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Perceptions vs. Reality

Posted Feb 20 2009 7:22pm
My husband and I just finished reading a children's book, Chasing Vermeer, for a project he was working on. It sounds silly to read 5th-grade novels, but it's actually pretty fun. We did the same thing with some of the Narnia and Harry Potter books, taking turns reading them out loud.

Anyway, the book got me thinking about vaccines many times, because the characters often wonder if the things they see are real or not. It references a real life book written by a man named Charles Fort, who collected at least 294 newspaper articles documenting showers of living things (frogs falling from the sky and that sort of thing). (It turns out Fort still has a following today, though he died in 1932.) Fort wrote that it seemed the common practice of humans was to process unexplained events or facts through the conclusions we already held about life, rather than starting with the facts and drawing conclusions (I paraphrase; the book is currently at class with my hubbie, so I can't quote it).

One of the characters in the book, at one point, feels that he has fallen into a puzzle and cannot get out. I, too, have had days where it felt like that. I have often wondered if all the research I am doing is "real," or is the perception I had before (that vaccines are generally safe) the more accurate one?

I lay in bed the other night with a scene from Disney's Alice in Wonderland in my head: Alice in the dark forest, walking a path that is in the process of being completely erased by some strange, four-footed creature with a broom for a face. The creature makes its way around her, leaving her standing on one square of path with no clue as to how to get out of the forest.

It seems like a scary place to be, not knowing where you came from or where you should go. But then, I thought, maybe we need more moments like that in life. If we don't have the "Think This Way" path in front of us, then we are forced to examine information and forge our own path.

Now, I'm not saying that all areas of life are open for re-writing. I am pretty orthodox in my beliefs, especially regarding right and wrong. But are there certain things where our thinking has been shaped by an outside force that isn't necessarily trustworthy?

It is hard to get a firm intellectual grasp on vaccine safety now. The information is very controlled. I used to think that my doctor would always know exactly what was correct, but I am beginning to see that doctors only have so much time and are most likely reading the newsletters they receive from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, or whatever other medical organizations they belong to.

When my doctor, the CDC and the AAP say that serious reactions are rare, I can't take it at face value anymore. How rare? What are the numbers? Are those pre-market numbers or post-market? When will the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System ever contain accurate numbers? Where is the paper trail for vaccine injury, and why isn't it discussed in the press? Why is vaccine injury hidden from the public? Because medical "authorities" do not trust us to decide for ourselves? No wonder we have such misconceptions about vaccines.

Why haven't the multiple vaccines in the vaccine schedule ever been tested together? Why aren't many vaccines tested for carcinogenicity before going to market? Do vaccines even work that well? How well? Why are there so many accounts of measles outbreaks among the highly vaccinated? Are the public's (and the scientific community's) perceptions of vaccine effectiveness completely wrong? Is it true what Dr. Robert Mendelsohn wrote in 1984, that no vaccine can be credited with eliminating any disease? Is it true that these diseases were on their way out before the vaccines were invented? (I have read much about this and it is shocking!) It is so hard to believe that we are vaccinating for no good reason! But what if it is true? What if we gave alllllll the numbers to little Alice on her square to calculate? What path would she re-write, and would it amaze us?

The AAP recently wrote that parents who question vaccinating simply don't understand things. They are not experts. They are selfish. Their decisions are emotional. My question is, do I not deserve to know everything? Why should the AAP and CDC make my decision for me? Why do they get to tell me what reality is? Such control of information is not fit for America.

The other day I read a TIME magazine article (dated June 2nd) titled "How Safe Are Vaccines?" In the subheading, it noted that parents are concerned about autism and are declining shots. Then it said, "What the science says about the real risks - and what you should do about it." Of course, the "experts" at TIME told me to get the shots and stop worrying (in a nutshell). (And cited the same old, faulty autism/thimerosal studies the government has been using for years.) Well, I guess I am a hard sell for TIME and whoever else commiserated to write that article (Dr. Paul Offit was quoted as always); I have a brain of my own and plan to draw my own conclusions based on the science they weren't so eager to publish. The perceptions I have regarding vaccine safety just won't fit into that neat little model of theirs anymore.

Does that make me a renegade? A fool? Or maybe a "fearless thinker," as one of the Chasing Vermeer kids called Charles Fort? (ha ha - I really don't know much about this Fort guy and say that somewhat in jest ... I'm not sure I want to align myself with him!) I read a quote in TIME that I've pondered for a few days -- a mom, whose son almost died from a vaccine-preventable bacterial infection after they elected not to get his shots, said she was "angry" that people are out there spreading information that would cause parents not to vaccinate. I felt for her as a fellow mother, and would definitely be shaken up if that happened to my child. I am sorry they went through that. I pictured her face looking angrily at me if she knew who was behind this blog. It made me want to be really sure I am sticking to facts, but not apologizing for them. I just can't see how turning a blind eye to the risks of vaccine injury is the solution.

As someone wrote recently on another blog, parents who don't vaccinate "know they are playing Russian Roulette with their child's health." Yes, the decision is emotional. It is hard to know if there are shots we should decline. But there needs to be room in this country for more than one answer. We allow many freedoms and many "ways of being" in this nation. American society assumes that not everyone believes the same things. It needs to be just as politically correct here.
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