Vaccines for children have been the subject of a lot of debate ever since Disneyland became patient zero for a measles outbreak in January. There are parents on both sides of the vaccination issue, and spokespeople pushing agendas—both educated and informed, and not. And as a parent of a child who has not been fully immunized, I can see both sides.
I started doing my research on vaccines months before Kaia was born. My nephew has autism, and he was born before the study linking vaccines to autism was widely discredited. So my family did wonder whether evading or delaying his vaccinations may have saved him from his socially crippling condition. I’m sure many parents heard the alarmist reports about vaccines when the study was released, but never learned that the author was discredited. So the lingering effects of that study are probably fueling much of today’s aversion to vaccines.
However, my decision to pick and choose which vaccines my child received was instead driven by my efforts to stay informed and make my own medical decisions based on the evidence. And some routine immunizations aren’t really necessary. In fact, for some, the side effects mimic the symptoms of the virus the vaccine is supposed to prevent.
The debate over vaccines often focuses on MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), because it was singled out in the discredited autism research. However, it’s not one of the vaccines I refused. Kaia received her MMR shots on time and in sequence. Instead, I focused my informed dissent on the hepatitis vaccines (A and B), influenza and varicella.
Why I Said No
According to my doctor and the many articles I’ve read, hepatitis B is administered routinely because many babies contract the virus from their mothers at birth—mothers who are unaware of the fact that they are infected. Also, the risks for chronic health issues are greater when contracting it as an infant than as an older child.
So should I have allowed the vaccine to be administered? I knew for a fact that I did/do not have hepatitis B. The other risk factors for contracting the disease include: unprotected sex, sharing needles during drug use, living with someone who has a chronic HBV infection, working with human blood, and traveling to regions with high infection rates (e.g., Africa, Central and Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe). So I figured that the chances of Kaia getting hep B were slim to none. And I made the educated choice to refuse the vaccination.
I also refused the hepatitis A vaccine. While attending or working in a child care facility is a risk factor, Kaia was cared for at home until last September. So until recently, there was no risk she’d contract it at school. Plus, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that “infection rates are generally low” in developed countries. WHO also says that young children tend to suffer only flu-like symptoms, if any; most infected people recover completely; and a significant proportion of those infected remain asymptomatic. Again, I decided that the vaccine was not necessary for my very healthy, breast-fed-until-the-age-of-two child.
Varicella posed a quandary for me. I had chicken pox at the age of 5. I had it bad. All these years later, I can still remember the itching. The socks on my hands. The general miserableness of the virus. At the time, there was no varicella vaccine. Some parents even exposed their children on purpose to get it out of the way. And since the discomfort is typically the main symptom, their actions were likely more or less harmless. Even though I really suffered with chicken pox, I still held off on the vaccine for my child. Mainly because I do believe in moderation, and I think that four or five vaccines in one doctor’s visit is excessive. Almost anything can cause harm in excess. Even superfoods like kale and broccoli can cause harm when people overdo it. Plus, the chickenpox vaccine contains active virus, which means it can CAUSE the very illness it is designed to present.
My refusal of the flu vaccine was for a very practical reason: my child is allergic to egg. Flu vaccine is developed using an egg-based manufacturing process. While there are some versions of the vaccine that don’t have the same risk for egg contamination, there’s also the fact that developing the vaccine is, at best, a guessing game. In fact, this flu season the vaccine was estimated to be ONLY 23% effective! One author even suggests that taking the vaccine results in five times the risk you’ll suffer from respiratory illness of some kind. (Note: I haven’t read the full study, so take this with a grain of salt.) Suffice it to say that I’m still not convinced the flu vaccine is necessary–or even helpful. Matter of fact, I’ve only been vaccinated one time in my adult life (while I was pregnant) and I’ve had the flu only once or twice in that time frame. And I definitely don’t believe in giving my child any medicine or vaccination in which I don’t believe.
What It Means
There are kids who can’t receive certain vaccines for medical reasons — the only protection from vaccine-preventable diseases is the immunity of the people around them. This small minority of children are the poster children for the pro-vaccine movement. And I get it. If I had a child whose very existence depended on the actions of the parents and community around them, I’d be ardently pro-vaccine too. I’d be that parent. But my decision to pick-and-choose the vaccines I gave my child was also linked to being “that parent.” The parent who makes decisions she thinks are best for her child.
Vaccine Side Effects—Centers for Disease Control
Inactivated flu vaccine
- soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- sore, red or itchy eyes
*Symptoms of the actual flu
- Soreness or swelling where the shot was given (about 1 out of 5 children and up to 1 out of 3 adolescents and adults)
- Fever (1 person out of 10, or less)*
- Chickenpox!!!! (1 person out of 25)—usually mild, but can be contagious (rarely).*
- Seizures (more common with MMRV version)
Vaccines, like any medicine, are capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risks for serious harm or death are extremely small. Getting vaccinated is generally safer than getting the viruses they prevent.