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Vaccinating Baby: One Mom’s Struggle with Deciding What’s Right For her Baby

Posted Jul 31 2009 11:11am

Flickr Webchicken under Creative Commons License

Does every mom struggle as much as I do with signing up to have the doctor stick their baby with a needle full of potentially harmful ingredients that makes baby scream with teary eyes that say “why are you doing this to me” followed by two days of fever?

OK, maybe I’m a wimp, but, when I read books like Dr. Sears’s The Vaccine Book and articles like “ Vaccine Debate ” in Mothering Magazine this month, I feel rather vindicated for being very cautious about vaccinating my little one year old girl, Emerson.

Luckily, my husband is equally wimpy and cautious about vaccinating so it’s one less child-raising subject we have to argue about. We struggle with wanting to do what’s right for the broader community-feeling we should vaccinate our baby so that we’re not relying on other, less wimpy, parents to vaccinate their kids so that our kid has less chance of getting sick (though the above-mentioned “Vaccine Debate” article makes some good arguments against this line of thinking).

We struggle with whether we want to, by not vaccinating, knowingly put our child at risk of catching a potentially deadly disease versus believing in the natural process of the immune system of our thriving child. We struggle with the fact that vaccines, some of which include controversial ingredients, are for diseases that are non-existent or extremely rare in the US. Why expose our daughter’s immature immune system to potentially harmful substances for a virtually no-risk disease?

After reading Sears’ The Vaccine Book, and doing our own research online, we have acquired some knowledge about the ingredients in and risks of each vaccine the CDC recommends versus the risk of each disease itself. We learned from Sears and many other sources that, the truth is, we don’t know the real short- and long-term impact of vaccines on our children because it is impossible to do a bona fide study on them due to the ethical impossibility of creating a vaccine-free control group to compare with vaccinated youngsters.

We’ve learned that some diseases, like diphtheria, are so rare in the U.S. that most doctors trained within the last 20 years wouldn’t recognize their symptoms. We’ve also learned that parents of children with autoimmune disease might want to think twice before giving their babies controversial shots like MMR that have been linked to autoimmune disorders (as someone who suffers from a number of autoimmune disorders, I can’t help but wonder whether shots I had as a child might have played a role in starting all my troubles).

Lastly, and most concerning to me, is what we’ve learned about the amount of aluminum going into babies’ bodies with each CDC-recommended shot series. Dr. Sears wrote a great article on his concerns about aluminum titled “ Is Aluminum the new Thermisal?” (Thermisal being now-banned mercury) that is worth a read. In it, Sears mentions, after piecing together several rather dismal studies on aluminum intake, that babies are receiving amounts of aluminum in the recommended CDC shot schedule that far exceed what we believe is safe for humans, to the tune of up to 62 times what the FDA recommends. The problem is that, once again, no one seems to be studying the effects of aluminum on our babies bodies over time and the various government agencies, who you would think look out for citizens’ interests, don’t seem to be asking the right questions or talking to one another.

Further, the article “Vaccine Debate” in Mothering Magazine addresses some of my concerns about putting other kids at risk by not fully vaccinating my own by the CDC’s schedule. The article discusses the fact that “good” vaccines have a rate of effectiveness of 90-98 percent and, therefore, the very small percentage of vaccinated children who might contract a disease if exposed to it would have only a mild case of the disease, assuming they had some immune response to the vaccine.

As a mother of a precious little being, I’m not willing to blindly do what the CDC or any doctor says without solid information that what they are recommending has been proven safe and effective. I would argue, based on what I’ve read, that the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule-and the vaccines themselves-do not fall into the “proven safe and effective” category. I was happy to learn today reading Dr. Sear’s blog, that, finally, the government and CDC are planning to do research on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. I will anxiously await the information they provide.

