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Running the numbers

I’m a crunchy mama. My kid eats organic local food, I breast fed until she was two and a half, she co-slept until almost that time. I was a big baby wearer (until all that healthy living made her so damned big I couldn’t carry her anymore).

But, with all that, I’m pro vaccine.

This position is apparently deeply controversial among my fellow crunchy mamas, though the science backs me up. (Incidentally, I’ve made all my crunchy mama decisions because the science backs me up.) I know that there is some really interesting anecdotal evidence to link vaccines and autism. I’ve heard a lot of stories that make me believe that there may have been at least a slight link, though whether it was causal or not I can’t say. (I will point out that there’s some very interesting preliminary evidence that television has a very causal link.)

But, even with all that, when I sat down and ran the numbers on vaccines, I came down hard on the side of vaccines.

Why? Because even if the most outstandingly pessimistic views on autism are correct (and they are very grim — 1 in 25 kids), they are still better odds than risking the gamut of childhood diseases. Mumps can kill you. Measles can kill you. Rubella can kill you. Whooping cough can kill you. And that which does not kill you can leave you blind, crippled, sterile, stunted, mentally damaged. Chicken pox may be largely harmless as a child, but it can kill an adult. And shingles can be brutally painful.

And the flu can kill you.

One of the moms on my local list serve just shot out an email about a child who died last night of the flu. Healthy on Wednesday, dead on Sunday. She admits that she doesn’t know if the child had the flu vaccines, but even if he did, I’m willing to bet he hadn’t every single year. Each yearly shot may be only 30-percent effective, but the cumulative effect is much more potent.

One of the other moms wrote in a slightly breathless manner to ask “how that happened?!” I wanted to refer her to the book Flu . Influenza is often deadly, especially for the old and the young — there’s a reason the CDC tracks it so closely. Tens of thousands of people die in this country each year because of the flu. I’ve seen estimates that range from 36K to 60K. That’s about as many as die in car accidents. And a flu shot isn’t much harder than putting on your seat belt.

Then some other mom shoots back, quite snarkily, that she doens’t understand what this boy’s death has to do with vaccinating?!

I wanted to shout and bang heads together when I heard that. Herd immunity is the surest way to prevent deaths from these things. But we’ve become a victim of our own success — we’ve eradicated viruses so well that people are shocked when a child dies of the flu, even though that used to be very common. But autism has such a high profile that we’re more scared of that.

Listen, if you don’t want to immunize, I respect that. I disagree violently, but I can’t quite bring myself to say that the government should make a law that says you must vaccinate. But don’t pretend that your decision doesn’t affect the rest of us.

(I will add that I know that this is an emotional subject for some folks. I hope I didn’t offend you. I also know I’m opening myself up for a massive flame war. To head that off, I’ll tell you that I’ll post only thoughtful responses, not rants, flames, etc. I know that I just wrote a rant, but hey, it’s my blog. I can rant if I want to.)

  1. elcynae
    February 17, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I agree, mostly. Vaccines scare me, mostly because messing with the body in any way scares me. But those awful illnesses scare me more. So I approve of vaccination, and I approve more of herd immunity. However.
    My girl had her Hepatitis B shots along with all those other standard shots, somewhere between 6 months and 2 years old. As I prepare for the next one though, I find that in the intervening time, they’ve decided that the first Hep B shot should be given at birth. This is a disease spread by close contact with infected blood or semen. I haven’t found anything saying that it’s more effective at birth, and some people say it’s less effective then. It’s a muscle injection, which means painful. But it’s easier for the doctors to start right away, since they happen to be there.

    Now I admit that I may have missed crucial information somewhere, and that there may be a good reason for early vaccination outside of very high-risk zones, when mom isn’t infected. But my midwife doesn’t seem to think so. So the new arrival will be vaccinated… but not at birth. Who needs more trauma at birth?

  2. Juliet Bravo
    February 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Re the Hep B vaccine, I also opted not to have it at birth, and my pediatrician backed that up. My son had it somewhere around 3-6 months, which was fine.

  3. February 18, 2009 at 5:20 am

    I don’t think that that sounded like a rant; it was a very clear explanation of what you’re doing and why. I’m getting my kids vaccinated, too. I always feel relieved with science backs up what feels right to me.

  4. February 20, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    my aunt had polio. she was lucky. her vocal chords were partially paralyzed and one leg dragged (she died in 1991 at the age of 66) i believe in vaccines, and yeah, i breast feed my girls til they were almost 3, cloth diapered, co-slept. i don’t see the inconsistency. but then, i’m a city person.

  5. K
    March 4, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    I would say the immunizing is a personal choice. Personally, I agree with you. But, if a person isnt immunized for a disease, then yes, they can spread it to others. However, the people most likely to get this disease are those that didnt get vaccinated. So, I think it really is a case of those who get harmed mostly harm themselves.

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