When I was growing up I don’t remember either getting vaccinations or any sort of public controversy about them. I suppose children in the first half of the twentieth century said the same thing about smoking: I was nine when I started, what’s the big deal? Here’s the big deal: parents are starting to skip vaccinations for their children. It’s becoming more and more commonplace and has ignited in me a sense of civic responsibility I hadn’t known existed. But I try to be fair, so I’ll talk about both sides of this massive and contentious issue.
Why wouldn’t you want vaccinations? For very young children, the vaccinations can sometimes cause illness almost equal to what it strives to prevent. Does it make sense to get flu-like symptoms after you get a flu shot? When you’ve got a tiny new baby, purposely injecting them with trace amounts of a harmful illness seems cruel. Then there’s the makeup of the vaccination itself, including animal and human biological products that recall the old adage about making sausage: if you saw what went into it you wouldn’t eat it. While I’m sure medical science is looking for better components to vaccinations, some still have bovine byproducts, essentially making the vaccination a type of beef sausage.
Then there’s the autism scare. There still isn’t compelling enough evidence that vaccinations have a direct link to autism in children yet the rumor endures. When you consider the thousands, millions of variables in a child’s life, I can’t imagine how research and surveys could prove such a link existed, short of putting a baby in isolation for fifteen years, pumping it full of vaccinations, and seeing what happened. But I understand the concern, believe me. I have two children and the thought of increasing their risk for autism or any of the other nasty side effects of vaccinations gives me pause. But I say pause and not full stop.
Why then do we have vaccinations? Does anyone remember influenza epidemics? Polio? Measles, mumps, rubella, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and many of the other scourges of human civilization? Plagues and epidemics are nothing to mess around with. When vaccinations became widely available and inexpensive, many diseases were sent almost to extinction. I say almost, because like cockroaches and dust bunnies, they always find a dark corner and persist. People took their vaccinations and many millions of lives were saved. Today, people can live without fear of many diseases because society agreed that vaccinations were safe and necessary. In the same way, as a society, we mutually agree to drive on the right side of the road, abstain from murdering people, and say “please” and “thank you”. For the greater good, that’s the basis of things like laws and regulations.
If you choose to get your child vaccinated, you are agreeing that while there are risks, there are benefits not just to the child but to society at large. Personally I can’t say I know better than the medical community, which is not a cabal of horned villains trying to inject our children with mind-control serum, but a community of caring and knowledgeable professionals, many with their own children, trying to do the right thing. The more people who avoid vaccinations for their children, the more fertile ground we are tilling for a resurgence of diseases that ought never find foothold again. Like many issues of health, this debate rages on. But I ask, if your child were dying from a preventable disease, would you still refuse the vaccination? For people to begin vaccinating their children again, do we need to have an epidemic, bodies piling up on the streets, and mass hysteria? Or can we agree that, despite the risks, vaccinations are still the lesser evil?
To the anti-vaccinators I say show me a better way, a vaccination-free way to raise children that protects them from the big bad world of diseases in which quinoa and kombucha will not provide adequate protection. Show me that skipping vaccines is good for society. Show me that vaccines are worse than illnesses. I haven’t made up my mind on this but I’ve yet to find compelling evidence that tells me to avoid vaccines for my children.