Tuesday, May 12, 2009

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate...

I'm featured in JuiceBoxJungle's newest episode about vaccines. You can watch it right here:

More parenting videos on JuiceBoxJungle

I'm a little nervous about this whole subject, because it is so charged. Know that if you disagree with me that I understand that you are doing what you think is best for your child, just as I am doing what I think is best for my child. With that, this is what I believe.

I have vivid memories of sitting in my first pediatrician's waiting room after having my first child, Sam, and looking at posters on his bulletin board about the MMR vaccine and autism. Those posters said vaccines were safe—and important. I also vividly remember a year or so later when Sam spent a lot of time lining up his trains. It made me cold just to think about what it could mean.

At that time in my life, with a very young child and absolutely no knowledge of autism other than Rain Man, autism seemed like a death sentence for a family. I thought that all children with autism could not communicate and would never live independently.

But I gave Sam the MMR. And I gave him the polio vaccine. And I gave him the chicken pox vaccine and the flu shot, and whatever else the pediatricians said were on the schedule.

If you are a reader of this blog, you know that Sam did not turn out to be autistic. But Jack, my second son, did. And I saw absolutely no correlation between vaccinations and Jack's autism. I truly do not believe that vaccines have done any harm to my children. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) I continued vaccinating my children, including my third, completely neurotypical son.

What I do see is that my children don't have to worry about measles, chicken pox, mumps, polio, or any other of the many terrible diseases that have been almost entirely eradicated in the United States because of widespread vaccinations.

Obviously every family needs to make the decision about vaccines for themselves. But in a society where we are all so connected, every decision affects my community. What if someone doesn't vaccinate his or her child and there is a measles outbreak? And then that child carries it to school, where she infects a newborn sibling of a classmate? Not to mention that no vaccine can protect everyone one hundred percent. I am counting on all of us to protect our children together. And, frankly, I don't want any child to suffer through a preventable disease.

I believe that people who do not vaccinate their children are letting the rest of us protect their children for them.

I think we have forgotten what it is like to live in a world without vaccines. People died all the time from what are now preventable diseases. I don't want to go back to that time.

In the video above I say that autism can't threaten my family, but that measles can. Even if vaccines caused autism (and the studies linking them have been shown to be not just bad science, but dishonest science as well), autism isn't fatal. Measles can be. I would much rather have an autistic child than a dead one.

I almost hesitate to write about autism in the same post as vaccines, because I don't see them as being related. But that is sort of the topic here, so that's what I've done. I've come a long way in these past few years, since I read that sign in my pediatrician's office. I've learned a lot about autism, and how it is not the end of a family, but just the beginning of a different path for that family. I've learned more about immunizations and I've learned more about autism and I have no qualms about vaccinating my children.

And this autistic guy?

I wouldn't give him up for anything. He's perfect exactly the way he is.

I can only speak for my family. Every family is different. Every autistic person is different. What holds true for my family does not hold true for everyone. I very much believe that we should live and let live. Along those lines, if you are new here, please try to be civil in the comments.


  1. I'm not of the belief that my son suddenly became autistic because he was vaccinated. I believe my son was autistic when he was born. I think since no cause is known, that a lot of parents want to point the finger at "something" and say, that's why.

    I also don't believe in the GFCF diets or all the biomedical crap. I think a lot of people are getting very, very rich off this stuff. I think none of it is evidence based, and that parents are desperate for a "cure" to "recover" their child.

    But, it's all my opinion. People can become very hateful when their belief system is challenged or questioned or when you won't believe what they believe.

  2. When I lived in East Africa, I saw too many kids die of preventable diseases like measles. It broke me.

    That has certainly made up my mind on this issue. I know it's a politically charged one, but I also think that these vaccines were developed for a reason, and it's up to parents to decide whether to use them.

    And parents are darn lucky that they actually have a choice here.

  3. Well said- good for you!!!

  4. Before having kids, I did feel that I'd rather have dead kids than kids with autism. Now I can't believe that I ever thought that, even on the days that are so hard I want to smack T all the way to the west coast.

    That said, I think--and I acknowledge this is purely personal conjecture-- autism is like cancer--several different causes, so that's why no two kids with autism are completely alike. But there are probably things in our environment that are affecting all of us and increasing the incidence.

