ControverSunday: Vaccinations

I am hesitant to take on this week’s ControverSunday topic. Uhhgg- vaccinations. Already a point of some friendly debate here when I mentioned it in a post about which parenting choices seem to be “popular/trendy/valued/idealized/assumed to be the ‘right’ way” currently. (Politics of Parenting, To Sum it up: Politics of Parenting). So part of me doesn’t even want to go there. And part of me wants to a) set the record straight and b) say what I think re: vaccinations. Oh and I like this whole ControverSunday thing… so I wanna play with the other kids and their vaccination posts.

Guess which part of me won? That’s right- as the true Gemini that I am, I both dislike controversy (or rather judgment and un-civil discussions… neither of which have actually occurred in the comments on any of my blog posts) and am drawn to jump right in to controversy. (I am not much for horoscope stuff- but Gemini’s are very ‘two-minded’ and I fit that bill to a t.) So hold on to your hats and here we go.

First of all, I never said that I was against vaccinations nor that I didn’t think parents should vaccinate their kids. Vaccinations have saved millions, if not billions, of lives and are one of the most important medical inventions ever.

But I will admit that vaccines make me kinda uncomfortable. Before I was pregnant I NEVER got the flu shot. I just didn’t feel that a healthy adult needs the regular seasonal flu shot. I have some vague-not sure if it is actually true-feeling that the over-use of vaccinations means the bugs just get stronger and therefore get more deadly. And somehow I believe this to be more true of the flu shot then any other vaccination. I guess because the ‘flu’ is a different strain every year and other vaccination diseases seem to just have one strain. Or at least, most vaccines you need to get only a couple of times in your life time and you have to get a new “seasonal” flu shot every year.

However, a couple years ago when there was an outbreak of the Mumps at the University that I work at I got that shot. Mostly because Mumps can do bad things to men’s ability to have babies; so if I got sick and then my husband got sick…. you see where I am going with this. Anyway, so I was never AGAINST shots. I just tend to think they should be used sparingly on the healthy adult population.

When it comes to kids it is a different story. It is one thing if I feel I don’t need a seasonal flu shot and it is an other thing when it is your baby. Your little and very vulnerable baby.

It was never really in question if we were going to get A her regularly scheduled vaccinations. Those we did without really questioning. Probably because 1) I am a rule follower at heart and 2) it has a ‘schedule’ and I follow ‘schedules.’ It was the seasonal flu/H1N1 that generated some debate in our household. Both my husband and I feel uncomfortable with vaccines for the following reasons:

1) The ingredients in them. Despite the studies that show us that vaccines are safe I have a visceral reaction to injecting my daughter with even trace amounts of chemicals like thimerosal (which has traces of mercury in it) and formaldehyde.

2) Development of the immune system. I know this one is not at all proven in the literature, again it is a visceral reaction. (Read: I am acknowledging that it is very possibly wrong). It just seems like we live in a sterile world with antibacterial this and antiviral that… doesn’t she need to get sick sometimes so her immune system can get strong enough to fight off the bugs? I know that many of the diseases that they immunize kids for are very very very serious so you don’t want their immune systems to ‘practice’ on the really nasty ones. But what about the chickenpox vaccination? Is that really necessary? Everyone I know had chickenpox as a kid and all of us were fine. And I am pretty sure I didn’t get the flu shot as a kid either. (Mom- if you are reading, feel free to verify or deny this.)

So I did some looking around. Actually, as shocked as I am to say this, some of the most helpful stuff I found for making me feel better about vaccinations was on the Canadian Governement’s website. One of the best things I found was a very clear explanation that Thimerosal was taken out of most childhood vaccinations (except flu shots) in Canada NOT because it was found to be dangerous, but because the perception of it was causing so many parents to question getting their child vaccinated. It made me feel like the government was listening to parents and so maybe the vaccines are really okay.

Here were the three arguments that finally won me over and I used to sway my husband to getting A the flu shots:

1) We vaccinated her against Polio- something I am pretty sure that almost no one ever gets anymore in Canada, but we are debating getting her vaccinated against something we know people are getting right now? (specifically H1N1)

2) We do as much as we can to reduce her chemical exposure- healthy unprocessed foods, no chemical cleaners, organic mattress, ect. ect. This is one chemical exposure that could save her life. Period.

3) The thought of ever having to see my daughter on a ventilator. That was sufficient emotional imagery for me to get me in that insanity of a line, twice (seasonal and H1N1).

Done and done. She got both the seasonal flu and the H1N1. But just one half dose of each. I happen to know there is small study in Calgary, as well as a number around the world, that have been studying if kids under 3 need two half doses or just one. The belief is that it is possible that enough immunity is developed with one half dose. The recommendation for kids over 3 has already been changed to reflect this. We ask our doctor- she said we were taking a risk, but likely only a small one. And two less injection-o-chemicals made us feel better about the whole thing. (Don’t do this on my recommendation…. if you are in the midst of your own vaccination debate please consult your doctor and or public health… they are the experts, not me.)

So yeah, the kid gets her shots. I don’t (for the most part) and my husband doesn’t, but A does. But here are the things I wish would be addressed by the powers that be:

1) Why can’t we take all the yucky chemicals out of the shots?/Please take the yucky chemicals out of the shots!

  • Thimerosal has been removed from most regular kid vaccines, but not the flu vaccine. They offered a “low” thimerosal dose for kids of the seasonal, but not of the H1N1.
  • Saw this article via @CBCHealth on Twitter the other day. We need more ideas like this article about using sugar as a preservative in vaccines.

2) Why are there so many more shots given to babies/kids now then when I was a kid and why are they given all at once? (I tried to find the schedule from the 1980’s so you could see the difference, but I couldn’t. I know I found it sometime on the web. But if I remember correctly we give babies under a year about twice as many shots as we used to. Someone please correct me if I am wrong.)

  • If you are calculating how much of the trace amounts of chemicals in the shots is safe, doesn’t this calculation totally change when we give them 4 vaccines at once? And if they get shots 4 times in their first year plus flu shots, ect.? They did that calculation, right?
  • And seriously, why are there more shots now? I just want a clear explanation so I understand. I didn’t think there was any evidence that the vaccination schedule from when I was a kid wasn’t working? Was there?

3) Also, please don’t put a flu shot out there until you have fully tested it on all risk groups you are planning to use it on. It freaks us out.

  • Part of the reason that the H1N1 flu shot vaccination plan went so poorly in Alberta (and other parts of Canada) is that they stopped making the regular H1N1 vaccine in order to rush an order of the H1N1 vaccine with out the adjunct for pregnant women because it had not been sufficiently safety tested on this group. Nor had it be tested sufficiently on babies according to this CBC article.

Ultimately I want to trust our Health Authorities, I really do. I know good people work there and they have kids too. I am sure they have good intentions. But the health care system is not flawless and I just can’t help but question them on this one. And the pharmaceutical companies are involved and I REALLY don’t trust them. So I give the girl her shots and am resigned to feel kinda icky about it. I am sure there are those of you out there that will try and convince me I shouldn’t feel icky, but I can’t help it.


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12 responses to “ControverSunday: Vaccinations

  1. Pingback: ControverSunday: Vaccinating your kids. « Accidents will happen.

  2. amoment2think February 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Check out other ControverSundays Posts:

    Perpetua at Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs:
    http://mmeperpetua.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/controversunday-vaccination-nation/

    Accidents at Accidents Will Happen:
    http://bigpreg.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/controversunday-vaccinating-your-kids/

    Both awesome!!

  3. Kate February 21, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    There are a few things you brought up that I didnt even begin to think about.

    The flu shot.. yeah to be honest i kinda think … eh. I only got it done once and man did my arm freaking hurt for days afterwards. Sure i missed the seasonal flu but working in the germ factory i do (Seriously ya’ll lets go on down to the library to share our plague!) I still picked up some nasty ass colds that year. Will i do that again? Nah probably not.

    Kids need exposure to stuff to build immunity thing, yeah i agree with this too, and its why im probably not gonig to jump over all the flu shots for ZJ. Let him get a sniffle occasionally. And go ahead and eat that cracker off the floor 😉
    I see vaccinations AS exposure though, as thats what i thought they were doing.. exposing you to a low dose of that bad stuff so you get immunity to it?

