Monday, November 7, 2011

Vaccines and hoops and intelligent conversation

a suburban greenmom opens the taboo subject...

I have never considered myself to be too far off the deep end where natural health is concerned, although to many I might seem so. I rarely take anything stronger than Tylenol, I have a fairly large pharmacopeia of herbal tinctures and homeopathic remedies, and when my kids have a cough they drink tea and take elderberry syrup. I am among those for whom the jury is still out on the vaccine safety question; there are enough fairly intelligent arguments on both sides of the issue that I don't believe it has been truly settled yet.

What I become more and more frustrated over, however, is the fact that it's become such a polarizing issue that it is difficult to have reasonable conversations about it. And that there are so many legal hoops to jump through where vaccinations are concerned, and that those hoops usually do not come with intelligent conversation and common sense, and that they do come with considerable financial or other incentives to keep them in place. Frustrated when even broaching the question degenerates into "OMG how dare you even mention that, you'll endanger my kid" and "Oh good heavens you're one of those anti-vaccine idiots"--even mentioning the question of safety, whether one comes down on one side or the other, brings out these tirades. It's nuts.

I've had two vaccine encounters recently, both fairly minor but illustrating the point in a small way: my daughter, last year, started kindergarten. She had at the same time been diagnosed with some sensory perception issues, so I was a little leery of subjecting her body's system to anything that could disrupt it. I “get” the whole herd immunity thing, and so with most of the vaccinations I'd kept her on a drawn-out but meets-the-letter-of-the-law schedule. However, she had never been vaccinated for chicken pox. And I didn't see any reason why she should—it is not a life-threatening illness, and the risk-factor seemed to favor just leaving it quietly alone. In order to let her remain unvaccinated for this fairly minor disease I had to jump through lots of hoops and eventually obtain a “religious exemption” for it. Which was successful, and she remains unvaccinated. Another kindergartener (a vaccinated one, I might add) came down with the disease later that year, so my kid was apparently exposed to it at that point. She never got sick. I will have her titered when she's a little older to make sure she's indeed immune and that point revisit the question of vaccinating her, but in that moment it seemed like the wiser choice, and I stand by it. Other parents might have made different choices, but I stand by mine. The point of the story isn't really the choice itself, it's the fact that a parent has no real recourse or ability to get solid information on either side of the issue without facing a lot of pressure and even bullying from the school/legal system to do it their way.

A second example, also fairly minor: I started graduate school this fall. I no longer have my childhood vaccination records following me around, so I needed to get a blood titer to check my immunity. I knew what it would show: immunity to mumps and rubella, no immunity to measles. This has been the case in the past; measles vaccinations for me just don't take. Was there any way to address this? No. I had to be vaccinated again for measles, twice. And by the way, measles vaccines don't come separate from mumps and rubella, so I had to be vaccinated for all three. Twice. At $63 each time. There is no room for common sense, conversation, individual cases—everything is regimented and official, and there is pretty much no way to be part of society without entering the Machine and becoming one of its cogs.

And don't even get me started on the proposals for mandatory HPV vaccines for middle school girls—I find that one absolutely appalling, and the very concept to be a complete violation of my parental rights.

I'm not saying all vaccinations are bad. I'm not even saying for sure that any are—I lack the data. But so do a lot of people, many of them medical professionals, who spout absolute truths about them day in and day out. Where does one go to find real answers? Are there any? And we keep getting shots while we wait for those answers.

I'm just not sure about any of it. I don't have the answers. I just wish we could ask the questions and have some hope for getting stuff out onto the table.

(Okay, y'all, please don't fill the “comments” section with “OMG it's proven there is no danger in vaccines!” or “OMG it's proven that vaccines are dangerous” arguments—there's a lot of data out there for both sides of the issue, and every parent and individual has to make their own choice. And the opinions expressed in this post are from the author not the Green Phone Booth at large, etc. and so forth disclaimer stuff.)

--Jenn the Greenmom


Helena said...

I find it interesting that you were able to get a religious exemption for just the one vaccine. I've been wondering about that--we've followed a delayed vaccine schedule for everything else, but I'm uncomfortable vaxing for chicken pox for many reasons. Our pediatrician tells us she has to either have the shot or have had the chicken pox before starting school, and I just assumed it would be impossible to get a religious exemption for just that shot, since clearly we're not against *all* vaccines. I'll have to look into it further. Thanks for providing food for thought.

Unknown said...

I was having this very conversation with my daughters this past weekend (my oldest grandchild just started kindergarten). Having grown up in an era of polio, I am in favor of vaccination, but it seems we might be getting a little too vaccine-happy. And I so agree with you about not being able to have a rational discussion with good information. Although, I do appreciate information from Dr Sears. I am hoping to read his vaccine book soon.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Helena--depends on your religion, but apparently varicella is one of the few vaccines which were originally created using stem cells from aborted fetal tissue. Many (most?) other vaccines now have an alternative, and if you claim religious exemption you are legally required to find someone to give the alternate non-stem-cell-created version, but for some of them there are simply no alternatives.

