I’m noticing a lot of talk about vaccination lately. I’m pretty sure it’s due to it’s due to the measles outbreak in the USA that originated in the Disneyland theme park in California. I’ve seen other bloggers posting impassioned pleas for parents on “both sides of the debate” to be kinder to each other and to understand where we are all coming from- a desire to do the best we can for our children. I can certainly see a value in kindness- nobody will change their stance if you insult and offend them repeatedly. I also have no doubt that most people who choose not to vaccinate or to use some alternate schedule do so thinking they are doing the right thing. I do not personally agree that it is the right thing (unless medically indicated) but I have no doubt that such a decision is not made lightly and is sincerely made.

I see so much frustration- people who vaccinate losing their cool with those that don’t because they cannot make them understand or accept evidence, people who do not vaccinate in explosive rants because they don’t understand why their parental rights are being questioned.

I have been extremely interested in vaccines and immunisation for around 9 years. I can’t go into all the reasons why here but I can say that, as a lay person, I now have a reasonably good understanding of their safety and efficacy. Anyone who has such an interest and has read as much as I have on the subject has probably also encountered a fair bit of both “sides”.

When I think of a debate, I think of two opposing yet valid arguments.  But when I look at the vaccination debate, that is not what I see.

On one hand, I see products that have come into the market after  10 or 15 years of development, testing, refinement and study. I see reams of data on safety and efficacy. I see demonstrated evidence, freely available. I see every health authority in the world taking on board this evidence and basing their recommendations on it.

vaccination

Getting a vaccine

 

On the other, I see the use of fear, emotive language and imagery, half truths and blatant lies. I see a rejection of evidence, no matter how it’s demonstrated. I often see endorsement of unproven therapies in place of vaccines. I see anecdotes given the same weight as proven facts. And looming over it all is the spectre of an enormous conspiracy that would require hundreds, if not thousands, of people to comply with it…and for what? The money in vaccines certainly exists but it is limited- we don’t get them all that often, after all.  After pharmaceutical companies are done paying everyone off, what is left? The last time I posted anything substantial on vaccines, I was accused of being on the payroll, too (and not for the first time). If you’re wondering, I’m still waiting for a cheque. I’ve never been paid a cent to endorse vaccines and frankly, it feels a bit  funny to even have to say that.

Anti- Vaccination imagery

Anti-Vaccination imagery

I’m not going to try to convince anyone that vaccines work. I gave that up some time ago. If you are willing to believe in the enormous conspiracy I just mentioned, there’s probably nothing I can say to change your mind and no amount of evidence that will sway you.

Vaccination conspirator

Enough said.

If you’re sitting on the fence, however, it’s you I’d like to speak to.

The science is clear on vaccines- they are safe and effective for the vast majority of people. That’s not to say vaccines are risk free. There is a small risk of a serious adverse reaction. It should be noted, though, that these reactions are rare and the risk of a serious reaction to the disease itself is greater. I don’t expect anyone to take my word for it.

  • Here are some fact sheets put out by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. The NCIRS has been established for 18 years and is affiliated with both Westmead Children’s Hospital and the University of Sydney. Learn more about what they do here.
  • The World Health Organisation has this to say on immunisationImmunization is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year. It is one of the most cost-effective health investments, with proven strategies that make it accessible to even the most hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations.
  • This is the Australian Immunisation Handbook (10th Edition) that has a wealth of information on vaccine-preventable illnesses and the relevant vaccine’s safety and efficacy data.
  • This is from the New Zealand Ministry of HealthImmunisation uses the body’s natural defence mechanism, the immune response, to build resistance to specific infections. When an immunised person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond to prevent them developing the disease.
  • This is the UK National Health Service’s information on immunisation.
  • Here is the American Centre for Disease Control on vaccines including safety and risks, common questions and recommendations.
  • If you were wondering, the American Academy of Pediatrics also concurs with the available evidence on vaccines.

The debate around immunisation is not one being played out on a level field. Not all information, particularly online, is equal.

