How I Decided Whether to Vaccinate

By Terri Mykland

I just read an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled “The Age-Old Struggle Against the Anti-Vaccinationists”, in which anti-vaccinationists are characterized,  as follows:

“simply ignorant about science (or “innumerate”, unable to understand and incorporate concepts of risk and probability into science-grounded decision-making) … a radical fringe element who use deliberate mistruths, intimidation, falsified data and threats of violence in efforts to prevent the use vaccines and to silence critics… tend toward complete mistrust of government and manufacturers, conspiratorial thinking, denialism, low cognitive complexity in thinking patterns, reasoning flaws, and a habit of substituting emotional anecdotes for data”

This post is my response, as a mother who has sometimes chosen not to vaccinate,  to this characterization.  I think there is a huge disconnect between the medical community that characterizes moms (and dads) this way, as we sit in their offices, trusting them and paying them our money, and thousands of parents like me, with college degrees and plenty of IQ points, thank you very much, who are living in a very different reality than these docs.  We do our own thinking, and we are decidedly not of the “my doctor says it so it must be right” generation.

I hope that this blog helps parents who make vaccination decisions and doctors who are trying to understand us.


In my experience, whether and when to vaccinate is among the most difficult decisions a parent ever has to make.   My kids were born over a period of 11 years, and for each child, I made different decisions about which vaccines to give.

Once you have autism in the family, the decision becomes even harder.  I have experienced an evolution in my decision making, as I learned more and more.  I hope it will be instructive to those who are agonizing over their perfect infant, trying to choose whether and when to hit that tiny brand new immune system with vaccines, in the interest of future health, not knowing exactly what the consequences might be, for the child, the family, or the rest of the species.

There’s a question I asked (and still ask) myself as a parent, when making the hardest decisions.  This is also how I made the decision to have my babies at home, and actually any other serious parenting decision.

I ask myself, “Could I live with the consequences of this decision, if the worst happens?”

For the homebirths, this went,” could I live with myself if the baby dies or is handicapped for the rest of their life because I decided to birth at home?”  And my own personal answer went, “yes I could, because I believe this is what gives the baby the best odds of being born without unneeded interventions, and if the baby is truly not healthy enough to survive a ride to the hospital, I think that playing god and saving him/her  might not be the best thing”.    Of course, I also picked a great midwife who knew her stuff, and would know how to risk me out and send me to the hospital instead of home if there was obviously something wrong with me or the baby at any point.

In the case of vaccines, I considered each baby and each vaccine.  I educated myself about the risk factors, pro’s con’s, various forms of the vaccines.  I have gotten smarter about how to ask these questions, as I educated myself, especially after my son was diagnosed with autism.  Here are the kinds of questions to consider before vaccinating:

  1. Could I live with myself if my child gets this disease because he/she is not vaccinated against it?  How about if someone else’s child or infant catches it from mine?
  2. Am I willing to do what it takes to keep my child from infecting others, if they do catch this disease?
  3. Could I live with myself if my child becomes autistic or impaired for the rest of his/her life because I vaccinated him/her?
  4. Is this the best time of this child’s life for this vaccine, or can I wait until a better time — such as when  she’s a little older, or when she has not been ill or on antibiotics recently?

I did choose to vaccinate my children, and I chose not to, as well.   My decisions were quite different for each child, due to autism and my learning process.

#1 child

This was before autism hit my family.  With her, I stayed at home, breastfed (best odds for future health) and waited until she was 2 to start vaccinating.  I didn’t give all the boosters, and I spaced out the vaccines.  She is on the ragged edge of autism, very bright, passes for normal, but has sensory and social issues, and an extreme picky eater as a young adult.

#2 child

I went back to work full time when he was 3 months old.  We fully vaccinated him on schedule, as he was in childcare full time from a young age.  Some of his vaccines were given not long after a round of antibiotics.    He was colicky and had chronic diarrhea from a couple months old onwards.  He was diagnosed with autism shortly before his third birthday.  He did not receive any more vaccines after his diagnosis.  If I had it do do over again, I would not  vaccinate him at all.   This is a no-brainer, knowing what I know now.  I don’t know whether he would be autistic if he had not been vaccinated, but I think it would have been milder.  He later had documented mercury toxicity, and when we removed mercury from his body, his symptoms improved.

#3 child

She born 9 years later.  She stayed at home, was breastfed, slept on an organic cotton crib mattress, and was not vaccinated, except for a single polio vaccine after her third birthday.  She is completely without autistic-like symptoms, except for persistent stomach aches when she was younger (probiotics helped!).  She also has fairly serious seasonal allergies.

As this evolution illustrates,  once we had autism in the family, I started looking at vaccination through a different lens.  The main question I asked myself was  “Can I live with the worst possible consequences if I don’t give this vaccine now?”.   As you can see, in the case of my #3 child, the answer was yes in every case except for one Polio shot.  Here are the things I looked at, with regard to each disease, in considering whether to give each vaccine:

  1. Incidence of the disease in the United States.  How many cases, how transmitted, over  the past 10 years.
  2. What age is it recommended and how many doses?  I tried to understand why it was recommended at the age it was, as one of my goals was to give vaccines when the child’s immune system was a little more mature if possible, and more able to tolerate an assault.
  3. What treatment was available for each disease.   Questions in my mind: “if my child caught the worst possible case of this disease, is there an effective treatment?  How bad are the lasting symptoms or side effects?”.
  4. Proven effectiveness of the vaccine and of the booster shots.  Many booster shots are given just to pick up the 3% that weren’t effectively covered by the first dose.  I mostly chose not to give boosters.
  5. Side effects of the vaccine.  I used some books and websites to help me do this research.  See Resources at the bottom of this post.
  6. Forms of the vaccine that are available, and relative pro’s and con’s of each one.  Is the vaccine available in a monovalant form (just measles alone, for example, rather than measles, mumps and rubella together)?  I would rather just give one vaccine at a time than several, and space out the shots, to minimize the impact on the immune system at any one time.
  7. If my child was going to travel outside the United States, ever, I would reconsider all vaccines before such a trip.
  8. If there was an outbreak of any illness in my area, I would reconsider the vaccine for that illness at that time.

Why I decided to Give my #3 Child One Polio Vaccination at Age 3

After reviewing all the information, especially the symptoms and health consequences of each illness, effectiveness of available treatments, and incidence (likelihood of actually being exposed to it), the only disease I felt unwilling to face the consequences of was Polio.  The effects of Polio can be lifelong and serious, and there is no cure.  Also, Polio does still exist in the United States.   So after my daughter was done with most of her baby development, at age 3, I gave her one Polio vaccine.  My doctor, of course, looked at me like I was nuts.  In her opinion, if I was choosing only one shot to give, it would have been much smarter to vaccinate for something like Pertussis, which they see regularly, and which can kill infants.  But there are good treatments for Pertussis, we don’t live with any infants, and within 3 days of antibiotic treatment, the patient is no longer able to give it to anyone else, so I felt ok about declining Pertussis.

What would you do if your child Caught one of the Diseases covered by Vaccines?

Well, I had thought about this, of course, and decided that if this ever happened, I would do everything in my power to protect the public from catching a disease from my child.  I had to put this into practice in November, 2010, when my #3 child actually caught Pertussis.   She had a nasty cough for 4 days that just wasn’t moving through her system at all.  It seemed very unusual, and I took her in to her doctor.  Usually I wouldn’t take a kid in this quickly, but somehow I knew this wasn’t a regular cold.  Her doc is very experienced, and she was pretty sure it was pertussis (this was confirmed days later,  but of course we didn’t know for sure until then).  I had no doubts about the right thing to do.  We immediately put my daughter and everyone in the household on antibiotics, and my #3 girl stayed at home – did not set foot outside our house – for the full five days, until she was no longer contagious —  I read up on the data on this, of course!  And that’s how we protected the public.  When it actually happened, it was not a complicated or soul-searching process for me.  It was just doing what would logically protect others the best, which is what I would hope any parent would do, vaccines or no.

The scariest part was, of course, having a very sick child.  She coughed for over 8 weeks.  She coughed so hard she would vomit.  She coughed so hard at night that she needed prescription narcotics to be able to sleep.  I found that California Poppy Extract helped stop the spasms, and for awhile this became a daily ritual.  She sometimes could not speak to ask for it because she was coughing so hard, so we developed hand signs.  She missed some school. I missed some work.  But she is a strong 10 year old, and her body got through it.  I felt no regret about not having vaccinated her for pertussis.  Kids get sick.  Moms take care of them.

Vaccine Safety Mom = Anti-Vaccinationist ?

So am I the anti-vaccinationist that the docs are talking about in their article?  Clearly not.  Am I an educated and experienced mom, who knows more about the downsides to vaccines in the real world than most doctors?  Oh, yes!   Which of the NEJM article adjectives apply to me?  Not many of them.  Am I a radical fringe element? – well, let’s put it this way: I wasn’t until I had a child with autism and started seeing the hypocrisy and callous disregard for children’s safety embodied in vaccine policy in this country.  Now?  Maybe, but I’m pretty harmless.  I’m a working mom – I I have more important things to do than terrorize public officials.

Like many autism moms, I am plenty smart and motivated.  I take the time to read the actual medical studies and data behind what’s in the press.   When I see people who designed vaccines in bed with government agencies who regulate them, and press releases that irresponsibly “spin” the facts that I have read in detail, supposedly “informing” the public, I can’t help but mistrust the sources.  Do I substitute emotional anecdotes for data?  I try not to, but when there’s no substantial data, or only tainted data, and when the anecdotes start to pile up into the thousands, I have a hard time ignoring them.  Wake up, NEJM doctors, I’m who you’re struggling with, not some uneducated mom without a clue.  Please start treating me like an intelligent partner in making our children as safe and healthy as possible, and stop treating me like the enemy.

Resources

What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children’s Vaccinations, by Dr. Stephanie Cave and Deborah Mitchell

National Vaccine Information Center

Vaccine Laws by State – Many people aren’t aware that it is not required by law to vaccinate.  In 48 of the 50 states, it is possible to easily waive any or all vaccinations.  Here’s the breakdown of how to do it, by state.  Don’t let anyone bully you into vaccinating if you don’t want to.


Note: These are the private opinions of the author, and do not constitute the official position of BrainChild Nutritionals.

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