Why I Choose To Vaccinate My Kids

Let’s get this out in the open. I’m a naturally minded mom. I had unmedicated childbirths, I breastfed all of my kids for at least a year and up to three years, I babywore, co-slept, and cloth diapered my kids. I made most of my own baby food. I’ve homeschooled several of my kids. But the thing that may shock you is this: all six of my kids are completely vaccinated. On schedule.

When my oldest was born, vaccines were not questioned nearly as much as they are now. My biggest worry was how to afford them. At the time (nearly 18 years ago) we had rather limited insurance that did not cover well-child visits. I quickly learned that the most expensive part of this visit was the administration of vaccines. His first such visit cost us over $600. I was shocked, to say the least. My first response though, was not to forgo the shots in the future, but to find a way to have them administered more affordably. The county health department was our choice.

Why, you may ask, was I so adamant about having my sweet, clean, pure, baby,  injected with chemicals and toxins? Why would I want him to endure the pain of an injection?

Why? For the very same reason that I pursued a natural childbirth, for the same reason that I went through the pain and bother of breastfeeding him, for the same reason I used cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers. I wanted my precious son to be as healthy as possible.

I come from a generation raised by people who suffered from (now) vaccine preventable diseases. I never saw anyone suffer from measles or mumps, but my entire childhood was shaped by an incidence of mumps. My mother suffered from a case of the mumps as a child and as a result was deaf in one ear, and impaired in the other ear. I had to repeat nearly everything I had to say to my mother several times, and as an adult, my husband accuses me of speaking louder than I need to.

My good friend’s father was confined to a wheelchair his entire adult life, due to a case of polio. He passed away at age 65 from complications due to his childhood polio, and as a result, did not get to enjoy the gift of grandchildren. There is a noticeable gap in their family dynamic.

When I was sixteen years old I contracted chicken pox. For years my mother had tried to expose me to this common childhood disease. She had me spend the night with friends who had chicken pox, and tried to expose me in any way that she could. We assumed that I was immune. After babysitting for a child with chicken pox, I finally contracted the disease. I had lesions on nearly every square inch of my body as well as internally. I ran a very high fever and was nearly hospitalized. I very likely could have been a chicken pox statistic. I was miserable, and I would never wish that suffering on another human being. Ever.

I knew (and know) that vaccines save lives.

I know that many of these diseases are not seen very often (in North America) today. The very reason that these diseases are not present in our society is because of vaccines.

I understand why people choose not to vaccinate. There are a lot of people who come from a place of fear and mistrust when they make these decisions for their family.

I choose to come from a place of education and reason, not from a place of emotion and fear.

Here are the facts of vaccines:

Vaccines Work. How do we know? Because we have seen the irradication of vaccine preventable diseases. People no longer have to be vaccinated against small pox in the U.S. because small pox no longer occurs here.  Wouldn’t it be great for our grandchildren to need fewer vaccines because we completely wipe out a few more vaccine preventable diseases?
Vaccines do not cause autism. There has been concern in the past regarding vaccines and autism, and  a seriously flawed study seemed to point to the MMR vaccine causing autism. The simple fact is, there has been no study that has been able to link vaccines and autism or ASD (autism spectrum disorders). The timing of vaccines and the age at which ASD symptoms begin to appear have some correlation. Many symptoms of ASD appear at the 12-15 month mark, which also happens to be the time period for the MMR vaccine. Developmental studies have shown that clinical markers for ASD are often present long before the MMR, but are not recognizable to parents. The fact is there is a rise in the diagnosis for ASD because we now have a name for these behaviors.  Vilifying vaccines because of fear of autism is quite simply trading one set of troubles for another.

Side effects from vaccines are rare. Yes, some do occur. Most are treatable in the clinical setting where the vaccine was administered. Yes, sometimes reactions are severe and have horrible outcomes. However, the statistical likelihood is very slim. As a matter of fact, a child is far more likely to suffer from a vaccine preventable disease (if you choose not to vaccinate) than he would suffer from a vaccine side effect.  Every decision we make for ourselves and our children has to weigh risks vs. benefits, and in the case of vaccinations, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

I vaccinate my children to protect my neighbor. Some kids cannot be vaccinated yet (they are too young) or are immune compromised (as in the case of our little friend with leukemia). If my children are vaccinated, they will not be catching, and passing along vaccine preventable diseases to others.  (This is why I insist that anyone who comes in contact with my young babies is vaccinated against pertussis). If one child in a fully vaccinated community contracts measles, the disease will end with him (this is what we refer to when we discuss herd immunity). However, if we have a community where more and more people are afraid of vaccines, if this same little boy contracts measles, many more will catch the disease and an outbreak will occur. Not very neighborly, is it?

But what about the toxins? Many who preach against vaccines pull out a long list of ingredients and try to inject fear into others with a list of “toxins”. Here are the facts: toxins are everywhere. There are toxins in our drinking water, in our strawberries, in our almond milk, in the sandbox the kids play in, and even in our vitamins.  “We might not be aware of it, but we are exposed to small amounts of these same substances everyday. For example, the average person takes in an estimated 30mg to 50mg of aluminum everyday, mainly from foods, drinking water, and medicines. Not all vaccines contain aluminum, but those that do typically contain just trace amounts: about 0.125mg to 0.625mg per dose, or roughly 1% of that daily average.” (Vaccines.com)

As I watch measles outbreaks spread across our country, it makes me worried. Not for my immunized kids, but for those who are not. As a parent I see it as my job to protect my kids in every way possible, and vaccines are one way I am helping them.

While I may be able to control their environment now, I do not have a crystal ball allowing me to see into the future. I do not know if they will end up living or serving in a high risk population. I cannot control what they will be exposed to in school, or what lifestyle choices they will make later in life. What I can do now, is keep them safe from some of the known dangers. Vaccines allow that.polio-plane

But don’t just take it from me. Here is a link to a webpage with tips for evaluating vaccine claims as well as an extensive list of website and sources for more information.  http://www.vaccines.com/vaccine-immunization-education.cfm

Anecdotally, my six kids are robustly healthy. They have had no vaccine side effects, and have not contracted even a trace of vaccine preventable disease. As they have gotten older, we have discussed what vaccines they are getting and why. We read vaccine handouts together in my physician’s office and I’ve encouraged them to ask her questions in order to clarify need and importance. Being pro-vaccine does not mean that I am uneducated or unconcerned. If anything, I am adamant because of what I have learned about vaccines, vaccine preventable diseases and vaccine safety.

Just know that when you ask me whether or not I recommend vaccinating your child, and the schedule to follow that I am unabashedly pro-vaccine. I have always followed the published schedule by the CDC and I recommend that you discuss any scheduling concerns with your trusted healthcare professional.

*Images used by permission from www.vaccines.com

UPDATE: Also see our follow-up article on the vaccine debate here, in which we address some of the questions asked by the community.  Also see this post with some links to relevant studies and articles about vaccination.

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Pam is a mom of six (including twins) and is a self described "birth junkie". Over the past 17 years she has spent 3 years pregnant, 7 years breastfeeding (including 17 months nursing twins), and has been changing diapers for 13 years and counting. She blogs at dakotapam.com. Pam graduated in 1993 from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature.