We don’t vaccinate.
There, I said it.
Okay, actually, our older kids are vaccinated, and our younger kids are not. Somewhere along the line, I had a change of heart about vaccines. Somewhere along the line, I went from not questioning conventional wisdom, authority, and expertise to questioning all of those things and making choices that place me firmly in the outskirts of the mainstream.
This post isn’t about trying to convince anyone of the evils of vaccines, though. What it’s really about is trying to dispel the assumption that anyone who chooses against vaccination is “reckless,” “ignorant,” and even “crazy,” or that our views on vaccines are based on the gospel of Jenny McCarthy. (For the record, I’ve never read anything Jenny McCarthy has written or listened to a single interview with her. I only know that she is the scourge of the vaccinating majority.) Sure, there are those who don’t vaccinate because they believe that God will protect them and theirs. But not all of us even believe in any god.
Routine, compulsory vaccination concerns me for many reasons. This isn’t about autism, or a belief that there is some conspiracy at the heart of compulsory vaccination – although I do believe that loading babies’ and children’s bodies with toxins and live and deactivated viruses must have some effect on natural immune response, and yes, neurological function, and there is no question that pharmaceutical companies stand to profit more the more people buy into the vaccination agenda.
It concerns me that every medication and drug out there has risks and potential side effects, ranging from mild to severe, but we are apparently supposed to ignore the risks associated with vaccines. As parents, we would give thoughtful consideration to the risks and benefits of any drug recommended for our children – but with vaccines, it’s a different story. There is no drug or medication – including everything from Tylenol to, yes, vaccines – that is 100% safe and risk-free for every individual. Potential side effects range from pain and swelling at the injection site to fevers to anaphylactic shock to seizures and encephalitis. Now, I’m not saying that all vaccines are inherently evil in all cases. What I am saying is that I have a problem with the fact that there are risks, but we are all expected to disregard those risks (and the vast majority of people never ask for or read the package inserts from the vaccines they are consenting to).
It concerns me that we are consumers but we cannot choose where our vaccines come from, how they are manufactured, or how they are administered. Don’t like the fact that MMR is three vaccines in one? Tough shit. You can no longer get a measles vaccine separate from a mumps vaccine separate from a rubella vaccine, period. Even though many, many consumers have expressed grave concerns about this, the drug manufacturers have no reason to cater to their consumers – even to humor them for peace of mind – because consumers have nowhere else to turn to for those vaccines; it’s not like you can shop around. Take it or leave it (and if you leave it, you’re crazy, of course).
It concerns me that you cannot hold a drug manufacturer liable for a vaccine injury. It’s true. If you or your child suffer a severe reaction to a vaccine – however remote that possibility is – you will not be able to sue the drug company. The drug companies that manufacture vaccines are legally immune from liability for injuries their vaccines cause. You can take your case to “vaccine court,” which is really just a no-fault insurance program, and which is also a little like a police department investigating one of its own for wrongdoing; it’s not a neutral, unbiased process. Unlike conventional trial court, there is no discovery, there is no jury, and your case is decided by a Special Master who is paid by the same government that has enacted compulsory vaccination laws.
I, of course, have specific concerns about specific vaccines. For example, why are we still routinely vaccinating for polio, which is considered eradicated in the Western Hemisphere? Why is the HPV vaccine being pushed so heartily when it does not eliminate the recommendation for yearly pap smears, which remains the best defense against cervical cancer, and nobody really knows how effective it is long term? The flu vaccine is a guessing game each year – some years they get it right, and some years they don’t. But the flu virus just keeps on mutating, and people get sick every flu season, shots or not; flu certainly isn’t the only illness people contract during flu season. Last flu season, Joey became sicker than I’ve ever seen him – so sick that we had to take him to the ER. Everyone assumed it was the flu, and I was lectured by more than one person for not getting my kids flu shots. They swabbed him for influenza in the ER and it was negative; he had acute bronchitis, which is a bacterial infection and could not have been prevented by a flu shot.
(Interestingly, back in 2009 when the swine flu – or H1N1 – was sweeping the nation, everyone in our house got it except Michael, who at the time was undergoing chemo and was therefore much more susceptible to it. I have my own theory about why he didn’t get it, but that’s fodder for a whole other post that I may never write. Suffice to say that there are unconventional ways to boost a person’s immune system, as we discovered the year Michael battled cancer.)
Another argument I’ve seen a lot of lately is that we all have a duty to vaccinate, if not for ourselves, then to protect those around us who may have compromised immune systems. My friend Tara wrote about this just recently here. Now, I will just say that I’ve never attended a “Pox Party.” I’ve never been invited to one, for that matter, and I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that trend, or how I would respond to an invitation to a pox party. I will say, however, that while people are talking about a duty to vaccinate in order to protect hypothetical strangers, virtually nobody is talking about the fact that those same immunosupressed hypothetical strangers can become infected by indirect contact to a live virus vaccine via direct contact with a person who has recently received a live virus vaccine. So in reality, there is just no way to ensure that kind of protection for people with compromised immune systems, and the truth is that the vast majority of us just aren’t that altruistic anyway; we all make personal decisions based on our perceptions of personal risk and personal benefit, and not so much on societal risk and societal benefit. For fuck’s sake, we can’t even manage to address poverty and hunger in any meaningful way, and we sure as hell can’t seem to pass sane gun laws. Poverty, hunger, and guns are all prevalent, and they end far more lives than all of the diseases and illness we routinely vaccinate against, combined.
What it very much comes down to for me is how we view illness and disease. We have crummy immune systems because of the unhealthy lifestyles we lead – feeding our bodies all kinds of chemicals and genetically altered foods, spending our days sedentary under artificial lights, manipulating our hormones. Then we inject our bodies (or at least our kids’ bodies) with all these vaccines and believe on some level that we’ll never get sick (but we do anyway, of course). I don’t think we humans were ever meant to eradicate every illness and disease possible. To be brutally honest, I suspect that disease is nature’s way of ensuring population control. But here we are, trying to outsmart nature, trying to eradicate every disease that crops up (but diseases are always one step ahead of us, so it’s an endless and futile proposition), trying to make people live as long as possible – and we have an overpopulated planet, a world in which there are just more human beings than we are able (or willing) to house and nourish, and we’re using up the planet’s resources at a frightening rate. I’m not saying I do not fear illness or death, or that if one of my kids got sick that I wouldn’t do everything I could to try to make him or her better – I’m just saying that on a global level, maybe we’re focusing on the wrong things.
In the end, I would never advocate for anyone not to vaccinate their children. We all make the best choices we can based on the information available. I wish there was a little more respect for those of us who make our choices a little off the beaten path.
For further reading: