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The Controversial Debate: To Vaccinate Or Not To Vaccinate?

If children’s vaccines pose risk and diseases pose risk, how do today’s parents, who don’t have firsthand knowledge of common childhood diseases reconcile the argument that children should be vaccinated?

With some of our highest political figures who don’t appear to agree on this subject, how can our day to day working parents have a chance at learning the truth?

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There is no question that childhood vaccines are a controversial debate. With the amount of confusion and misinformation available, it is critical that we engage in this discussion for the well-being of our children.

As I look back at my time as a new mom I can honestly say I never questioned whether or not to vaccinate my child; it’s just what we did. Don’t get me wrong, I look at today’s parents and admire their courage to question the status quo, but with that comes responsibility.

Parents today have the luxury to gain access to medical advances immediately through the internet. But I have to caution on this point knowing that for every positive statistic you can almost count on there being another statistic that can dispute the claim. So what is a parent to do?

Unfortunately, with trying to find balance between raising our families and working we can sometimes fall victim to soundbites of mainstream media which can scare some into avoiding necessary vaccines. It goes without saying that most of us just want to protect our children from harm.

There is a great deal of discussion in the mainstream media when it comes to childhood vaccines. Celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and Robert Deniro are highly publicized for questioning vaccine safety as well as the designated vaccine schedule. However, the mainstream media often times fails to clarify that these celebrities are not necessarily anti-vaccine rather they are pro-safety.

Pro-Safety Celebrities:

Jenny McCarthy is on record stating, “I am not anti-vaccine. …I’m in this gray zone of, I think everyone should be aware and educate yourself and ask questions. And if your kid is having a problem, ask your doctor for an alternative way of doing the shots.”

Robert Deniro is documented in a Today Show interview stating, “Vaccines are dangerous to certain people.” He is in favor of more research when it comes to vaccines and autism in certain patient populations. 

Jim Carrey explains his position as, “The truth is that no one without a vested interest in the profitability of vaccines has studied all 36 of them in depth. There are more than 100 vaccines in development, and no tests for cumulative effect or vaccine interaction of all 36 vaccines in the current schedule have ever been done. If I’m mistaken, I challenge those who are making such grand pronouncements about vaccine safety to produce those studies.” 

Pro-Vaccine Celebrities:

Amanda Peet is a staunch advocate for childhood vaccinations. She explains, “In the developing world, measles is one of the leading causes of death among children. In 2013 there were 147,700 measles deaths globally—about 400 deaths per day. And yet here, in one of the most privileged countries on the planet, where we had all but eliminated measles entirely, we voluntarily brought it back.”  

Jennifer Lopez not only is in support of childhood vaccinations but as the spokesperson for the Silence the Sounds of Pertussis, she explains, “This issue is important to me. I didn’t know too much about it before becoming a parent, but whooping cough is on the rise. There has been a significant increase in reported cases over the past decade. Parents don’t realize that they can get pertussis and transmit the disease to their babies…. The message is that infants are at risk of getting pertussis from the adults around them and the disease can be so severe in babies and sometimes even fatal.”

Selma Hayek believes there is no question when it comes to vaccinations, “The thought of losing a child to a disease which can be easily prevented seems unbearable, especially when it is within our power to prevent it. If you knew how to help save a child’s life, what could stop you?”  

While there are several examples of celebrities that fall into the pro-safety and pro-vaccine categories when it comes to childhood vaccines, it is important to offer the opposing side. Celebrities such as Aiden Quinn and Alicia Silverstone among others are on record as anti-vaccine.

Anti-Vaccine Celebrities:

Aiden Quinn is quoted as stating his daughter is vaccine damaged, “She was a normal child. Way above normal, in fact. And then she received a vaccination. She got a 106 degree fever, she turned blue, and she woke up the next day a completely damaged child after that.”

Alicia Silverstone has been very vocal on her anti-vaccine position. “… there is increasing anecdotal evidence from doctors who have gotten distressed phone calls from parents claiming their child was ‘never the same’ after receiving a vaccine. And I personally have friends whose babies were drastically affected in this way.”

Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who Newsweek calls the “father of the anti-vaccine movement”, published a study in a British medical journal linking vaccines to autism, which has since been retracted; however, Dr. Wakefield was barred from practicing medicine in the United Kingdom.

Myth vs. Fact:

USA Today published an article in 2011 to help debunk some of the myths linked to childhood vaccines. This article includes material that discuss links to autism as well as vaccines containing harmful toxins which are two of the concerns the pro-safety and anit-vaccine groups argue. There is no doubt that those on all sides of this debate are passionate when it comes to their opinion. What we all must concede is that we should accept nothing less than the truth when it comes to the safety of our children.

Statistical Example:

According to the Center for Diseases, 667 cases of measles were reported in the United States (U.S.) in 2014. This being the highest number of cases since the elimination of the disease was documented in the U.S. in 2000. The majority of the patients in these cases were not vaccinated. This is a significant detail to recognize because measles is still common in parts of the world allowing travelers to bring the disease into the U.S. contributing to the increased risk of our children contracting the disease.

A local bay area surgeon and father of two says, “You cannot put anything into your body without the potential of a side effect. As with anything, there is a risk to benefit ratio that should be considered for the greater good.”  

My Two Cents:

As I sit and contemplate my position on this topic, I reflect back to a time when there seemed to be more of a sense of community. I am in full support of opening/continuing the discussion of studying the safety of all vaccines and having those results available to everyone. Every parent has the right to question what their child is being exposed to and the possible outcomes.

However, I can’t help but think of the scenario that we are all either directly or indirectly connected. The CDC reports that 50% of imported measles cases in the United States are in U.S. residents coming back from other countries.

A Look at a Disease Closer to Home:

Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly-contagious respiratory illness that is caused by the bacteria that inflames the lungs and airways and is life threatening to infants. One host can spread the illness via coughs and sneezes to 12-15 people. Because infants don’t complete their Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine until almost two years of age, parents are encouraged to have the vaccine in order to protect their new babies. Although Pertussis affects people of all ages, it is the infant population that experiences the most severe outcomes of the illness.

Pertussis has not been eradicated in the United States, so we still experience peaks of the illness. In 2012 Washington experienced an outbreak of Pertussis resulting in 5,000 cases; up from 50 the previous year. I can’t help but think that this alarming statistic should be considered when deciding whether or not to vaccinate our children.

Because the Pertussis vaccination wears off over time, teenagers and adults are encouraged to be revaccinated. Parents are highly encouraged to revaccinate especially when they are expecting a new baby. This concern has also been in the media, and celebrities like Kim Kardashian have taken a hard stance with their friends and family stating, “if you are not vaccinated I cannot allow you to be around my new baby.”

Keri Russell is very vocal when it comes to parents receiving the Tdap vaccine stating, “Like any parent, I would do anything to protect my baby, and that is why I followed my pediatrician’s recommendation to get the pertussis vaccine myself. I am very excited to be working with PKIDs to spread the word and help other parents learn how to best protect their babies from this deadly but preventable disease,”

This begs the question, if we as parents are willing to do anything to protect our children, even if that means receiving vaccines ourselves, then why wouldn’t we extend this same common sense approach to our children?

Something to Consider:

Today, as Americans, we have the benefit of years of research that has advanced our medical practices offering protection from highly contagious and deadly diseases of past public health crises. I concede that today’s Americans are several generations removed from epidemics such as polio and measles which wiped out communities and therefore do not take these past tragedies into consideration when deciding whether or not to vaccinate. This conjures the question; would the vaccination debate be a concern if today’s parents experienced the reality of past public health crises.

It bears repeating that we are a community. Whether it be directly or indirectly, we affect and are affected not just by one another in our local communities but also countries who are not as fortunate as ours when it comes to medical research and medical advances.

One Parent’s Plea to Another:

My intent is not to discount the concerns parents have with the traditional childhood vaccines but rather to offer an alternative to simply rejecting childhood vaccines due in part of fear. There is a continued growing consensus among doctors, researchers, and public health officials who agree that vaccines are safe and strongly recommend them, but it is more than that, they are also looking at why parents are hesitant when it comes to vaccinations. This welcomed shift in approach certainly personalizes the dilemma and offers an opportunity to discuss education with the experts.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that parents extend blind trust when it comes to vaccinations, but instead use a common sense approach when it comes to the question “To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?” First consider the resource of where the education is coming from. Don’t allow mainstream media to scare you out of vaccinating. Look to the professionals to obtain the facts and then verify.

Resources:

Top Ten Reasons To Vaccinate Your Children

Clear Answers and Smart Advice About Your Child’s Shots

What If You Don’t Immunize Your Child?

Trusted Websites:

Immunization for Families

The Vaccine Education Center (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)

Vaccinate Your Baby

For Parents: Vaccines for Your Children

Vaccines.gov

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