    In T's case, I think we have a genetic predisposition to autism--though I didn't know this at the time he was born. And I feel that we ought to be cautious with L. I don't want to skip vaccines altogether--she's had hers on schedule so far--but I would like to delay certain ones, and spread out the ones she gets at the 12 & 15 month visits. (Although of all the vaccines, the one that seems most superfluous to me is chicken pox.)

  5. Thanks for putting this out there. I have been interested in your informed opinion after hearing the Jenny McCarthy publicity.

  6. Sing it, Sister! I skipped rotavirus with my daughter (it was off the market for my son) because the first version of the vaccine ended up being bad, and my daughter doesn't go to daycare, so she seems at low risk - and I didn't want to be among the first million or so to test the vaccine. The other ones though? We got 'em. All of 'em, though my daughter is also on a delayed schedule - because that's what my ped chose for her, which is fine with me.

  7. I'm definitely not anti-vaccination (my little guy just went in yesterday for his 12 month shots), but like vickie I do get a little squeamish about the sheer number of vaccs that are given all at once nowadays. Our pediatrician in California had seven shots on the schedule for 12 months (out here in VA it seems that they get spread out more between 12 and 15 months). Aside from the "holy crap, that's a lot of times to be stabbing my kid" aspect, it seems like bad science to be giving so many at once. Fluke reactions can happen with any vaccination (and no matter what you believe about MMR and autism, "regular" bad reactions from MMR are not all that uncommon), and how many times are we cautioned not to give the rest of the vaccs in a series if the kid has a bad reaction to the first one? Well gee, he had five that day, how can I be sure which one caused the fevers?

    I'm rambling a bit, but it's a tough issue. Preventing preventable diseases is a no-brainer. But I don't think people who want to delay or spread out vaccinations are crazy.

  8. Good for you!!

    I happen to agree. I vax my kids fully - on a delayed schedule so they only get a few jabs at a time - but they get them all.

    Since becoming a parent I've been introduced to the vast conspiracy. You know, the one where Dr's and the gov't are in cahoots to lie to and poison all of us? I definitely do think that some kids shouldn't get vaxed. Beyond that I don't buy the cast conspiracy and I agree, the rest of us should get vaxed.

  9. I always have a moment of panic when they jab four needles into my son's chubby thigh, but ultimately our reason for vaccinating was precisely the same as yours: I was more afraid of a possibly deadly disease than I was of autism. Maybe it's not fair for me to say that since I don't have an autistic child, but I can't imagine I would change my tune if I did.

    A very good friend made the decision not to vaccinate after reading Jenny McCarthy's book. I'm all for parents making the decision that is right for their family, but that just seems like flawed reasoning to me.

  10. The schedule on the US has age ranges, so it is possible to spread out vaccines & still be on schedule. You just pay more for office visits that way. No idea why ppl get all worked up about it.

  11. Brava on the post, and in participating in the video. Every time I mention vaccines on my blog I get parents of autistic kids coming at me with "But you don't understand because you don't have an autistic kid. If you had an autistic kid your thinking would be different." As if by supporting vaccines I'm turning a blind eye to autism. I'm so glad that there are people out there like you who are able to look at this from a practical, logical standpoint.

  12. Thanks for your comments, everyone! I agree that it can be a little unsettling to see your child get four or five injections all at once. I don't delay my kids' vaccines; just get 'em when the doctor says to, but I totally understand when people choose a delayed schedule.

  13. I was very interested in your opinion on this. I totally agree with you- I just vaccinate when they tell me! I wonder if I would feel different if I had an autistic child...

  14. THANK YOU!!!!!! i have been getting nervous about my son's two-year appointment. there are so many strong opinions out there. i prefer just to do what the drs say to do--why do people paint drs and the academy as people who are out to get our children?

    you have calmed my fears immensely. thank you so much for this post...

  15. Well said, Stimey. I think you're right that people have forgotten how bad those vaccine-preventable diseases can be.

  16. Like many other commenters, we just get them spaced out so that my kids don't get more than 2 shots at a time. I pay more for my office co-pays, but I figure it's for peace of mind for me.

