To My Friends Who Choose Not To Vaccinate

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

Dear friend,

You know I’m down with the crunchy. Or the granola, or the hippie, or whatever you want to call outside-the-mainstream, baby-knows-best attachment parenting. I can nurse a baby in a sling while simultaneously pushing a shopping cart of full cloth-diapered toddlers slurping from organic juice boxes. I’m currently brewing kombucha. If this were the 1960s, we’d say I was down.

But there’s one thing we never talk about, friend – one subject we dance around. You know my kids are fully vaccinated. Your kids have never seen the business end of a needle.

We don’t talk vaccines for the same reason you don’t talk politics with your birther brother-in-law: there’s no common ground there. I trust the science behind the vaccines. I’ve read the package inserts; I’ve researched the medical references. I listened to the objections and read the objections to the objections. I learned way too much about the formaldehyde content of the human body. And I decided, in the end, to side with the CDC, the AAP, the WHO, our pediatrician, and my son’s epidemiologist godmother: we vaccinate our kids.

You, on the other hand, don’t trust the science behind vaccines. Or you’re looking at different science, which I would argue is hogwash, but then you think the studies I’m reading are bought and paid for by a bloated cabal of pharmaceutical companies. The sources and studies you trust are not the sources and studies I trust; you think I’m reading the wrong information, trusting the wrong people, and injecting dangerous poisons into my kids.

I like you. I don’t think you’re stupid, or willfully ignorant, or belligerently anti-science. I wouldn’t hang out with you if I did. You’ve done research to support your choice. While I don’t respect that research, I do respect you. And I respect you too much to hide behind the “we all make the best choices for our family” platitude. I think my choice is right. I think your choice is wrong.

But that doesn’t turn our friendship into a WWE Smackdown. And I don’t want the recent measles outbreaks to change that. So we need to get a few things straight.

I love you. I don’t love diseases. One case of measles within 500 miles and my kids will be playing far, far away from any unvaccinated children (at least until everyone has their full complement of two MMR shots). It’s not about you. It’s not a direct sally in the mommy wars, and I’m not trying to be Judgey McJudgerson. It’s about keeping my kids safe. You think I’m nutty, but just roll your eyes and let’s keep going, shall we?

We both know that measles is wildly contagious. I worry about meningitis and encephelitis the way you fret over aluminum overload and vaccine injury. I need to protect my kids. I’m sure you understand the impulse – hell, it’s why we’re having this disagreement in the first place. So expect some missed playdates coming soon.

We have an agreement, mostly – all mamas do. It’s simple courtesy to keep sick kids home. But with unvaccinated kids, the situation changes somewhat. I’m not just worried about what your kids have now; I’m worried about what they may be incubating. So if you’ve been visiting dear Aunt Hack-Up-A-Lung, don’t invite my rugrats to play.

No, it’s probably not pertussis. And I know you’re thinking, “If your kids are vaccinated, what does it matter if I’ve been hanging out on the whooping cough ward?” Without getting into comparative arguments – we know the virus mutates, though you think the vaccine doesn’t work in the first place – let me have this one. Call it a token of our friendship.

And it probably goes without saying, but – tell me if you go to a pox party, ‘kay? Varicella is contagious before symptoms show. If you aren’t going to quarantine during the incubation period, please give me a heads-up so we can stay away.

In return, I’ll warn you when my kids get shots. I know you’re concerned with vaccines shedding. We can argue that back and forth all day long – I don’t think it’s a problem, but you do. So I’ll tell you when my kids get their MMR, varicella, and other live-virus vaccines. I think it’s safe, as long as you aren’t getting a bone marrow transplant. But I love you. And I know you worry about your kids getting sick.

But most of all, I promise not to be a jerk. No, I don’t agree with your interpretation of the science out there. But we can disagree, even on serious public policy issues, and still be friends. Think of James Carville and Mary Matalin. I won’t take myself out of vaccine conversation, but I promise to be respectful and to folks on the other side of the fence. We’re all parents trying to do the right thing. I can think you’re wrong without thinking you’re an idiot.

And I hope you can do the same for me.

Related post: Keep Your Sick Kids Home, Dammit

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