Trying to Make Sense of Vaccinations

Vaccinations are one of the topics that are often banned from conversation, even in unassisted childbirth groups. The reason is that many people feel strongly about this topic, but are really unable to agree to disagree. Even though I have already made up my mind about vaccines, I have decided to check out “The Vaccine Book” by Dr. Robert W. Sears, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Statistical Evidence

The problem with vaccines is that we don’t really know what’s going on with them. It’s all very well to tell a parent that the risk of a severe reaction is about 1 in 2600 for a child on the 12-year vaccine schedule, and the risk of suffering a vaccine-preventable disease is about 1 in 1500 for any one person. But what does that really mean? It kind of sounds like playing the lottery, only your odds are better. Dr. Sears doesn’t really tell you whether or not you should vaccinate your child. He does point out that  there isn’t enough long-term safety research on vaccines.

What You Risk

You have to take a risk either way. If you vaccinate your children, then you’re taking an active risk that they suffer from a severe reaction (however minimal this risk is). If you skip the vaccinations, then you risk that your child catches the disease you could have prevented. But even if you do vaccinate, your child could still catch the disease, because the vaccine is only 80 or 90% effective.

Excerpt from “The Vaccine Book” by Robert W. Sears, MD, FAAP

Babies and Vaccines

In his book, Dr. Sears also explains that the most harmful vaccine-preventable disease occur during the first two years of life. Therefore, postponing vaccinations past two years of age doesn’t make a lot of sense. At that point, the diseases “are either much less common or better tolerated”. Therefore, if you’re going to immunize, then it needs to be done right away. If you decide not to immunize during the early years, then you might want to consider immunizing your child as they approach double digits. That includes hepatitis B and tetanus.

What If You Don’t Vaccinate?

Dr. Sears advises to breastfeed at least for one year, avoid putting your child in daycare or large play groups with many infants. Dr. Sears also points out that we are exposed to millions of germs every day. The only reason we are not sick constantly is our immune system. Strengthening your child’s immune system is a good idea (whether you vaccinate or not). This means you need to minimize sugar and junk food and feeding your child plenty of fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is also a good thing to supplement your child’s diet with.

Finding a Supportive Doctor

Many doctors will actually decline to see parents who don’t vaccinate their children. They literally refuse to provide care. Dr. Sears points out that this doesn’t make sense. After all, he can advise a mother to stop feeding her overweight child junk food and a father to stop smoking to prevent the kids from being exposed to second-hand smoke. And even though the parents don’t follow his advice, that doesn’t mean he’ll drop them from their practice. Vaccinations are no different. Parents aren’t following doctor’s orders, but they still need medical care. I like his reasoning, and I wish more doctors would see it that way, too.

The Good of Society

Many pro-vaccine parents argue that vaccinations are necessary for our society. The needs of the plenty outweigh the needs of the one (or few). But which parent is going to put the needs of society before the needs of his own child? After all, every decision you make is with the well-being of your child in mind, not the well-being of society. And that’s how it should be. Of course, this can be debatable either way, too. After all, society doesn’t approve of murder because it harms someone else and violates their individual rights (to live). And vaccine supporters may say that not vaccinating your child harms them because it takes away herd immunity.
The thing is that there are probably more diseases out there that you can’t vaccinate against. Consider the current Ebola scare. But even though people with Ebola have traveled on airplanes, not everybody who comes in contact with them will actually get sick. Common logic dictates that the reason is the immune system. Someone with poor health and a fragile immune system may be more likely to catch any disease.
But no matter how you feel about vaccinations, I think it’s fair to let every parent make the decision for their child. Do your research The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (Sears Parenting Library) is a good start), and make the decision to the best of your ability. And then agree to disagree with other parents about your decision.