Lifestyle

I Used To Be On The Fence About Vaccines

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I understand if you’re on the fence about vaccines. No, seriously. I was too. I refused the Hep B vaccine for my first two children at birth. For various reasons (one of them legit: they had severe intolerances as children, and we worried about reactions), we used a modified vaccination schedule. My middle child, when given the MMR vaccine for the first time, broke out in what looked like full-blown measles, and if I hadn’t understood what was happening, I’d have put the lid on all vaccines in our house until the end of time. I’ve gotten flu vaccines and still gotten the flu, so why bother?

So yes, I understand.

I know you’re surrounded by a lot of information. I know you read a lot of things online that make you uncertain about vaccines. You read about chemicals. You read about vaccine reactions. You read about immune system overload. You’re on the fence about vaccines because we don’t see these diseases anyway, so why bother? You want to be a good parent. You want to do the best thing for your kid’s health. So let’s talk about about some of vaccine facts and myths you hear from the web and from parent groups.

Myth #1: Vaccines contain dangerous chemicals.

You may be on the fence about vaccines because vaccines contain chemicals, and no one wants to inject their precious baby with chemicals. But “chemicals” is an oversimplification; pretty much every molecular compound on Earth, including the ones we need to exist, is a chemical. But you meant dangerous chemicals, like mercury, thimerosal, and aluminum.

Thimerosal, according to the CDC, is only in multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine, and you most commonly find it in certain kinds of fish. Yes, it’s 49.6% mercury by weight, says the FDA; however, it also says that “because a substantial safety margin has been incorporated into the health guidance values for organic mercury exposure,” the benefits of pregnant women getting the flu vaccine (the only reason children under six would be exposed to thimerosal now) outweighs the theoretical risk, if any, of thimerosal.

Aluminum in vaccines comes in the form of aluminum salts, says the CDC; it helps boost the body’s immune response. We normally get it, they say, from “drinking water, infant formula, or use of health products such as antacids, buffered aspirin, and antiperspirants.” And in 2011, a study published by the Office of Biostatistics and Epidemiology found that children had less than the “minimal risk levels” of aluminum in their bodies after a lifetime of receiving vaccinations.

Myth #2: We give kids too many vaccines nowadays.

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We worry about overwhelming a kid’s immune system. We got fewer vaccines when we were children. So if we give our kids more, doesn’t that overtax their already weaker immune systems? This one kept me on the fence about vaccines. But nope, says the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — in the ’80s, we got protection from seven diseases, they tell us, and “immunological components contained in these vaccines numbered about 3,000.” Today kids are protected against 16 diseases, and get only between 15-160 of those same components. So they’re much better off now than we were.

Myth #3: We don’t see these diseases anymore.

Except we do. From January 1 to October 3, 2019, the CDC has reported 1,250 cases of measles in 31 states. We know chicken pox outbreaks happens; the CDC keeps a form on-hand for medical professionals to report cases. Rotovirus and the flu are all around us — if you’re on the fence about vaccines because you think the diseases don’t exist, you’re not looking in the right places. We definitely see mumps (2,618 cases in 48 states and DC, as per the CDC) and rubella (which while eliminated in the US, regularly comes in from overseas, says the CDC). These diseases are around. I didn’t think they were there either until I started looking. And they do cause real damage.

Myth #4: The flu vaccine causes the flu.

This myth made me fearful of vaccines for a long time until an epidemiologist told me this: the goal of the flu vaccine isn’t to stop you from getting the flu. It’s to stop you from dying from the flu. In 2018-2019, according to Time Magazine, 79,400 Americans died from the flu. That included 116 children. The CDC admits that getting the vaccine only reduces your risk of going to the doctor with the flu by 40-60%. However, one study found that the flu vaccine “reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.” Adults were a full 82% less likely to be admitted to intensive care if they had been vaccinated.

Still on the fence about vaccines when it comes to the flu? My entire family had been vaccinated against the flu last year — and we got it. It took us down hard for a day. We spent the next three days with what felt like mild colds, trapped in the house with wild children. I’ve had the flu without the vaccine. After six days of lying in a recliner and moaning, I was finally able to stumble around, zombie-like. So yes, I’ll be getting a vaccination this year.

I understand why vaccines might scare you. Shots suck. Kids cry. It’s frightening when an institution tells you that they know what’s best for your kid. It puts you on your guard — god knows it put me on mine. But if you’re on the fence about vaccines, remember that those diseases are out there, they’re scary, and the chemicals in them have been proven to be present in safe amounts.

You can do this. Talk to your doctor and about your concerns. They’re glad to sit down and answer any and all of your questions. I promise they will take the time to tell you why you shouldn’t be on the fence about vaccines, and point you towards more resources to help you make an informed decision about your kid’s health.

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