Have you or would you ever let your children travel by airplane? If your answer is "yes," then you should re-examine any concerns about vaccinating your children. Both flying and vaccination carry real risks, but those risks are statistically unlikely to affect your family.
I know it's more complicated than that, so keep reading. I also understand the fear behind not vaccinating, as I've been there myself. I clearly remember the stone age of 2003: my two-year-old son was newly diagnosed with autism, and I was desperate to help him.
The first thing I did was to enroll Leo in an ABA program, because that was the only method proven to help children with autism gain skills. But ABA is hard work and doesn't promise miracles, and I wanted changes, fast. I craved a son who could tell me, "Mommy, I love you!," so I started exploring alternative autism therapies.
And indeed, I found many self-appointed autism professionals willing to tell me to look past the challenging but loving boy I already had and focus on a theoretical Recovered Boy of the future. I tried not to be bothered that these people were (and still are) promoting scientifically questionable approaches, and focused on one of their popular theories: they thought that mercury in vaccines caused autism.
Those anti-vaccination people were passionate about "curing" our autistic children. I was passionate, I wanted to cure my autistic child. I did what they told me.
I stopped vaccinating my kids.
My youngest child was born in 2004, eighteen months after her brother's diagnosis and during the thick of my alternative-treatment frenzy. I was so freaked out by being told, repeatedly, that Leo's autism was likely caused by an injected environmental factor that there was no way in hell my new baby was getting a shot of anything. Not even vitamin K.
As that fortunately healthy baby grew and thrived, so did the evidence refuting a thimerosal/vaccine/autism link. Unfortunately, so did the rates of preventable and potentially lethal diseases. Turns out I wasn't the only parent who'd freaked out and stopped immunizing his or her kids.
I needed to know if vaccinations had in fact affected my son, so I formally investigated the possible correlation between Leo's autism and his immunization schedule: I enrolled him in a MIND Institute study that tracked the emergence of his autism symptoms via home videos, medical records, and my own journals.
The result: there was no evidence that Leo had regressed into autism after being vaccinated.
I thought long and hard. And decided that the risks of vaccinating my children were acceptable .
I started slowly, under the supervision of a pediatrician who was willing to listen to my concerns. My daughter initially got only one shot at a time, only when she was healthy, and with a month between doses, because I wanted to see how she reacted to individual vaccines. Once she showed no adverse reactions, I began to allow vaccinations in small batches. I also resumed vaccinating my son -- you know, the one with autism. Both kids remain fine, or at least no quirkier than they were before their shots.
Mine is not the only vaccination perspective you should be familiar with, however. As you probably know, there is no talking about vaccines and autism without mentioning "safe" vaccine advocate Jenny McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy recently declared:
"If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f___ing measles."
Really? If we're going to media mouthpieces rather than experts for our information, I have to counter with a recent Law & Order: SVU episode, in which a child too young to be vaccinated died from encephalitis as a complication of measles, which was acquired at a neighborhood park from an unsymptomatic carrier kid whose mother had refused to vaccinate him.
I'm sorry, Jenny, but Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice-T, and Stephanie March say that measles kills and that we need to vaccinate our kids not just to keep them healthy, but also to protect other people's kids. And because the SVU team is on TV too and outnumbers you & Jim Carrey, I'm going to side with them.
I kid, but only slightly, as I really do prefer my son alive, autism and all. And I seriously doubt Jenny would volunteer to give her son measles -- or pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, or polio if she'd actually seen these diseases affect a child, or considered that acquiring these diseases is much riskier than getting vaccinated for them.
We live in a culture where some people make critical health decisions for their children based on the opinions of self-proclaimed celebrity graduates from "The University of Google." I'm asking you to help right the balance, to ensure that science-based viewpoints counter earnest but misinformed sensationalism in the autism -- and parenting -- communities' information flows.
I know that some people will never vaccinate their kids, no matter the argument or evidence. Herd immunity will compensate and keep the rest of our kids healthy *if* enough other children get vaccinated. That is why it is so important to reach and talk to parents who are still formulating their immunization opinions, to educate ourselves with facts rather than furor, to have the confidence to spread the word about what we know and believe, to tear down the wall of harm that Jenny and co. have erected, and to shout it loud:
There is no proven link between autism and vaccinations! I believe it is my social responsibility to vaccinate my children!
Because BlogHer readers are too smart to fear information, I'm lobbing out viewpoints from both sides of the fence:
A Life Less Ordinary: A Deadly History
Liz Ditz: The Autism/Vaccine Connection Debunked
AntiAntivax: The Truth About the Evils of Vaccination
Bernadette Healy, MD: The Vaccines-Autism War: Détente Needed
Safe Minds: Mercury
J.B. Handley: Dr. Steven Novella, Why Is This So Hard to Understand?
...and I just can't resist: Gawker: Oprah & Jenny McCarthy Want Your Kid to Die of the Measles
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