Changing my Stance on Vaccines

First off, I’d like to say that I still believe that it’s every parent’s right to choose how they parent. This post isn’t meant to tell anyone that they’re wrong or a bad parent because they don’t believe with me 100%. Of course this is the case with all my posts, but I feel the need to state it right in the beginning of this one because I know this is such a touchy subject. People have very strong opinions on either side of the argument and that leads to some very heated discussions. I’m not saying these things to turn into an argument, but rather to show other parents that we can change our minds. We can admit when we’re wrong and go another direction and in this case, I am admitting that I was wrong. Here’s another article that my husband recently shared with me that has a similar theme.

My vaccine journey, of course, started when Peanut was very young. I knew a little about vaccines, but not much, when she was born. I knew I wanted to wait on the Hepatitis B vaccine, though she ended up getting it at 2 weeks because of a miscommunication between myself and my husband. After researching and reading The Vaccine Book (still a great read that I would recommend), I decided that she would still get all of her infant vaccines, but she would go in every month to get them and do 3 at a time instead of every other month and 6 at a time. It just made sense to me to still get this protection, but have less of an overload on her system at once.

Then as she got older, I started to question some of the live inactive vaccines they are supposed to get at one year. I was initially planning on getting the MMR in three separate vaccines, but it was take off the market as separate vaccines before she was old enough to get it. I also questioned chicken pox, as many parents who are my age or older do, because I had the illness as a child and it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I also decided not to do Hepatitis A because of the minute risk of seizure for children under 2. So she didn’t get any vaccines at one year. She did get her boosters for the other vaccines we had already started for 15 months.

This is about the time when I really started to get “crunchy.” Of course, I don’t consider being crunchy a bad thing whatsoever. I still completely believe in questioning the system, avoiding chemicals, and so many other parts of living a more natural life. Anyway, I started talking to these moms I now surrounded myself with and found that many of them did not vaccinate at all. This made me question vaccines myself. I became even more questioning when I read some obscure article stating there could be a link between peanut allergies and vaccines. By the time that Twig was born, I was completely anti-vaccine.

Now we fast forward to a few months ago. As many of you may know, I’m a biology teaching major. Last semester I took microbiology. This course was something I was not excited to take and therefore I put it off until almost the very end of my degree. Turns out I love it. Microbiology is fascinating to me and has actually solidified many of my crunchy ideals (e.g. fermentation and the health of gut microflora), but the one thing it directly clashed with is vaccines. We had a whole lecture series on vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases. Initially I felt like I was the person sitting bright cheeked in the second row (embarrassment), but that quickly turned into bright cheeked in the second row from anger. How dare my professor (and a guest professor) tell me I was wrong about vaccines? Then what they were saying started to make sense.

I’ll be the first to admit that they were both very passionately pro-vaccine. That’s not what got me though, it was the facts. So many of the things that they said made so much sense to me scientifically. For the longest time I had been simply ignoring the arguments from the crunchy folks that didn’t mesh with what I know about science, but all of this brought it to light in one foul swoop.

Many say that vaccines weren’t what brought down illness, but sanitation. My professors presented multiple charts to me showing that simply wasn’t the case. Many argued that vaccines just don’t work. Well here’ the mechanism that shows that they do work and it makes absolute sense from everything I know about biology and human physiology (which I’d venture to say it quite a bit at this point). Many say that they simply are too unsafe for the small risk that these relatively harmless diseases present or incredibly rare diseases present. Yes, there have been 5 cases of diphtheria in the US in the last 10 years, but do you know what that disease does? It basically chokes you to death. And it’s all one radical terrorist with the wrong connections away from running rampant in our country again.

So this all got me thinking. I understand the science behind vaccines, I understand the logic of getting them. From here, we decided to have a talk with our doctor. I had always planned on vaccinating Twig at some point, but I had no idea when. All I knew is that I didn’t want to bring so many foreign things into her body (especially anything that could risk her having a peanut allergy like big sis) at such a young age. Well all this thinking made me realize that now was the time and I wanted to discuss with our trusted pediatrician (Seriously, we have the best pediatrician in the whole world and I wish she could be my doctor. When we brought Peanut in with eczema, do you know what she told us to put on it? Coconut oil!) to decide which ones were important for her to get. During our discussion, she told me point blank that the whole peanut oil in vaccines thing was completely off base. I knew it probably was just some crackpot theory, but this solidified it. So we discussed which vaccines were the most important for her to get and I went home to plan out a schedule.

I decided she would for sure get polio (my husband has a co-worker who is from India and this series made me realize how close polio really is), HiB, and PC. I was unsure on DTaP because I’m fairly sure she’s already been exposed (my husband and Peanut both had it June before last) and received enough protection from my breast milk to avoid getting sick while producing her own antibodies. We would wait on all of the others and probably not get the flu vaccine at all.

