A Shot in the Dark: The Vaccine Imbroglio
A) I will not vaccinate my child because, as I have carefully gathered information, I view the risks in immunizing my child to be far too great, and the benefits being uncertain at best.
B) I will follow a full-course of the prescribed vaccines for my child as determined by my pediatrician and the state, because the risks of not immunizing my child are far too great for both my child and the community.
C) Damned if you do and damned if you don’t! There are no good answers and you just have to accept that both roads are uncertain and perilous crap shoots with your child’s health.
So what is it going to be parents? A, B, or C?
But before you make a rash decision and unwittingly align yourself with the skeptics, the pragmatists or the perplexed, you might want to take a few moments to educate yourself and reflect on the choices.
These choices on when to, whether to, or how to vaccinate your child are some of the more difficult issues parents must come to terms with while considering myriad and sometimes frightening statistics, peer pressure, and potential side effects. However, for most parents and medical professionals it is a relative no-brainer and immunizations are simply a necessary evil that is above and beyond questioning or serious concern. The fact of the matter is that while many vaccines have undisputedly improved the global health situation (especially in the developing world), and to their credit wiped out virulent diseases such as small pox, the absolute safety of these inoculations remains in question.
In a recent Time Magazine article titled How Safe Are Vaccines? author Alice Park attempts to shed light on the current vaccine debate between believers, non-believers and skeptics, but unfortunately settles on thinly veiled scare tactics and a fairly cynical view of parents who opt out of the vaccine option. In her article, Park cites the case of a repentant mother whose child is infected with Hib bacteria after she had refused a full course of vaccines for her child out of fear of excessive mercury exposure. Park goes on to reveal the frightening virulence of diseases like measles and meningitis while relying on the cautionary advice of CDC (Center for Disease Control) officials and medical professionals like Dr. Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Sadly, what is missing from this article, and to some degree from the entire heated debate, is an intrepid and thoughtful questioning of the safety and effectiveness of the current vaccine regime, and how it could be improved upon.
Allegations and horror stories aside, the big pharmaceutical companies that sell these vaccines to pediatricians around the country have not always acted in the best interest of their ultimate recipients – the children. Since the 1930’s, mercury, in the form of Thimerosal, was a common preservative in nearly all vaccines, and it wasn’t until about a decade ago that mercury was deemed too risky of an additive and voluntarily removed, as a precautionary measure, from all vaccines (except the flu shot, which still contains mercury). This was not a result of some heavy FDA ruling (The FDA rarely comes down hard on “big pharma”) or numerous class action lawsuits, it was largely an act of self-preservation and an effort to stave off legal retribution from unhappy parents. This is merely one example.
With that said, I don’t think the main problem here is the preponderance of big, bad pharmaceutical giants peddling bad medicine. We assuredly need to hold the FDA, pharmaceutical companies and doctors to the highest standards, and make certain that, IF we elect to vaccinate our children, that the vaccines are as safe and effective as humanly possible. However, I think the larger problem is that any relevant and constructive dialog about what is best for children and the larger community is too often drowned out by dogmatic and reactionary fear. This fear, sad to say, prevents everyone from moving forward and finding sensible solutions that don’t compromise personal health or personal freedoms.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.