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A Shot of Reason – Vaccination debate

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I’m noticing a lot of talk about vaccination lately. I’m pretty sure it’s due to it’s due to the measles outbreak in the USA that originated in the Disneyland theme park in California. I’ve seen other bloggers posting impassioned pleas for parents on “both sides of the debate” to be kinder to each other and to understand where we are all coming from- a desire to do the best we can for our children. I can certainly see a value in kindness- nobody will change their stance if you insult and offend them repeatedly. I also have no doubt that most people who choose not to vaccinate or to use some alternate schedule do so thinking they are doing the right thing. I do not personally agree that it is the right thing (unless medically indicated) but I have no doubt that such a decision is not made lightly and is sincerely made.

I see so much frustration- people who vaccinate losing their cool with those that don’t because they cannot make them understand or accept evidence, people who do not vaccinate in explosive rants because they don’t understand why their parental rights are being questioned.

I have been extremely interested in vaccines and immunisation for around 9 years. I can’t go into all the reasons why here but I can say that, as a lay person, I now have a reasonably good understanding of their safety and efficacy. Anyone who has such an interest and has read as much as I have on the subject has probably also encountered a fair bit of both “sides”.

When I think of a debate, I think of two opposing yet valid arguments.  But when I look at the vaccination debate, that is not what I see.

On one hand, I see products that have come into the market after  10 or 15 years of development, testing, refinement and study. I see reams of data on safety and efficacy. I see demonstrated evidence, freely available. I see every health authority in the world taking on board this evidence and basing their recommendations on it.

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On the other, I see the use of fear, emotive language and imagery, half truths and blatant lies. I see a rejection of evidence, no matter how it’s demonstrated. I often see endorsement of unproven therapies in place of vaccines. I see anecdotes given the same weight as proven facts. And looming over it all is the spectre of an enormous conspiracy that would require hundreds, if not thousands, of people to comply with it…and for what? The money in vaccines certainly exists but it is limited- we don’t get them all that often, after all.  After pharmaceutical companies are done paying everyone off, what is left? The last time I posted anything substantial on vaccines, I was accused of being on the payroll, too (and not for the first time). If you’re wondering, I’m still waiting for a cheque. I’ve never been paid a cent to endorse vaccines and frankly, it feels a bit  funny to even have to say that.

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I’m not going to try to convince anyone that vaccines work. I gave that up some time ago. If you are willing to believe in the enormous conspiracy I just mentioned, there’s probably nothing I can say to change your mind and no amount of evidence that will sway you.

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If you’re sitting on the fence, however, it’s you I’d like to speak to.

The science is clear on vaccines- they are safe and effective for the vast majority of people. That’s not to say vaccines are risk free. There is a small risk of a serious adverse reaction. It should be noted, though, that these reactions are rare and the risk of a serious reaction to the disease itself is greater. I don’t expect anyone to take my word for it.

  • The World Health Organisation has this to say on immunisationImmunization is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year. It is one of the most cost-effective health investments, with proven strategies that make it accessible to even the most hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations.
  • This is the Australian Immunisation Handbook (10th Edition) that has a wealth of information on vaccine-preventable illnesses and the relevant vaccine’s safety and efficacy data.
  • This is from the New Zealand Ministry of HealthImmunisation uses the body’s natural defence mechanism, the immune response, to build resistance to specific infections. When an immunised person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond to prevent them developing the disease.
  • This is the UK National Health Service’s information on immunisation.
  • Here is the American Centre for Disease Control on vaccines including safety and risks, common questions and recommendations.
  • If you were wondering, the American Academy of Pediatrics also concurs with the available evidence on vaccines.

The debate around immunisation is not one being played out on a level field. Not all information, particularly online, is equal.

Anti-vaccine parents are often very protective of their right to choose, as a parent, whether or not they vaccinate their children. Which is, of course, their legal right. I don’t object to that. What I object to is that right being exercised when it is based on fear and misinformation and I am yet to come across a non-vaccinating parent who isn’t basing that decision on one or both of these (with the exception of those medically contraindicated from vaccinating). People who are pro-vaccination are frustrated that others choose differently because they recognise it puts the whole community at risk. They recognise that although it’s a personal decision, it’s one with potentially far-reaching consequences.

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I have heard and read it all: fears of heavy metal toxicity,  autism, the belief that we no longer need to vaccinate, vaccines cause SIDS, there are safe and effective homeopathic vaccines alternatives, the belief that vaccines are used to keep the population under control, the belief that the illnesses we vaccinate for are mild and harmless, that we overload our children’s immune systems, the belief that vaccines don’t work and the belief that vaccines commonly cause disability and death.

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If you are sitting on the fence, I urge you to think about this one point:

Every major health authority in the world recommends immunisation. All of them. I literally cannot think of a single one that doesn’t. If vaccines caused all of these problems on a large scale, why would governments fund them? What possible reasoncould a government or health authority have for doing this?

If you’re going to choose not to vaccinate, think about the level of conspiracy you are accepting.

You are accepting that everyone, from those working in labs to those measuring and collating data, who has ever been involved in decades of studies have lied.

You are accepting that all government health authorities are either complicit in these lies or are employing others that are- think about the sheer number of people that would need to be involved.

You accept that any and all studies showing vaccines to be safe and effective are falsified and that those responsible for the peer review of such studies are also lying.

Think critically about your source of information. I once read an article about a cervical cancer vaccine that made all sorts of claims about the vaccine causing fertility problems and stating it had been banned in another country. It wasn’t difficult to find out that it had not been banned at all and that there were no causal links to infertility, however, what really rang alarm bells for me was the next article, written by the same person, that talked about the CIA using kitchen appliances like toasters and kettles to spy on Americans. Another I read stands firmly by the autism/vaccine idea yet also publishes content claiming that scientists all over the world are making bizarre animal/human hybrids like a cow human that produces milk almost identical to human breastmilk and mice with human brains. In short, if the source of information seems suspect, it’s probably best to discount it altogether.

Vaccination is a risk vs benefit assessment and evidence shows that the risk from vaccines is far, far smaller than the risk from a wild illness.

I think it’s fine to question things, I think it’s wonderful to learn more…but when it comes to the crunch, can you reallyconfidently decide that every major health authority in the world is wrong and you are right?

As an aside, it’s that time of year when people go crazy for the one they love, with heart-shaped cards and chocolate galore. We don’t really do much in that regard- usually something small or a nice lunch out. This year, I went all out. I went to the UNICEF website and gifted my husband 200 polio vaccines for under-privileged kids. Romantic, hey? Why not do the same?!

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About Amy Ahearn

Amy is mum and step mum of 4 awesome kids ranging from 18 months to 12 years old. She successfully co-organising a nurse-in demonstration in response to the comments made by a prominent television personality about breastfeeding in public. This saw her appear on national tv, in newspapers and on radio to discuss her thoughts on the matter. The experience made her want to continue to have a voice.

Her life is hectic as a part-time shift worker, full time parent, partner and social media addict but she still finds the time for cloth nappies, breastfeeding, baby wearing and saving the world one online petition at a time.

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