Getty ImagesI have a 3-year-old daughter and a kid on the way. So I am fully aware of the vaccine debate. And by now, I've been conditioned to believe that my thinking on vaccines should always be, "Question everything."
But having just read the November cover story from Wired ("An Epidemic of Fear"), I'm now questioning why I've been so skeptical. Do I just feel this way because the anti-vaccine movement has me duped? Or are those fears grounded in something real?
The article asserts this: People who choose not to get vaccinated or get their children vaccinated are putting all of us at risk by increasing likelihood of outbreaks of previously nearly eradicated diseases. And those people have an irrational fear of something that's been proven time and again to be safe or at least a lesser risk than the alternative.
The story also shows that the problem with the anti-vaccine message is that it's not just about skepticism, which is of course healthy; it's really about fear of what might do your child harm versus what actually will. It says that we're letting that fear of being bad parents overtake what we should really fear: the diseases themselves.
The aha moment for me comes from the piece's most controversial interview subject, Dr. Paul Offit, creator of many vaccines who is also Public Enemy #1 for anti-vaccine activists: "The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk," he says. "It's just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, 'Here's what that different risk looks like.' Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die."
We here on Shine know firsthand that the anti-vaccine movement is not just active; it's practically devout. Its followers believe vociferously in their theories, and they don't take kindly to doubters. Many in this movement, especially those who have autistic children, are desperately looking for answers, and also want to protect other kids from ill effects. It's hard to tell someone watching their child suffer that they shouldn't explore every avenue of possibility, even ones that haven't been proven in a lab.
But it's difficult for me personally to ignore the hard-science statistics and studies that show that declining vaccination rates are bringing back diseases that were once thought to be eradicated (measles, mumps, pertussis). And it's equally tough to disregard that many anti-vaccine arguments are held up by "evidence" that's mostly conjecture. The story accurately points out that our modern society tends to think of health as something that "can be managed and controlled if we just make the right decisions." And as we flock to the Internet for answers, we end up finding a wealth of misinformation to back up our greatest worries.
Obviously, this story treads into extremely controversial territory with guns blazing. And maybe that aggressive, often-belligerent tone was what I needed to take a close look at my own beliefs. I realized that a lot of my concern over vaccines was based on others telling me what I should think.
So from here on, with my pediatrician's guidance, I'm officially a pro-vaccination mommy. My declaring my change of heart is not meant to be a judgment on anyone else's choice to not vaccinate. I'm only hoping other parents will take a close look at how they're making their own choices, and ensure they're choosing to not vaccinate just based on being scared or bullied into the non-vaccine camp.
I really feel for those who believe their suffering or their family's suffering is caused by vaccines.And if there's a connection there, I'll trust one day it'll be discovered. But for my family and my child, I'm choosing to go with current science on this one, and I will choose to protect them and myself from real dangers versus unproven ones.
Now I ask you ladies, what's behind your decision to vaccinate or not? And does any of the scientific data presented change your mind? Or are you automatically distrustful of that info? Tell us in comments below.
Related from Wired:
- How to Win an Argument About Vaccines - 6 arguments about vaccines answered
- Wired opens up its research file and field reader questions
More reading on vaccines on Shine: