I, for one, am someone who questions everything. Just ask my long-suffering father, my exhausted professors, or poor Mrs. Duncan, my 10th grade English teacher who had the unenviable task of preparing me for the Connecticut Mastery Test. (Sorry, Mrs. Duncan.) But one thing I never questioned, not for an instant, was whether I was going to vaccinate my children. That was an unequivocal yes. Vaccines have been proven safe and effective time and time and time again. My oldest will be five in September, so in five short years I've heard a great many things every parent who vaccinates are tried of hearing. I mean, I know I'm not alone.
Despite getting a ton of media attention and growing numbers, the anti-vaccination movement is still a vast minority among American parents. Most children are fully vaccinated, per Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations and, as such, diseases that once killed thousands upon thousands of people are largely kept at bay. Still (and sadly) several of these once nearly eradicated diseases are on the rise due to increasing numbers of parents opting their children out of routine inoculations. Measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chicken pox: all preventable, all of which can lead to severe complications or death even in otherwise healthy patients, and all returning. To put it mildly but bluntly, this sucks, and it's scary.
Because despite rantings to the contrary (I'm not going to link to them, but you can go ahead and Google if you're feeling like you need to raise your blood pressure for whatever reason), herd immunity works. Moreover, there are so many people who desperately rely on it. Even Dr. Sears, whose skeptical approach to vaccines has led to "Dr. Bob's Alternative Vaccine Schedule" (alternative to the CDC's schedule) admits the necessity of herd immunity, encouraging parents not to let neighbors know about their "alternative" plans lest too many people opting out damage this community immunity. In short: there is an admission that the continued existence anti-vax movement depends on the majority of people not joining in. While I've come across a great deal of maddening misinformation, there are a few key topics in this very noisy debate that I would literally pay money never have to hear again.
"Vaccines Are Full Of Mercury And Other Toxins"
People who say this are probably referring to Thimerosal, a mercury compound historically used as a preservative in some vaccines. Thimerosal was phased out of vaccines starting in 1999, as a precautionary measure taken by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) after studying trace levels of mercury in food and other drugs. While it is still present in some multi-dose flu vaccines, inoculations given to infants and children are free of the chemical except in trace amounts. The kicker is that later research concluded that, "Oh! Actually! Totally not a big deal, dudes! Thimerosal is safe!" Unlike the scary kind of mercury that is found in tuna, for example, thimerosal doesn't stay in the body. So. It's fine.
Also, guys literally anything can be toxic. Anything. Water. Oxygen. The delicious chipotle hummus I am eating right now as I write this article. (In fact, think I've neared the toxicity level in the past but passed out from fullness immediately before I could get to that last fatal bite.)
Hers is a name invoked on all sides of this debate, most usually, in fact, by people on my side of the ideological fence. Whether someone is bringing up her (incorrect) arguments against vaccinations as gospel truth, vociferously arguing against them, or simply using her name as a catch-all for the anti-vax movement one way or another, I'm sick of it.
Yes, I disagree with her stances—strongly—but I'm tired of one woman being held accountable for a harmful practice promoted by millions of people. Sure, her celebrity gave some credence to the long-debunked arguments against vaccinations, but she was far from the first, only, or last voice on the subject. The whole thing just wreaks of "Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles" or "An all-female Ghostbusters ruined my childhood" to me.
"But We Don't Know What's In Them"
I feel like there are so many answers to this. For one, we do know what's in them because vaccine ingredients are listed on the CDC website and available through the manufacturers. But I know what you mean: we don't know, personally, on a deeper level, what, say protamine sulphate is or what it does or why it's in the vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis. But do you know who does? The doctors and chemists who concoct and administer these vaccines. People who have spent decades, careers, and lifetimes studying this exact topic.
Just as I refer to a trusted mechanic to let me know why my car is making that weird screeching sound and my trusted midwife to monitor my pregnancy, because I have no experience in assessing either issue, I rely on my trusted doctor to say, "Yes. I went through a billion years of medical school to study these things and I can tell you what each of these chemicals do in any given vaccine and why they're included, but rather than bore you with details you won't understand, I'll just go ahead and recommend it."
"Vaccines Are Just A Way For Big Pharma To Get Money"
Just a way to make money? Because I'm pretty sure they also demonstrably prevent pretty serious diseases. The Atlantic's interesting breakdown of of the economic side of the pharmaceutical industry's role in this debate "Vaccine's Are Profitable, So What?" highlights a few interesting tidbits:
1) Vaccines have only become profitable in recent years.
2) Vaccines often represent single-digit percentages of a pharmaceutical companies overall profitability.
3) Vaccination is a cost-effective investment as opposed to a world without such products.
Also: All industries do things to make money. Do you feel like your local bakery would make cupcakes for you if you didn't pay them? Even if the baker really loved baking? I fail to see the problem: they're providing a good product, and in order to enjoy the benefits of that product, you (or someone) pays for it.
"My Kid, My Choice"
Except not really because that's not how diseases work. Look, I am going to say something most people won't say: anti-vaxxers are right. Probably nothing will happen to their kids if they aren't vaccinated. Moreover, if they do contract a disease like chicken pox, mumps, measles, or Whooping Cough, it'll suck, but statistically speaking they'll grow up to live happy, healthy lives otherwise. But as more and more people don't vaccinate, as time goes on that "probably nothing" becomes less and less probable, which means that the worst case scenarios become more probable, too.
Just because the alternative to your child's "probably nothing" simply means a nasty, temporary illness with no real lasting damage, that's not the case for great populations of people. For babies too young to be immunized against life-threatening illnesses, pregnant women, the immunocompromised, and the elderly—some of our most vulnerable populations—these illnesses can likely mean death or permanent damage. But do you know what your child risks in being vaccinated? Probably nothing. Not only do vaccines protect our children from horrible and evenly deadly illnesses, they also provide an opportunity for our expansive community to come together at a cellular level and say, "This is what we are choosing to do to keep this community safe."