    Its an interesting subject anyway, thats for sure.

    • amoment2think February 22, 2010 at 8:52 am

      LOL- I totally agree with the let your kid eat a cracker off the floor, ect. I try to strike a balance between a good measure of hand washing and letting her get exposed to some germs. Its all about balance.

  4. Perpetua February 22, 2010 at 5:19 am

    All of your ickies are good ickies. 🙂 I think this subject is one of the toughest because on the one hand, you KNOW you’re exposing your child to chemicals and other additives that you feel are unsafe, but on the other, you MIGHT be putting them at risk for a disease that they MIGHT get, but if they do, it’s going to be rough.

    You raise some great questions, too. I’ll have to ask my mom to see if she can find my old baby book/shot records. I’m pretty sure we didn’t get as many shots as our kids now get (I was born in 79), but I don’t know why, other than that some of them, like varivax, are new.

    • amoment2think February 22, 2010 at 8:54 am

      I think that is why the decision is difficult some times. You wouldn’t feed your kid the stuff that is in vaccines, so its hard to feel good about injecting them with it. But you don’t want them to get sick either. And there is something to be said for being ‘neighbourly’ by getting shot so you are not passing the bugs on, especially because some (like babies under 6 month) can’t get the shot. I know the health care system would like for me to think the issue is black or white, but for me it is not.

      Yeah, some are new. But they never used to give the chickenpox shot and now its recommended. I just don’t get it!!

  5. Keely February 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I’m at about the same place, though I didn’t get our son the Chickenpox vax. It just doesn’t seem necessary.

    And I’m more inclined to view it from the other direction – no, a healthy adult person doesn’t NEED a vax, but they seem far more likely to be able to absorb whatever potential side effects it may incur than my tiny 2-month old. I would probably delay vaccination if we have another child. Canadians are lucky in our long maternity leaves so our kids don’t need to be exposed to daycare germs too soon.

    Also, FYI – a good friend of mine is an epidemiologist that works for the big pharmaceutical company that supplies most of the vaccines. She said the type and amount of mercury in thimerosal is the same as you’d get from a tuna fish sandwich.

  6. Fearless Formula Feeder February 25, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Arrrg. This is uncomfortably topical for me right now, as we are nearing my son’s 15 month appointment and we have to have the dreaded MMR talk with our pediatrician.

    I never wanted to be one of “those parents” who freaked out about vaccines. I come from a medical family. I am (for the most part) pro-medical establishment. But now I am a mom, and that changes everything.

    I got into a legendary fight in our mommy circle with another woman over the MMR. She prayed to the false prophet that calls herself Jenny McCarthy (;0 ) and was telling everyone that it caused autism. Well, you can bet I brought out the big guns – Andrew Wakefield, The Lancet, et al. I made her feel like a moron. I’m not proud of it. But I was going on no sleep for 5 months; it can make you kinda ornery.

    Flash to a year later, when I’ve seen how my kid reacts to certain things – dairy, vaccines – and I’m singing a different tune. I 100% do NOT believe that MMR causes autism; however, I think there might be a specific vaccine reaction happening with this particular shot that resembles autistic behaviors. And that makes me queasy. On the other hand, I believe in vaccines, and I think my son should get the MMR. It’s driving me crazy.

    The plan right now is to wait and give it to him at 2 years instead of 15 or 18 months. Just give his system a bit more time to figure stuff out.

    What aggravates me is that if we could split them up like we’ve split the other shots up, it would be a no-brainer. I’d give him one at a time, spaced out, and I wouldn’t worry as much (who are we kidding, I’d still worry… but I honestly think it is just too much for some kids’ systems to handle, getting all 3 innoculations in one fell swoop). They used to let you do that. Now, it is impossible to get the individual vaccines – it is all or nothing.

    Other than the MMR, I have gotten every vaccine except for the Hep one in the hospital (we got it later); we’ve split them up, but got them all. Even the h1n1. I’ll probably skip the chicken pox one too b/c I just think it’s silly. What’s the big deal about the pox? It’s a character builder. 😉

    • amoment2think February 26, 2010 at 7:34 am

      We all say things we regret at one time or another. I know I have, especially, as you say, on lack of sleep.