Anti-vaccine parents are often very protective of their right to choose, as a parent, whether or not they vaccinate their children. Which is, of course, their legal right. I don’t object to that. What I object to is that right being exercised when it is based on fear and misinformation and I am yet to come across a non-vaccinating parent who isn’t basing that decision on one or both of these (with the exception of those medically contraindicated from vaccinating). People who are pro-vaccination are frustrated that others choose differently because they recognise it puts the whole community at risk. They recognise that although it’s a personal decision, it’s one with potentially far-reaching consequences.

vaccination-herd-immunity

Image from Team Vaccine

 

I have heard and read it all: fears of heavy metal toxicity,  autism, the belief that we no longer need to vaccinate, vaccines cause SIDS, there are safe and effective homeopathic vaccines alternatives, the belief that vaccines are used to keep the population under control, the belief that the illnesses we vaccinate for are mild and harmless, that we overload our children’s immune systems, the belief that vaccines don’t work and the belief that vaccines commonly cause disability and death.

What vaccination doesn't do

If you are sitting on the fence, I urge you to think about this one point:

Every major health authority in the world recommends vaccination. All of them. I literally cannot think of a single one that doesn’t. If vaccines caused all of these problems on a large scale, why would governments fund them? What possible reason could a government or health authority have for doing this?

If you’re going to choose not to vaccinate, think about the level of conspiracy you are accepting.

You are accepting that everyone, from those working in labs to those measuring and collating data, who has ever been involved in decades of studies have lied.

You are accepting that all government health authorities are either complicit in these lies or are employing others that are- think about the sheer number of people that would need to be involved.

You accept that any and all studies showing vaccines to be safe and effective are falsified and that those responsible for the peer review of such studies are also lying.

Think critically about your source of information. I once read an article about a cervical cancer vaccine that made all sorts of claims about the vaccine causing fertility problems and stating it had been banned in another country. It wasn’t difficult to find out that it had not been banned at all and that there were no causal links to infertility, however, what really rang alarm bells for me was the next article, written by the same person, that talked about the CIA using kitchen appliances like toasters and kettles to spy on Americans. Another I read stands firmly by the autism/vaccine idea yet also publishes content claiming that scientists all over the world are making bizarre animal/human hybrids like a cow human that produces milk almost identical to human breastmilk and mice with human brains. In short, if the source of information seems suspect, it’s probably best to discount it altogether.

Vaccination is a risk vs benefit assessment and evidence shows that the risk from vaccines is far, far smaller than the risk from a wild illness.

I’m not going to go into every common myth surrounding vaccines, but if you are wondering, this booklet does exactly that.

I think it’s fine to question things, I think it’s wonderful to learn more…but when it comes to the crunch, can you really confidently decide that every major health authority in the world is wrong and you are right?

 

As an aside, it’s that time of year when people go crazy for the one they love, with heart-shaped cards and chocolate galore. We don’t really do much in that regard- usually something small or a nice lunch out. This year, I went all out. I went to the UNICEF website and gifted my husband 200 polio vaccinations for under-privileged kids. Romantic, hey? Why not do the same?!

amy&carl

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 


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  • What a great idea to gift those vaccines. I will definitely check that site out. This is a great post and extremely informative. I hope the right people read it.

  • Only $40. I had no idea how cheap it would be or that you could even do that. Thanks again.

    • I know, I was stoked at how cheap it is, I hope to do it more often!

  • LydiaCLee

    I had not heard the SIDS argument (I was at the height of the Autism/MMR media frenzy). If it causes SIDS, how do children below 2 months succumb to it? That we can not see the return of Polio as a giant step backwards is beyond me. Nice idea on the Valentine’s day gift…

  • TeganMC

    What I can’t fathom is that people would rather their children exposed to deadly diseases than have autism. It just blows my mind that that is essentially what they are saying. I worry for our children’s future, and what diseases will be allowed to make a comeback.

  • Wonderful post. I am pro-vaccine. I have one fully vaccinated child and one who is partially vaccinated due to suffering medically diagnosed serum-sickness and is on a register. This means that he cannot have his MMR as he has what is an extremely rare and acute allergy to the serum and no doctor will give him a shot that could cause him harm. Did this stop me getting my second child immunised? No. It made it me even more vigilant about immunising her because… herd immunity.

    • That must have been a scary thing to find out! I hope he never comes into contact with anything like that, it must be a big worry these days.

