd immunity and people who choose not to participate are putting their children, other children and future generations at significant and completely unnecessary risk.)
Besides all of the other logical reasons to vaccinate, here’s my biggest objection to anti-vaxxers: I’m the mom of a heart baby.
Because my son was born with a congenital heart defect that required multiple surgeries (including an open heart) and a prolonged recovery, he had to be put on a delayed immunization plan, meaning that he was more vulnerable, more susceptible and would have greater ramifications if he contracted the diseases that we prevent with immunizations.
If my vulnerable and immunocompromised child (or any other sick and immunocompromised child with cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, etc.) had contracted measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, rubella, etc. a completely preventable disease might very well have killed him. Why? Because others willfully exposed him by choosing not to vaccinate their own children based on a disproven, fear-based theory with no scientific evidence. They made this choice rather than listening to the abundant proof that diseases kill children and vaccinations save lives. Truth is not a democracy; it is backed by tested, proven facts, and the facts are that vaccinations save lives
Since becoming a parent I have grown in my certainty that it is always a mistake to choose that which we fear over that which we know to be true. A huge part of parenting is making the tough calls and refusing to let fear govern our decision making, knowing that it will not benefit the desired end result for our kids and the world we want for them.
The idea that “it takes a village to raise a child” applies to more than carpooling and chats over coffee; it extends to the larger responsibilities, like vaccinating, that protect the tribe.
For the sake of my family, yours and those to come:
the risk is infinitely smaller than the benefit and the pain is a lot more temporary than regret, so please vaccinate.
But if you don’t vaccinate, at least have the decency not to ask how to prevent your kids from getting the measles when the threat you invited arrives on your doorstep.
*Many cases of measles have been reported in at least ten U.S. states (including a declared public health emergency in Washington in January), Israel, across Europe, Venezuela and right here in Canada in the last six months.
Editor's Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of its author, and does not necessarily represent the views of CFJC Today or the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.