  17. I'm not a big vaccination = autism person, I'm an "autism" is a set of observed behaviors and a gazillion things can cause that specific set of behaviors kind of person. I have no doubts that vaccinations can cause problems in some. I mean the fact sheets plainly state that. We know there is risk, though in most cases the risk is worth it. My oldest is missing part of his brain and also has an autism diagnosis. My little one has all of his brain parts and he has a diagnosis of autism. Both had clear differences, including developmental delay, since day one. *shrug* All that said, the little one got really sick after having a flu shot as an infant. I chose to get him the flu shot because he was considered high risk since he had some other health issues. After the flu shot, within a week, he had the flu and rsv and who knows what else--they tested him and he tested positive for the various things. He went downhill fast and all development stopped seemed to stop while his little body fought. Never stopped me from getting any other vax, and even Bubba gets the flu shot. But I just can't say yes to the flu shot for Mooser. Not right now anyhow. Seeing him sick like that was scary. As far as autism goes....he was doing his happy dance in utero, and no I didn't have the flu shot when pregnant. ;)

  18. In some ways I'm glad that no one was really making these choices when my kids were small. It was - vaccinate or your kid doesn't go to school. We vaccinated. The chickenpox vaccine came out just after my kids both had it. :) It was my son's 4th birthday, my daughter was 2 and I thought I should cancel the family birthday party. But my SIL (who is a nurse) said no way - have the party let the kids get exposed! But that was her choice.

    I feel for the mom on the video who said her child developed autism after getting vaccines. The circumstance she described - her kid developing "normally" and then regressing into autism - is precisely what happens a good deal of the time! Vaccines or not.

    I do believe people are desperate to feel they are doing something, making their own choices for their children. But not vaccinating can have a bigger effect that just on ones own child.

    Again, kinda glad I didn't have to make the choice back then. Although I'm pretty sure I would have opted for the shots.

  19. This is important. It's so nice to see you say it again, and in full detail.

    With the measles outbreak here last week (my husband could have been exposed at work -- thankfully he was telecommuting that day), it was doubly scary.

    Vaccination is important.

    P.S. I found it amusing when Little Bear contracted chicken pox the week before he was scheduled to have the vaccination. How he got it, we'll never know, but there you go. Bear is cooperative like that.

  20. Good for you to take on this topic, stimey. I happen to agree with you since I don't think vaccines had anything to do w/J. and S.'s autism. I think there are kids, though, who would benefit from a delayed schedule.

  21. Hello! Just here lending support and agreement.

  22. I agree that vax are important for public health. The only one I didn't want the kids to get was chicken pox, because I'm concerned that it will wear thin when they're older and they will get it as adults. I'm concerned about the one for measles wearing off, also, but since that is a much more severe disease, I wasn't annoyed about their getting it.

  23. Thanks for the Post!
    My dad is a lifelong Biochemist phD-
    and he has drilled into my head all my life how bad some germs are out there-
    and how easy it is to guard against most of them-
    in other words- get vaccinated.
    Also, just to back you up more-
    my father in law still has a little paralysis from Polio-
    that he suffered from AS A CHILD. And he remembers the days and months he spent in bed...
    and he's lucky, he has a great life- and he's 70...
    Polio didn't get him... polio.
    Can you believe that polio actually was killing children our parents' age?????????

  24. We're all up to date here with the vaxes, too. The most they had at one time was four, and we had one of them delayed because there was a shortage- I forget which one. Joey doesn't get flu shots because he had an egg allergy; but now that it seems to have gone away, he'll get one in the fall. Our doctor had such trouble getting local families here to vax that she ordered specifically thimerasol-free vaccines for her office! How crazy is that? Of course, we also lost kids around here to meningitis and measles, and there was a huge whooping cough outbreak a few years back in one of the middle schools.

  25. *stands up and applauds*

    I love you even more right now, if that is at all even possible.

  26. something amanda stated reminded me that we found out much later that Mooser had a significant egg allergy. He's outgrown it now for the most part (though we still don't give him whole eggs). I questioned one of the doctors if this could've been the reason for his 'reaction' to the flu shot since we didn't know at the time he was allergic to eggs. They didn't seem to think so and that it was all just coincidence that he got that sick, but they had that "WTF is up with this kid" confusion look like they get sometimes. *shrug*

  27. Brave post for some one with your traffic stats, chica. *high five* You rock!

  28. Thanks for this. It is a topic I feel pretty strongly about. While I understand being concerned about the number of vaccinations (we spaced ours out), I tend to feel that those who chose not to vaccinate their kids (unless thier kids have had reactions to shots in the past -- that is different than a general no vaccine stance)against the measles or other serious illnesses are counting on ME taking all the risks about which they are concerned with my kids so they don't have too -- if people were routinely dying of the measles and having all of the serious complications I doubt so many people would make the decision not to vaccinate their kids. And they are putting my kids at risk because one of the reasons these vaccines work is herd iummunity.

    I got the measles when I was in 8th grade (I was vaccinated, mine must not have taken, they don't always, hence the need for herd immunity). I had complications, was hospitalized and almost died. I do not want that to happen to my kids.

  29. Thank you! I understand that people get nervous about vaccines, but I feel that they have the "luxury" of not vaccinating only because my kids got all the shots. Eradicating illnesses that kill children seems like it should be a public health issue that everyone could get behind.

  30. Melanie, I'm glad I could help.I hope it goes well for you!

    Ange, I think egg allergies are a really valid reason to question vaccines. I've heard of allergic reactions due to the egg content of some vaccines.

    Maryelena, well said. And I agree about thinking about vaccines if your child has had a bad reaction in the past. Your story about the measles is so scary, and is exactly why vaccines are so important. Thank you for sharing your story!


  31. Here's the part where I stand and cheer and then throw roses and chocolate at you And tomatoes because I know you like them. Love this post, LOVE IT!

  32. As I think you know, I'm in the middle on this discussion. Cordy had all of her vaccinations, right on schedule. She has autism, but I don't necessarily think the vaccinations were responsible. She always had poor reactions to the vaccines, though - high fever, lethargic and grumpy for a few days, etc.

    But, I also know that she is very sensitive to a lot of the fillers and additives we put into all of our products today. Give the kid anything with blue food dye in it, and I guarantee you that in 20-30 minutes her behavior will be completely inappropriate.

    Knowing how sensitive she is to chemicals (both skin reaction and behavior-wise), I'm more cautious the second time around with Mira. She's on a delayed vaccination schedule - she'll get all of the important vaccines, but at a slower pace. I believe in vaccination, but I don't feel that sensitive kids should be forced to have so many at such a young age, when the blood-brain barrier isn't fully formed yet. There are a lot of preservatives in vaccines (even without the thimerisol) so it's possible some kids could have temporary or longer-term reactions to the ingredients.

    Of course, I've done EVERYTHING different the second time around. It's not just delayed vaccines - it's also longer breastfeeding, organic first foods, avoiding HFCS, BPA, etc. And those same changes are helping Cordy have better progress, too.

    (If only I could convince her teachers to stop giving her pop tarts. Sigh.)

  33. Ange- I can say without a doubt that the offices around here will NOT give anyone a flu shot if you have an egg allergy. They actually turn you away and tell you that you cannot have it. Flu shots are made with eggs in the process, and if you are allergic to eggs, you can have a very severe reaction to a flu shot.

  34. Oh, Stimey.
    This is an awesome and brave post to write, for the reasons that you stated. It's so charged and controversial but your post is so thoughtful and enlightening.

    Thanks for sharing.

  35. My daughter years ago as a child, had a shot against chicken pox and today she has a severe allergy to protein in fruit. NO ONE else in the family has ever had this reaction so where did it come from? That is my question that no doctor has been able to answer.

  36. I don't know if this still gets read, being so far after the original post, but here goes...

    I met a woman with an autisitc son. I asked her if she thought there was a relationship between the autisim and vaccines. She responded that he had never been vaccinated. She then went on to tell me her theory is that anti-biotics are to blame. She was on them at the end of her pregnancy and her son was put on them immediately after birth (can't remember the reason). He was also on them multiple times after birth due to recurring ear infections. She thought that the combination of a newborn's weak immune system and anti-biotics were probably the cause. I have met several parents of autistic children and ALL of them have had multiple ear infections as infants. Something to think about.

  37. @James: I definitely think that some people have reactions to vaccines, but I don't believe that there is a correlation between autism and vaccines. I think the science backs me up on this. I'm sorry to hear about your daughter's allergies.

    @boysmom: Interesting. Although personally I don't believe in a correlation. My autistic son has never had an ear infection to this day, and he's six. But my third child, who is the most neurotypical of all my children, was on antibiotics for a year after birth as a prophylactic measure for something they found in utero.

    Both of you, thank you for your comments.


Thanks for commenting! May you be visited by unicorns and kittens.