  • You are so brave posting this as it will open you to so much criticism, but go you anyway!
    I am all for vaccination. My Mother, (she’s 85 now) lived through the depression as a very young child and remembers crippled kids at school who had polio. She remembers the misery of children dying from diseases that are preventable in this day and age with a simple shot. She has never stopped talking about the time she had whooping cough as a kid… I have heard it all. Even more from my Dad who was older and died when I was 23 – he was in the English navy in WW2 and remembered cholera amongst others. It’s just not worth the risk.
    My third baby contracted Measles, 2 weeks before he turned one, (when he would have been vaccinated). He was really sick.
    These are not small illnesses. Eradicate the misery and suffering and immunise. Another fantastic post.

    • So far, so good. All positive feedback. Phew. I was a little apprehensive!

  • I am definitely pro vaccinations. I’ll admit it makes me pretty angry when people choose not to vaccinate their children, however I choose not to stir the pot and voice my point of view. I like your theory to be kind to one another as everyone makes their decision thinking they’re doing the right thing. In saying that I think it’s important to be open to more than one point of view x

    • I’m open to points of view- but I do get annoyed when people value opinions and feelings above facts- you can have your own view- not your own set of facts. But it’s hard to remind people of that without getting angry! A fine line 🙂

  • Yep, pro-vaccination all the way. The people who blame vaccinations for autism or any other developmental illness frustrate me as they make these claims based on anecdotes rather than research. I don’t have kids but it is annoying when you think of the risk anti-vaccinators put other kids and the community in. Love how coherently you’ve expressed yourself in this post. Hopefully, you will get the message across to those fence-sitters.

    • Thanks Sanch. A whole heap of anti-vax groups give anecdotes far more weight than studies and it’s super frustrating!

  • Vaccinations all the way here, we didn’t think twice. I just wish people would do more research for themselves, before just listening to the loudest voices, which quite often don’t have fully researched facts anyway.

    • I sometimes think too much “research” can be the trouble- so many dodgy websites out there!

  • My girls have had all their shots except Chicken Pox as they both had it before it became the ‘in’ thing to do. I have not doubt that there are a few very sad incidents that have had devastating results following vaccination, but you still have to look at the numbers. I hate to think of the number of lives that would be lost if we stopped vaccination. xx Nikki @ Wonderfully Women

    • We didn’t get CP for the eldest three as it wasn’t on the schedule- then all three got it. And so did my husband! Was NOT FUN. I wished I had paid for it separately- just didn’t know then what I know now!

  • All my kids received all their vaccinations except chicken pox because it hadn’t been introduced. They all five caught chicken pox at the same time which was fun… not. We usually get flu shots too. I wouldn’t be able to bear the thought of there being an outbreak and knowing I’d neglected to protect my kids.

    • Our oldest 3 got it at the same time- and hubby too. That was before it was on the schedule, too and oh my goodness- NOT FUN!

  • A great balanced and thoughtful view on vaccines. Thanks for sharing and thank for reaching out to those ‘on the fence’ with the hard facts that sometime get missed in the emotion. We vaccinate our family and I hope this post will urge others to as well.

    • Thanks Caroline, we can only try to keep the discussion going!

  • Vaccinations or herd vaccination is what protects my immune suppressed son from contracting a life threatening disease that can be prevented so yep I am totally pro. That said as I mother i totally understand the passion behind ones decision to do or dont and I love it when I see both sides respectfully presented like you have done. Well done hun xx

    • I’m hopeful that most of the “herd” will keep vaccinating to protect other herd members like your little guy xx

  • As usual you have succinctly taken both sides of an issue, dealt with them sensitively but not backed away from defending your view. For what it’s worth I agree with you and it is just such a pleasure to read such an intelligent analysis of this extremely emotionally charged issue xx

  • theLilaWolff

    I am not anti-vax. That being said I believe another factor contributing to fear of vaccination is the lack of transparency on the contents and no I’m not talking about Mercury being in them. I’m talking about whenever I’ve spoken to an immunisation nurse they don’t have that info readily available which bolsters the suspicions of conspiracy theorists.
    This actually caused us a lot of pain and unnecessary suffering for our youngest who is allergic to the bovine products used in them. Had we been properly informed we could have alleviated that or truly given informed consent.
    I feel that unless our healthcare providers are better informed and better able to share that knowledge fear will feed the anti-vax movement.