Then the unthinkable happened to a friend–her baby died of the flu. I was so convinced that this just didn’t happen based on what I had read in The Vaccine Book and elsewhere. The flu isn’t that bad! We all make a big fuss about nothing! It’s mostly the elderly that die and even then, it’s reported the same way as pneumonia so we can’t really say a specific number! But it does happen and I saw it with my own eyes. I’m ashamed that it took seeing an innocent life taken for me to understand the true importance of herd immunity. Herd immunity may not be perfect, but it’s real. And if someone wouldn’t have exposed that poor baby to the flu because that (likely) healthy adult had good immunity, she would be alive today. I’m not saying this just for fear mongering, but because we need to know that these illnesses that can be prevented with vaccines really do kill. And if we all vaccinate we can help protect those who can not.

So here I am. I’m not completely sure where we’re going from here, but I know we’re going to vaccinate. I’m not sure when and if all, but I’m leaning towards all of them. And this goes for myself too. I can’t believe I’ve been saying no to the flu vaccine every year when I’m asthmatic and highly susceptible to pneumonia. I’m a scientist at heart and it just makes sense to me from that perspective. I feel like so much of the anti-vaccine arguments aren’t based in science. Anyway, this has been kind of a mash of all of the things going on in my head, so I’m sorry if it doesn’t make sense. For anyone out there who is crunchy and contemplating doing vaccines, know you’re not alone. There’s a whole horde of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, babywearing, gentle disciplining moms who also choose to vaccinate their children.

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8 thoughts on “Changing my Stance on Vaccines

    • Thank you. That article is really interesting. I used to be in the camp of thinking I could “prevent” my children getting these illnesses by giving them a fantastic immune system, but now I realize how that doesn’t really make sense. A fantastic immune system can definitely help you fight a disease, but with how illness works, it’s pretty unlikely to stop you from getting it in the first place. Luck has a lot more to do with it.

  1. It can be really difficult to change our opinions when presented with different evidence, and I admire that you’ve been able to do so.

    I do hope that we’re entering a more balanced era when it comes to vaccines. I would like if doctors were more willing to listen to the concerns that their patients’ parents have rather than just declaring, “It’s my way or the highway,” without any explanation. I’m not even anti-vaccine, but I’ve had a bear of a time even finding doctors willing to help me fully vaccinate my kids off-schedule (I’ve always trusted the mechanism, but neither I nor my biologist spouse is entirely convinced about the schedule). I worry that if a doctor is unwilling to discuss one subject with me, she’ll be unwilling to discuss other subjects with me as my children grow up. I want open communication with our doctors, not scare tactics and hard lines.

    Oh, and remember that pertussis is only one of three diseases the DTaP vaccine protects against. We had a similar decision to make (my vaccinated son got pertussis between his fourth and fifth DTaP), and his great doctor discussed the options and reminded me of the tetanus and diphtheria portions of the DTaP.

    • Yeah that’s one of the things I love about our pediatrician. She said that she believes in vaccines, but she also believes in parents having information and that the parents who choose not to vaccinate still need a doctor who will treat their kids.

      In the end, we’ve decided to get DTaP. I’m not particularly worried about the diphtheria or tetanus portions of the vaccine (the pertussis portion is what causes the majority of the adverse effects) and could give my girls the DT vaccine later on for those, but I still decided to do the whole thing. Now with the research that the acellular pertussis protects the vaccinated, but not from spreading it, I’ll have to look into that further. Regardless, having gone through my three year old with pertussis, I can only imagine what it would be like if my three MONTH old got it and I don’t want to take that risk.

  2. I’m a breastfeeding, babywearing, Co – sleeping vegetarian mamma who also happens to be a doctoral student in immunology. I’m really glad microbiology gave you the science, or at least some of the science, behind vaccines! We slowed down the vaccine train on my little man, but he will get just about every vaccine in the end. I honestly believe anti – vaccine sentiment neglects the consideration of our fellow human beings. With that in mind, our little ones do have immature immune systems and treading with caution seems very logical to me. Good luck figuring out how to handle your new found vaccine debacle :).

    • I find it really interesting that you still do delayed vaccines. That’s where we’ve decided to go with this baby, but my microbiology teacher (who, to be fair, studies halophilic bacteria mainly, so it’s not her expertise) firmly believes that babies can handle the full amount of vaccines exactly when we give them and that their immune systems aren’t as undeveloped as we believe. I figure there’s no reason not to spread them out a bit (with the most serious ones coming first). I would love to hear more on your perspective.

  3. From one semi-crunchy but totally scientific Mom to another, I applaud your change of heart! It’s difficult and challenging to redirect ourselves when we’ve put so much heart into a certain way of thinking, but isn’t the ability to adapt one of the paramount signs of an attentive and successful parent?

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