Vaccin Nation

When asked to post about vaccinating, I knew that I would be going into my writing mostly blind. Unlike a lot of other decisions we have made regarding Samuel (natural birth, cloth diapering, not circumcising, staying at home for the first six months to a year, and breastfeeding), I have to admit my research on vaccinating is paltry at best. I have vaguely glanced at Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book at my friends’ houses, and I read maybe one article on the subject.

The truth is — I didn’t put that much thought into it. In fact, I didn’t really know that there are growing numbers of parents who chose not to vaccinate — at all. There are still more who choose to put their children on delayed or selective schedules, or who insist on certain brands of vaccines as opposed to others. I hadn’t really thought much about vaccinating until my crunchy chiropractor told me (unsolicited, of course) that he hasn’t vaccinated either of his children, and he believes they are healthier for it. He even gave me some literature on the subject. I found this literature to be quite biased and rather sensational — I wish I still had it so that I could quote it here — but alas, it made its way into recycling long ago.

I think that “literature” on the subject left a bad taste in my mouth. So, by the time Sam was born, I found myself washed along into the expected way of doing things. If you haven’t picked up on my viewpoints, that’s not really how I roll. I actually felt fairly bullied into getting the Hep B vaccine for Sam — that’s the one they give as soon as the baby is born. I held off on getting that vaccine at the hospital — though I did opt for the vitamin K shots, which I figured wouldn’t do any harm. At our two day appointment, we were asked again. I still delayed. At two weeks, I was told we certainly should get the shot. There was no reason not to. You should go ahead and get it.So we did. We got it, even though I figured that Sam would probably never come into contact with Hep B — it’s something you get from shared needles and unprotected sex. Unless he’s up to something I don’t know about, he’s not really getting into any of that. Of course, the pediatrician convinced me to get it for him because of extremely rare cases where children can contract the disease from food or perhaps getting bitten by another child. I went against my gut, and I let the doctor vaccinate my child against something he will probably never be exposed to.

As soon as I got home, I saw this posted on Facebook: Ian’s Voice. (If you are of a weak stomach, you might not want to visit this site.) This is the website that got me started thinking about vaccines. In short, it describes a newborn’s reaction to the Hepatitis B vaccine. He only lived 47 days. I can’t even imagine losing Sam after only 47 days — because of a vaccine that I had chosen to give him. Needless to say, the day after reading that and getting the vaccine for Sam was very difficult for me. I felt that I should have made a different decision — I felt that I’d been bullied into vaccinating him against a disease he may never see. The risk of a reaction like Ian’s is one in a million. But for me, it seemed like a risk to great to take. I will not be getting this particular vaccination for my second child. I believe in medicine, but I also believe in its risks.

As for the other vaccinations — or the option of going on a delayed or selective schedule — I’m not sure what to do. What people fail to mention when they speak of delayed or selective schedules, or perhaps choosing not to vaccinate at all, is that it is difficult to find a pediatrician who will be amenable to your wishes. A pediatrician’s time is very precious, and especially in places like Northern Virginia, appointments are booked on top of one another throughout the day. Asking a pediatrician at your two month appointment if you should go on a selective schedule — or asking them if they can separate a vaccination that comes in one shot into three — is going to get a dour, short response. No. Such an alteration requires considerable planning and research, and so far, I haven’t done it.

Every vaccination has its horror story. Though it has been fairly well proven that autism is linked strongly with genetics, and not directly with vaccinations, there are mothers who will swear up and down that their child’s autism was triggered by a heavy dose of vaccinations, such as is done in the first two years of life. I decided to ask the moms on the parenting forum that I frequent, and this is one of the stories that will stick with me, perhaps for the rest of my life:

[I don’t vaccinate] because my oldest developed encephalitis as a result of the MMR vaccine he received at 18months of age. He was a developmentally normal child until 18months of age. He had a vocabulary of 500+ words. He began speaking at 9 months. He made eye contact, enjoyed people and interacted appropriately with peers and adults. He spoke in full sentences (yes I know that is uncommon but I have home videos of him doing just that). His pediatrician spoke with me at his 18month appt about the possibility of enrolling him in a preschool for gifted children so he could get more stimulation (because apparently he wasn’t getting quite enough at home, I had only gotten him to that point LOL). After the vaccine he disappeared. He stopped talking, stopped making eye contact, stopped sleeping. He would just scream all day, every day. He would lay on the floor holding the side of his head and wail. It would start low and increase in pitch until it was the ear splitting scream and then drop low until it was this horrible sound like a sick baby kitten. And it would go on day and night. He wasn’t sleeping maybe 3 hours a day. No one in the house was sleeping. He started kicking, hitting and biting everyone in reach. He stopped eating.[…] It was like the old fairy tales where trolls would sneak into a home in the night and replace a sleeping infant with a troll baby. Some one had taken my child and replaced him with some one else entirely. MRI later confirmed encephalitis and brain damage. The screaming was caused by the pressure.

