On Tuesday, a 40-year-old mom of three from Chicago shared a sobering story with The New York Post: a self-described "anti-vax" mom finally vaccinated her kids after all three of her children contracted rotavirus. Kristen O'Meara, of Chicago, Illinois, told the Post's Jane Ridley, the eye-opening moment that she realized she had made a mistake as a parent:
I’ll never forget the look of fear on my daughters’ faces as they suffered intense pain and diarrhea that lasted for three weeks. I’ve no idea where we picked it up, but the horrific experience proved that, even living in a highly vaccinated population, we were vulnerable.
Concerned about potential links between vaccines and other medical issues such as ADHD, asthma, and autism, O'Meara described how she actively sought out anti-vaccination research and books — anti-vax research that has been proven flawed and false again and again by institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. After the birth of her first child, she said she found a pediatrician who would comply with her wishes to not vaccinate her child. She followed the same unvaccinated path when her twins were born two years later. The most frightening part of O'Meara's story is that truthfully, it should have never happened in the first place.
In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics released an alarming report that, despite the extensive and voluminous amounts of research that proves vaccines are safe, the number of parents refusing to vaccinate their kids is on the rise in America. In 2006, the AAP conducted a survey of pediatricians that revealed 75 percent of them had encountered parents who didn't want to vaccinate their children. Seven years later, that number has jumped to 90 percent.
For O'Meara, it took a case of rotavirus that sickened her entire family — herself and her husband included — to finally realize how much jeopardy her three children were in because she refused to vaccinate them. Once her family had fully recovered, O'Meara changed pediatricians who set them on an aggressive schedule — again, one that could have been avoided — to get her children up to date on every vaccination they had missed. Speaking to ABC News, O'Meara said, "It was awful and it didn't have to happen because I could have had them vaccinated. I felt guilty, I felt really guilty."
O'Meara isn't the only anti-vax mom to have spoken up to dismiss the ill-informed anti-vaxxer movement: Earlier this year, a former anti-vax mom posted a video of her newborn who contracted whooping cough and had to spend the first few months of her life in intensive care as a result. Last year, an anti-vax mom changed her mind about the choice she made not to vaccinate her family when all seven of her children contracted whooping cough.
Each of these mothers' stories illustrate the danger that lies in the junk science of the anti-vaccination movement. Sure, maternal instinct drives many mothers to do what's best for their children, but when a child gets sick — or worse, dies — from a vaccine-preventable illness, it's time to rethink what's really at stake here, as O'Meara has. Here's hoping more anti-vax moms will join her.