So while it is in some ways sort of underhanded I guess (we are talking something like 10 cells from the 1970's here), it is a legal loophole.

FYI! Do some Google searches for "vaccine aborted fetal tissue moral" and you'll get more than you ever wanted to know.

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

The most reasonable response I ever got from a friend when I brought up vaccines and wondering what I should do was "oh my goodness, that whole business is so confusing!" Which is just how I feel. One more minefield for parents to navigate. I have a big family and we run the gamut -- from medical doctors and folks who vaccinate on the regular schedule, to a sibling who does almost no vaccinations for her kids at all. And, luckily, everyone in my family is very civil about it, and respects that everyone is intelligent and has made an informed decision. I liked Dr. Sears book pretty well. I tend to go for a slow vac schedule and hope for the best -- I don't like the risk of the illnesses or the unknowns involved with the vaccinations themselves. I want all benefit, no risk. Oh well!

Anonymous said...

I had a couple friends who got cancer due to HPV from men who were not honest about their past history. Both were lucky and it was caught early through routine tests. Due to their experiences, I will have my children vaccinated for HPV regardless to whether it is mandatory or not. My feeling has been that the possible benefit outweighs the risks. That said, I did have to be revaccinated for rubella before getting pregnant.


Anonymous said...

I'm 28 and German and had never thought that the chicken-pox vac. could be mandatory. I'm all for vaccinations, but there is taking a good thing too far. If I had a child in your country, I'd do anything to keep it off that vaccine too.
I remember having chicken pox as a child, pretty much everbody had them at some point. I don't understand why there seems to be the need to vaccinate against them? Oh well, something else to start getting information for...

- S.

Dea-chan said...

I didn't even know there WAS a chicken pox vaccine. That one seems just as useless as flu vaccines to me -- but I also don't have a compromised immune system. I think that if I had an immune disorder I might be one of the regular flu vaccine folk, simply to keep the inevitable sickness at a minimum.

However for potentially fatal but preventable diseases (HPV, Hep A+B, tetanus) I think that getting vaccinated falls into the "can't hurt might help" or "ounce of prevention" category.

Also, looking at what Helena said about her child needing to have HAD chicken pox before school? That's ridiculous! I know that I had it at 5, in school, and my sister was purposefully exposed to it so we'd have it together and be immune. So weird -- it's not a harmful disease at all...

I dunno. I find a lot of the anti-vaccine worry kinda silly, but I DO feel that each vaccine should be on a case-by-case decision, not some faceless entity. But then we wind up in "ain't no child o' mine getting injected" land and I feel that that's not safe... It's a hard line to walk, enough freedom for choice without endangering others through infectious diseases. (Ideally, the kids would be given the information and allowed to decide instead of their overlords, I mean parents, but that's totally not workable since most of these decisions are in early stages of life.)

Dea-chan said...

Ok, my one statement came out weird at the end. I more meant that making decisions for someone else, regardless of who you are (parent, government, school) is a bad idea in principle but hard to avoid in practice.

Sound less crazy that way? :-P

underbelly said...

I'm in graduate school to be an SLP (also known as a speech therapist), and we learn about all kinds of gross and scary things in school. One of them is what happens when HPV "warts" start to grow in your throat (also known as your larynx).

Surgery is complicated and painful, and eventually you will need a tracheostomy (a hole & tube in your throat to breathe) because the papilloma will eventually block your airway.

Also, remember on grey's anatomy when that guy came in with bark-like things growing all over his body? And was told he'd have to get surgery every few months to keep it under control? That's HPV.

So, I would recommend the HPV vaccine for everyone, including boys. It can prevent some pretty scary shit.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Holy Crap! We're having intelligent respectful conversation! Yay for the Booth!

It's been good to hear the above comments...I too, like I said, am pretty comfortable with vaccinations for the Basic Potentially Awful childhood illnesses. Like I said, I think mandatory varicella is ridiculous.

Re the HPV question, just to be clear--I agree with those who've posted here saying that it's an awful illness and that a vaccine against it might be a Really Good Thing. But there are places talking about making THAT one mandatory for attending school, and even having them administered at school and without parental consent or knowledge. That's just seven hundred kinds of wrong, if you ask me. So my protest isn't against the vaccine itself, it's the suggestion that I may be required by law to give it to my as-yet sexually immature daughter as a prerequisite for her attending middle school or something. (That's hypothetical at this point--it's not on the horizon in my state, it's just the idea that this kind of thing COULD happen...)

Thanks for the comments, all!


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