      I think it is a totally different story if you have seen a pattern of adverse reactions to vaccinations in your baby. There are some kids that don’t react well and I think that is reason to at least question and discuss with your doctor. I agree, it is a hard decision. It is also unfortunate that parents lack choice in the regard of the schedule and splitting up vaccinations. One of the things I really take issue with is giving them so many vaccines at once. I can accept that vaccines are safe but that doesn’t mean it is wise to give them all together the way they do. They may have studied each individual vaccine for safety, but have they really studied the current vaccination schedule as a whole for safety??

      We are currently approaching the 12 month shots and I am pretty sure we are going to opt out of chicken pox. I agree- I just don’t get the point. And it is that kinda of ‘unnecessary’ medical intervention on the part of health care that makes us parents question the system. I want to know that what you give my kid, in the form of vaccinations and medications, is really really necessary. We put off using antibiotics if possible, because we think they are over prescribed and I know when I was a kid I received WAY too many doses of antibiotics and I think it causes some health issues in later life. I think the health care system is too quick sometimes to step in, rather then letting our bodies do what they are able to do to heal themselves. Sure, if she is really sick I will give her the drugs without question. But when my doctor suggests something I always ask if it is necessary and if we can wait a couple days and let her work it out on her own. Okay, done my tangent now. But yes, I agree with you, it is hard to make those decisions!!

  7. amberhj February 27, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Good post, good topic.

    From an email a pediatrician who happens to be a relative sent me, when I contacted her with my own worries about vaccines (note: we went on to fully vaccinate and it really scares me to hear about parents who do not):

    “When you and I were vaccinated, we received fewer shots, but more of an antigen load. ”

    Vaccines have improved since we got them, so it’s an unfair comparison.

    As far as chickenpox go, I just heard from a family whose toddler has severe, severe problems because the mom got chickenpox during pregnancy. Kids do die from chickenpox, as my nurse sister reminded me. The odds are low, sure. But when kids are allowed to get them, that means more babies and pregnant women (since most of us old enough to have babies didn’t get that vaccine) can get it, and that’s where it’s really scary.

    I read some data that said vaccines are more effective when given in batches due to the way that the immune system responds. My pediatrician family member refused to support the idea of splitting anything up except varicella and MMR because there was no evidence to support that route as preferable. I found that interesting.

    The parents who don’t vaccinate are really relying on those of us who do. There are some babies who just can not tolerate vaccines, and when the rest of us get our children vaccinated, we protect them. So it’s really, really wreckless in my opinion, when parents forgo vaccines for their children for no medically sound reason whatsoever. We’ve got a ticking time bomb on our hands–as more and more people opt out, the threat of currently dormant, potentially deadly and devastating diseases re-emerging increases dramatically.

    I think we lack perspective because unlike previous generations, we haven’t seen nearly as many childhood deaths and near-deaths due to vaccines’ effectiveness.

    • amoment2think February 27, 2010 at 7:57 am

      Amber,

      I think you have made some really good points here. I hadn’t really thought about just how much different the shots probably are now then they were. So you are right, probably not a good comparison. But different countries have different vaccine schedules- maybe that is a better way to look at it…. why is this and how do we know our current schedule is the best?

      In terms of chickenpox- fair enough. But to be the devils advocate- where does that end? There are thousands of diseases that one could get (as a baby or an adult) and we can’t protect ourselves from everything. So what is the point where the risk is acceptable?

      I agree that what you mentioned re: splitting up vaccines is interesting. Perhaps part of the problem is that the health care authorities haven’t done an effective job of communicating the data to us. I think this vaccine discussion is part of a bigger issue of us losing some trust in our health systems. (Post to come on this topic)

      I do totally buy the ‘herd immunity/ be a good citizen” argument. I agree that totally forgoing vaccines is wreckless. I also agree that we don’t have a good perspective on this because of how effective vaccines have been. In many ways, this effectiveness is the vaccines own worst enemy.

      As I said, the girl gets her vaccinations. But I still feel icky about it. I know all the arguments why I shouldn’t and I agree with them. But my gut tells me to ‘proceed with caution.’ I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.

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