Mamas on Bedrest: To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate??

December 16th, 2013

vaccine The Vaccine debate is back in the news and heating up with the realization that diseases that were once “eradicated” are now back and on the rise. Many are calling for mandatory vaccination, which could be helpful but I believe further divisive in an already divisive and contentious debate. Personally, my view is “Don’t mandate, educate!” So let’s take a look at what’s been going on.

My parents both got the small pox vaccine as children and each have marks on their shoulders 70+ years later. I think my oldest sister also got that shot (born 1958). My other sister (born 1961) and I were the new generation in vaccination. I was born in 1965 and I can remember going to the doctor, getting the little drops of syrup under my tongue (oral polio vaccine courtesy of Dr. Albert Sabin, FDA approved 1962. An earlier shot was developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, FDA approved 1955, ) and shots for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. When I was in 5th grade, the trivalent Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine was approved and I got that shot. As you can guess from my age, I had chicken pox (twice and still have a couple of scars!) as there was no vaccine for that then.

Today, there are shots for just about every disease imaginable, and while it’s good that we can prevent many of these deadly diseases, many parents are concerned that vaccines are somehow doing harm to their children, namely putting them at risk for autism. This claim spread like wildfire in 1998 with the publication of a “Study” in The Lancet by Dr. Andrew Wakefield stating a causative effect between vaccine administration and autism. It was all over the news and on all major talk shows. Parents of autistic children were lamenting their decisions to vaccinate their children while the medical community lamented the rise in the number of children not being vaccinated. The study was later discredited as its results could not be reproduced and the article pulled from publication. But the line had already been drawn in the sand and the proponents and opponents of vaccination stood staunchly on their respective sides.

On December 3, 2013, Brian Krans published an article on the effects of the anti-vaccine movement in the US and abroad in the online journal Healthline. In the article, Krans notes the rise in measles, polio and whooping cough and notes that there is an epidemic of polio in Pakistan due to the prohibition of the vaccine by the Taliban. Despite the FDA approval of the HPV shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that far fewer people of age are receiving the shot than expected.

So what is the answer? It certainly seems that we are trying to prevent everything and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When my children were babies, they received Hepatitis B shots (a vaccine to prevent Hep B infection, an infection spread via blood and body fluids and a series I took as a health care provider years ago!) even before they left the hospital. While I was not averse to them getting that vaccine series, did they need it at one day old and without my permission? They have both had chicken pox vaccines and my daughter is scheduled to have the meningococcal and HPV vaccines. How is a parent to know if these vaccines are necessary and if they are safe for your infants or tweens?

I’m going to go on the record to say that I am a proponent of vaccines. But I will also say that I did a lot of research on the vaccines my children received and have held off at times when I could. For example, my daughter was a preemie, so we held off on giving her too many vaccines at one time. It made it so that she had a couple of extra office visits as a baby, but I preferred that to her receiving multiple shots at 8 weeks. Additionally, since she was a preemie, it was important for her to receive the Haemophilus influenzae (HiB) vaccine as this is the pathogen that causes most respiratory and ear infections in tiny babies.

Yet, I have decided to hold off on giving her the HPV vaccine at this time. (Yes, I hear the gasps!!). Currently, the HPV Vaccine or Gardasil is recommended for girls and boys age 11 for the prevention of the Human Papilloma Virus, the virus that causes genital warts and many forms of genital cancer. The 3 shot series does in fact prevent against the 4 most prevalent types of HPV (6,11,16,18) but there is some controversy regarding side effects (rheumatoid like disorders and a Guillane-Barre like syndrome) and some question as to whether the vaccine is still active after 8 years. I want to see more data regarding the “adverse side effects” and her likelihood of having a negative response and I want to see if more data comes out about the longterm efficacy (and safety) of the vaccine. So for now, I am tabling this shot until she is 13 and will again discuss with her father at that time whether or not she will have the vaccine.

Now I know many people reading this post are furious-either because I am speaking out in favor of vaccines in general, or because I have elected to hold off on giving my daughter the HPV vaccine now at age 11. But this is the crux of this post: Every parent needs to look at all the data and publications, weigh the pros and cons within the context of their lives and their beliefs and make a decision.

Should vaccines be mandated? I personally don’t believe in mandating anything unless its an immediate life and death situation. However, rather than mandate, educate. For those who are in favor of vaccines (health care providers, public health officials, etc…) hold free public forums and educate the public as to why you think a given vaccine (or vaccination in general) is important. Use language and supporting materials that everyday people can understand. Provide the tools and information needed so that parents can make wise and informed health care decisions for their children and their families. (And informed isn’t, “I’m doing this because the doctor said so. It’s “I’ve had a chance to learn about this and I think it’s the best option.)

Many reading this may think that I have taken an idealistic view of this  whole vaccine debate. Some will think that I wimped out by giving into “the system” and “big pharma” and others will think that I am a “hippie lunatic” encouraging people not to have their children (or themselves) vaccinated. I am neither. I am a health care advocate. I think that everyone must make their own decisions. And it behooves the health care industry and pharmaceutical companies to provide information and opportunities for consumers to gather information and learn what is available to them so that they can make informed health care decisions, and for opponents to present reasonable, evidence-based opposition to the contrary (not empassioned pleas or belligerant protests!).

Will you vaccinate your child (children)? Share your perspective on this empassioned debate in our comments section below.