Vaccination is a precarious subject to blog about given the heated opinions on either side of the fence (I look forward to the comments I might get on this post). For what it’s worth, here is how my husband and I, after all of our research and hours of conversation with our open-minded pediatrician (who recommended The Vaccine Book to us), have decided to approach our baby’s vaccinations:

1. We decided on criteria that helped us decide what shots made sense to move forward with in our baby’s first year.

The Vaccine Book has an extremely helpful summary chart (pg 248) that lays out for each vaccine whether the disease is common or severe, whether the shot contains aluminum, whether the chemical content of the shot is high, whether it uses human or animal tissues (controversial ingredients), whether it has a long list of side effects, has a higher risk of severe side effects, and whether world travel is a higher risk than exposure in the U.S. Our criteria, partly based on this chart was, if the disease is common, severe/deadly, and if the shot’s ingredients were relatively benign, and the higher risk of severe side effects from the shot low, giving our daughter the shot was a no-brainer. The shots that met this criteria were DTaP, HIB, and PC. Unfortunately, our daughter had a severe reaction to DTaP, so we are now postponing DTaP indefinitely and sticking just with HIB and PC in the short term.

2. We are having our pediatrician give our baby shots on a slower schedule than the CDC recommends to allow her body to process less aluminum and other nasty ingredients each time, and to enable us to more easily differentiate which shot might be causing a reaction.

It doesn’t make sense to my husband and I to give our baby potentially dangerous amounts of aluminum every two months. It also doesn’t make sense to pummel her little body with a cocktail of various shots all at once so that, if she has a reaction, we can’t tell which shot is causing it. Therefore, we are following Dr. Sears’s alternative vaccination schedule (essentially one shot per month), sans a few shots we’re postponing beyond his alternative schedule or eliminating altogether.

3. We will not give our daughter shots for diseases that are relatively benign or where the risk of having a severe reaction to the shot could be higher than the risks of having the disease itself.

We plan to skip chickenpox because we don’t fear the disease, and, from what we’ve learned, getting chicken pox gives a person better immunity for life than getting the chickenpox shot which apparently wears off by adulthood, leaving the person at greater risk of catching a severe case of the disease as an adult (chickenpox can be much worse as an adult than as a child). Further, pre-teens can get a test to see if they’ve been exposed to the disease and, if they haven’t, parents can choose to give them the shot then to avoid a more severe case of chicken pox as an adolescent/adult. So, bring on the chickenpox party! We are contemplating skipping MMR because our daughter may have some inherited autoimmune disorders and some experts recommend that parents of children with autoimmune issues think twice about this shot. MMR is also full of controversial ingredients, has a relatively high likelihood of causing a severe reaction (compared to other shots), and the diseases are usually not severe, therefore, we’re not overly concerned about our daughter catching them. Several studies show that getting measles, like chickenpox, not only strengthens the overall immune system, it provides life-long immunity to the disease. We may choose to simply postpone MMR until our daughter’s immune system is a little more mature. With further research, we’ll decide.

4. We are postponing shots for diseases that exist only in other countries for when we travel to those countries-or until we start to see a rise in incidences of that disease in the U.S.

Given that we don’t plan to travel internationally anytime soon, we’d prefer to wait on certain vaccines (e.g Polio) until we do have plans to travel to countries in which the disease is still an issue (just like getting a yellow fever vaccine to go to Africa) and our daughter’s immune system is more mature. Similarly, if a disease we are concerned about begins to propulgate in the U.S. we’ll have Emerson get the shot.

These decisions have not come to us lightly. We are well aware of the good vaccines have done in this country and around the world. We know that parents in some countries would give anything to be able to vaccinate their child against a disease like Polio. That said, we are choosing to understand as best we can the risk our daughter faces today, in our community, in this country (for now) and making what we think are a series of educated decisions regarding vaccinations.

I would like to hear from others what their approach is to vaccinating their children. I think with open dialogue, we can all learn from one another and, perhaps put some collective pressure on the government and CDC to do thorough research on the many unknowns of vaccinations to ensure that what we’re giving our children is safe and effective.

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