"Oh, I would never vax," one of my friends said as she bounced her tiny son on her knee. My eyes widened. I'd known she was into alternative medicine and essential oils, but I didn't know her hippie streak ran this deep. "Vaccines are full of mercury and aluminum and heavy metals," she told me, "and those things cause autism. If not autism, then developmental delays. Why do you think we have so many kids with ADHD all of a sudden? It's vaccines." She went back to bouncing her son and cooing at him, and even though we were friends, I wanted to punch her. I have ADHD. My husband has ADHD. Two of my sons have ADHD. And I'm pretty damn sure none of it was caused by vaccines.
Every vaccine conversation I've had with an anti-vaxxer has gone like this, and they've all royally pissed me off in some way. Usually, I just smile, nod, and cut these people out of our playdate rotation. So no, if you have any strong thoughts on vaccines, I do not want to hear about your alternative vaccination schedule. All it does is scare me and make me mad.
I'll be honest: when I had my first child, I flirted with the idea of delaying vaccination. My husband and I were diehard attachment parents, which meant that we were devotees of the attachment parenting guru Dr. William Sears, whose son, Dr. Robert Sears, has suggested that some vaccines be delayed. So my oldest son didn't receive the Hepatitis B shot in the hospital, because Dr. Sears said it could cause “fever, lethargy, and poor feeding," (problems you don’t want to see in a newborn). We gave him only one live vaccine per visit, per Dr. Sears' recommendation, which meant we had to make more trips to the pediatrician’s office. We also used to ask that combo shots be split up so we could tell if our baby was having a reaction or not, which Dr. Sears also recommended. We did it all.
Then I started doing research, because I had an awful lot of friends vaccinating on schedule, and I didn't see the dire effects that people had warned me about. I did actual, scientific research on vaccines. And I realized that a delayed vaccine schedule, or skipping certain vaccines, is bullsh*t. It does nothing but put other people's health at risk, not to mention your child's. Now, when it comes to vaccine schedules, I strongly believe in adhering to the Centers for Disease Control's guidelines. The CDC has it goin' on.
If you want evidence of this, look no further than current measles rates. Since last July, 35 people in Europe have died of measles in an outbreak that has been attributed to decreasing vaccination rates. According to the World Health Organization, Italy alone has seen 3,300 cases of measles since last June. 37 countries have reported “endemic transmission,” or transmission between people in the same country. The most recent death, on June 22, was of an unvaccinated 6-year-old.
Don't brag about something that's putting both my child and yours in jeopardy.
The WHO recommends a vaccine threshold of 95% to keep the disease at bay. Because the threshold of vaccinated people has fallen below that critical number, measles has been able to gain a foothold. Although the CDC has recommended that all travelers to Europe get vaccinated, it only takes one person to bring that measles souvenir home from vacay. If your kid isn’t up to date on his vaccines, he could be the one that person makes sick. You don’t want a baby with measles, which can cause “severe complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis," according to CNN. So don't brag about something that's putting both my child and yours in jeopardy.
Mumps outbreaks are also on the rise in the United States, to the point that the CDC is contemplating a third vaccine dose, according to The Washington Post. There were more than 5,000 cases of that last year, and complications include “encephalitis, meningitis, painful swelling of the testicles or the ovaries, pancreatitis and hearing loss.”
Don’t brag to me about your alternative vaccination schedule. I don’t want to hear it. Or maybe I do — so I can grab my kids and back away slowly.
Then there’s pertussis, which is more commonly known as whooping cough. According to the CDC, there were 32,971 pertussis cases reported in 2014. It’s most common among babies under 1 year old, and babies under 3 months old are most likely to die from it. From 2000 to 2014, 277 infants died of pertussis in the U.S. Moreover, unvaccinated kids are eight times more likely to get the disease, and pertussis spreads so easily that we can’t rely on herd immunity to protect us. People may have the disease without realizing it, because many pertussis cases “are not diagnosed and therefore not reported," according to the CDC. So the actual numbers of the disease may be far higher than they know.
My husband, who was never vaccinated, got pertussis when our son was a few months old. Neither baby nor I contracted it, because we were both vaccinated. Unvaccinated hubs, on the other hand, re-triggered his childhood asthma and may have broken a rib coughing. So don’t tell me you haven’t vaxxed for the disease yet. I’ll likely back up several steps and suddenly remember that I have to go to an appointment across town.
All of this scares me. But more than that, it pisses me off. Because there’s a thing called vaccine threshold, which is the percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated in order to prevent the disease from spreading. It maintains herd immunity (and don’t tell me you don’t believe in herd immunity, because then we’re so far apart we can’t even have a conversation).
You might very well think that your precious munchkin, for whatever reason — autism fears, heavy metal poisoning, worries over vaccines reactions — shouldn’t have to participate in a public health initiative that protects us all, including him. But it's not that he’s not doing his part. You’re not doing your part. You’re shirking your civic responsibility, and that sucks.
I feel horrible now when I think about what could have happened had my sons encountered wild chicken pox or had been around a measles case before they received their delayed MMR vaccine. They were not special cases who deserved some sort of exemption from participating in public health. So don’t brag to me about your alternative vaccination schedule. I don’t want to hear it. Or maybe I do — so I can grab my kids and back away slowly.