Last week I went to the pool with a friend of mine and her two kids. A few days later my friend texted me in panic. Her daughter had gone on a choir trip and came home sick because one of the other kids had whooping cough. Pertussis. My friend was worried, terrified really, because we’d been to the pool with my kids too, exposing my baby to a possible pertussis infection. Her daughter was in quarantine being tested by the county health department, who had to be notified by medical professionals because people can DIE from pertussis.
In fact, another friend’s baby DID almost die of pertussis a few years ago. She was in the hospital for months; it was scary.
THERE IS A VACCINE FOR PERTUSSIS.
You heard me. There’s a freaking vaccine for pertussis, and a vaccine for a lot of other terrible, horrible diseases and if your child isn’t vaccinated then you are probably stupid.
You heard me.
We’ve gotten to the point in our indulgent, hyperbolic parenting where vaccines are suspect. Vaccines are suspicious. Vaccines that save lives and make babies not be dead are the subject of hand-wringing, scare-mongering, and hysterical agendas, and it has to stop. Because reason is dying, logic is wounded, and you are pretending that you are smarter than science, and guess what, you aren’t. I know, math is hard, you’d rather go to the mall, but it’s time to put your thinking cap on.
I hear a lot of “I believe…” and “I feel…” and you know what? I’m a big proponent of intuitive parenting, but when that runs up against cold hard data, it’s time to reexamine the way we examine everything. You could say “I believe that seatbelts don’t save lives.” “I feel like my kids should eat mercury,” and there’s not a lot of argument you can make, because feelings are a hard thing to reason against.
I shouldn’t be the only one to tell you this, so let’s reference something else. How about this article from Wired Magazine called “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All.” You should really go read that article. Done? OK, we’re all good with vaccinating now, right? Great!
Oh, you need more?
[Vaccination] isn’t a religious dispute, like the debate over creationism and intelligent design. It’s a challenge to traditional science that crosses party, class, and religious lines. It is partly a reaction to Big Pharma’s blunders and PR missteps, from Vioxx to illegal marketing ploys, which have encouraged a distrust of experts. It is also, ironically, a product of the era of instant communication and easy access to information. The doubters and deniers are empowered by the Internet (online, nobody knows you’re not a doctor) and helped by the mainstream media, which has an interest in pumping up bad science to create a “debate” where there should be none.
The article explains something quite insidious: we inflate the risk of certain scary things not because they’re likely to happen, but because the perception of those things are so scary, we panic. It’s a brain response that’s kind of hard wired.
Take, for example, the classic stranger abduction. It happens all the time, right? Nope. There are about 100 stranger abductions every year in the U.S; 500 children die from accidental gun shootings; and 1300 kids died in car accidents. You’re probably way more worried about a stranger abducting your child than the fact that your kid is ten times more likely to be killed when you drive him home from school. You see? The actual danger to your child isn’t nearly as scary as the less likely danger. Kind of like with…vaccines.
A severe reaction to the MMR vaccine? 1 in 1,000,000. Literally, one in a million. Deaths from measles? 2 in 1,000.
See that? That means that the reaction to the vaccine (NOT DEATH) is one in a million, but if we didn’t vaccinate, 2,000 out of a million would die. And since there are 76 million kids in the US, that’s about 152,000 kids who could die of measles. Way more kids would die of measles than currently die in car accidents. And you’re not exactly campaigning against seatbelts, right?
Still, despite peer-reviewed evidence, many parents ignore the math and agonize about whether to vaccinate. Why? For starters, the human brain has a natural tendency to pattern-match — to ignore the old dictum “correlation does not imply causation” and stubbornly persist in associating proximate phenomena. If two things coexist, the brain often tells us, they must be related. Some parents of autistic children noticed that their child’s condition began to appear shortly after a vaccination. The conclusion: “The vaccine must have caused the autism.” Sounds reasonable, even though, as many scientists have noted, it has long been known that autism and other neurological impairments often become evident at or around the age of 18 to 24 months, which just happens to be the same time children receive multiple vaccinations. Correlation, perhaps. But not causation, as studies have shown. (source)
Let me explain correlation: My foot hurts this morning. Yesterday I drove my car. My car made my foot hurt. That’s correlation. It doesn’t mean that my car MADE my foot hurt, that’s causation. Just because something happened at the same time as something else doesn’t mean that it caused it to happen. Also, just because one thing happened after another thing, doesn’t mean it caused it to happen: I sneezed and then the sun went down, so my sneezes make the sun go down. Nope.
I know, sometimes it’s hard to separate your emotions from your reactions (it’s brain science, which we can talk even more about another day,) but vaccines shouldn’t be a debate. Yes, your child could be the one in a million who had a severe reaction to a vaccine (and one of my friend’s child was THAT child,) but the tiny chance is so insignificant, you should be far more worried that your husband will beat your child to death, because that’s far, far more likely.
See, there are a group of people out there that have serious allergies, or a family history of severe reactions who cannot be vaccinated. You are not that special (statistically.) It is YOUR responsibility to vaccinate your child because those people do not have a choice. You DO have a choice. And if you choose not to vaccinate, I am absolutely going to think you are a crackpot who doesn’t understand science. I will take it as a personal affront that you’re piggy-backing on my child’s vaccinations to keep your kid from getting sick (get your own vaccination.) Your excuses pale in the face of all the data ever.
So let’s get back to my friend’s daughter, the one who was exposed to pertussis and then, in the window when she might have been contagious, and unknowingly walked all over public, to school, past babies and other at-risk people. Look, she’s a tween, she’s not in tremendous mortal danger from pertussis, except that her mother has lupus, a rotten autoimmune disease that can emerge in adolescents, especially those with a genetic predisposition. Know what can kick-start a rotten autoimmune disease? A significant infection where the body has to fight off something, like, say, pertussis, and ends up not being able to turn off, and lupus is triggered. Some dumbass parent who didn’t want to vaccinate their kid for pertussis might end up turning on a life-altering debilitating disease in another child. SO FRAKKING SELFISH.
Vaccinate your kid.
Ask your medical professional to ensure your vaccinations are up to date.
Because you are too smart and responsible and good looking not to vaccinate.
Ruining it for the Rest of Us from This American Life (where an unvaccinated child ends up putting a community in quarantine)
Contagion the movie, for a fictional account of what happens when there’s no vaccines
Stories from unvaccinated child’s parents about the horrible things that happened BECAUSE they didn’t vaccinate
Why vaccines aren’t special and why a vaccination you turn your nose up at is is something mothers in developing countries would dearly love so another one of their babies doesn’t have to DIE.
The Gates Foundation’s amazing work to make less children die.