    • The ingredients that may be of concern to those with allergies should be on the insert- you can usually find these online, too. From what I understand, nurse immunisation practitioners study the epidemiology of vax-preventable diseases, the schedule itself, the role of vaccines in public health and relevant guidelines and policy. They are meant to be able to control an adverse reaction if there is no dr present. According to this fact sheet from NCIRS (http://www.ncirs.edu.au/immunisation/fact-sheets/vaccine-components-fact-sheet.pdf) they are supposed to make an assessment of individual history of allergies and previous reactions before giving any vaccine. I’m sorry to hear that your provider let you down and I hope you made complaints so that the person could be re-educated.

  • Guest

    Thank you. This is a brilliant and very intelligently written post and one I will definitely be sharing. I love how you have covered all arguments but that your stance on the issue is firm and clear. My mum works in a hospital and we often discuss this issue. Interestingly she has also told me about general discussion she has had with some of the Doctors who have told her of some of their worries for the next generation of unvaccinated women, in particular those who will want to have babies in the future. Oh man, my mind is boggled on the responsibility of that one. There is too much more to think about and all the what if’s scare me to bits. It was such an easy decision for me to make to vaccinate my kids.

    • Yes it’s really frightening in that context- especially things like measles and rubella exposure in unvaccinated pregnant women. The mind does boggle.

  • Karen

    Just brilliant. Thank you for writing such an eloquent, intelligent and rational post. Love it!

  • What a very sensible and well written post about a very controversial subject! People that are anti will NEVER see it the other way around and vice versa. I’ve given up talking to brick walls!

    • Yep, that’s what it’s like. They are, in my experience, far too invested in the conspiracies to turn back- which is a terrible shame.

  • Well said. I remember when we faced the vaccination ‘decision’ for our first son and not all the data was in, I looked at the two sides. One was telling me we were risking Autism and the other Polio and an assortment of other deadlies. I said, I’ll take Autism and vaccinated. Now the evidence is clear that there isn’t even the risk of Austism x

  • KateV

    Brilliant. No other words needed!

  • Lisa Heidke

    Well said! Agree.

  • What a lovely Valentine’s gift to your hubby – how wonderful if polio could be eradicated completely. There are so many facts and lots of level-headed statements in here and also a respect for the rights of those with different opinions, which is sadly often not shown when people take sides. I really hope your message reaches its mark and people are persuaded by medical evidence not emotive statements.

  • What an articulate, balanced and informed piece of writing. I love to hear a voice of reason. And you give great gift, it really is the gift that keeps on giving! Hope you had a love-ly weekend!

  • Grace

    I do hope those sitting on the fence read this. We’re pro vaccination but I would hate to think that one of my boys fall sick with the measles or something more serious from a child whose parents were impartial at the time. That argument that linked vaccination to autism did so much damage, it’s scary.

    • It did huge damage. Parts of the UK that had measles outbreaks had scared parents queuing up for the vaccines after they’d refused them due to fear of autism.

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    No fence sitting here but if I was , your post would have convinced me to vaccinate. Thanks

  • What a lovely thing to do for others that need help. That’s a damn cool valentines present.

  • I love this! I sadly don’t think vax rates are going to improve dramatically, short of a disease explosion. People are just too damn… vicious. The hateful comments do nothing but push people further into their own corner and send them to seek safety in their own like-minded communities.

    We need transparency- actual hard info on what is and isn’t in vaccines (because foetuses and mercury (usually) aren’t!) and clear, unbiased info on what those ingredients are- for eg. the mercury found in the flu vaccine is far less than in a tin of tuna. We need stark, emotive images of what it’s like to see a baby with measles or whooping cough. We need acknowledgement that yes, really damn bad reactions happen- because if you deny this, you can’t convey how rare that actually is. More ‘research’ that can be misconstrued, tweaked, misrepresented or ‘biased’ isn’t going to help. The research is there- we need to can the way it’s presented.

  • I just can’t do the vaccination argument. I think the clearest ‘argument’ for vaccinations (as if we need one) is the one where someone pointed out that apparently we fear our children having autism more than we fear them dying.

    When my daughter was born a couple years ago there was a Whooping Cough outbreak at the time and I’ll never forget that feeling of being terrified of taking my ‘too young to be vaccinated’ baby out in public. I also cannot believe how close we’ve gone to eradicating these diseases that KILL … and now because of misinformation, they are making a comeback.

    As you say, this is not an argument where there are two sides to the story.

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  • Such an excellent post Amy !