At 3 [my son] was finally diagnosed with PDD NOS [an autism spectrum disorder] (moderate-severe), SPD [sensory processing disorder] and speech delay (at the time he was considered 2 years delayed). After years of therapy including ST, OT, behavioral, feeding therapy, horseback riding, and non-traditional therapies like Taekwondo, and supplements (B12 injections, magnesium, ect) [my son’s] diagnosis at 7 was PDD NOS (mild)/Aspergers and SPD […].

That is our story.

I can only reiterate this mother’s story — I am not a doctor, nor can I say that I know for sure her child’s terrible transformation was caused by a vaccination. I can say that if you look up whether or not encephalitis can be caused by the MMR vaccine — it seems that some people say that it can. It also seems that this can trigger autism in a young child. Again, I don’t have qualifications in this area, and I certainly hear the people who believe that there is no link, but stories like this make me understand why some people would never want to take the risk of vaccinating.

Not every possible risk is so severe. Some risks — and your pediatrician WILL tell you this in small and large print — involve far more minor allergic reactions. Your child can get a high fever, knots in the vaccination spots, pain, fussiness, trouble eating and even periods of unresponsiveness from typical vaccinations. According to one mom, “I selectively vac after my son continually got 106-107 fevers that our ped now attributes to partials [not a full dose of] vaccine.” Another mother reported that she herself had high fevers and periods of unresponsiveness — she told her pediatrician this, and he decided that she should NOT vaccinate her child because of the risk.

I apparently stirred up some trouble on the forum — the thread contains 37 responses since this afternoon. There are parents vehemently against vaccinations, like the mother quoted above, and just as many vehemently FOR following the full vaccination schedule (with small exceptions like the flu or chicken pox vaccine).

Many moms point out the dangers of not vaccinating. One said, “a family who visits our church frequently had their son die of meningitis a year and a half ago. And there is currently an outbreak of pertussis in our area, with several children who have not yet been fully vaccinated, or who have not received their 12 year old TDaP booster, being hospitalized.” Another recounted the story of an acquaintance whose 14 year old child had died of the measles — her parents had decided against vaccination. In fact, unvaccinated children were linked to a measles outbreak in California. An outbreak is not something to scoff at. Imagine if people had selectively refused the smallpox or polio vaccines — these diseases never would have been eradicated. In fact, measles was thought to be eradicated in the United States until 2000. I bet that that pretty much coincides with the time that some parents started making the decision not to vaccinate.

What’s the middle ground? Well, in theory, you can pick and choose which vaccinations your child gets (though your pediatrician will likely push you to get them all), or you can delay your child’s schedule (this will require considerable planning). Why does this help with the risks? The theory is that overloading your child’s system with tons of vaccinations (which are watered down versions of the viruses themselves, and contain icky stuff like aluminum) at once carries more risks than slowing down the pace and even waiting to start vaccinations until a child has a more developed immune system (at 18 months or 2 years, say). And yeah, the regular schedule gives infants of two, four and six months TONS of vaccines — many I never had — all at once. (Here’s theschedule just to give you an idea.) Spacing this load out is supposed to give your kid less of a chance of having an adverse reaction. Makes intuitive sense, no?

As for selecting your vaccines, I think you can — as I said, it just takes planning. You have to do a lot of research about which vaccines can be spaced out, how they should be spaced out, and which brands contain less supposed contaminants.

But … what should you do? What do I do? I still don’t have a solid answer. For now, I will proceed with caution. Whenever I go to the pediatrician, I ask her to tell me exactly what my son is getting, and what the risks may be. And when you vaccinate, ask yourselves these questions (see the full article here):

  1. Am I or my child sick right now?
  2. Have I or my child had a bad reaction to a vaccination before?
  3. Do I or my child have a personal or family history of vaccine reactions, neurological disorders, severe allergies or immune system problems?
  4. Do I know the disease and vaccine risks for myself or my child?
  5. Do I have full information about the vaccine’s side effects?
  6. Do I know how to identify and report a vaccine reaction?
  7. Do I know I need to keep a written record, including the vaccine manufacturer’s name and lot number, for all vaccinations?
  8. Do I know I have the right to make an informed choice?

If you answer yes to 1, 2, or 3, it is important to talk to your pediatrician and/or family doctor before vaccinating. If you answer no to the rest of the questions, it’s important to do more research on the matter.

For now, I choose to vaccinate. I will do it with my eyes open, and I will from now on know about all of my options heading into the doctor’s office. (I don’t intend to vaccinate for the flu yet, or for chicken pox — that particular vaccine can actually GIVE children the pox, and doesn’t prevent it very well for others.) I am planning to look into a delayed and selective schedule for Sam. I do know that neither my husband or I have had adverse reactions to vaccine, so it’s likely that Sam will not. Nor do autism spectrum disorders run in our families — so it’s unlikely that a vaccine will trigger something that is probably not there. I also don’t want to be responsible for a measles outbreak — though I’m quite comfortable with other children in our neighborhood getting the chicken pox. Not terribly dangerous in my estimation — that’s just an itchy part of life.

That’s just my rationalization of my decision. I don’t begrudge other parents their decision making process regarding vaccines. The world is a dangerous place — everything comes with its risks. One of the most important jobs we have as parents is making sure that we KNOW the risks before hand. Only then can we make calculated decisions about those risks, and those are the best kind of decisions that we can make for our children.