Acknowledging Vaccination Concerns

I feel like such a rebel. The British Medical Journal recently featured an editorial, Improving uptake of MMR vaccine. As the title suggests, this article tries to isolate the reasons why some parents choose not to vaccinate and how to change this disturbing (in the authors’ opinions) trend.

Part of me really emphasizes with the pediatricians and other health officials who urge vaccination compliance. Until I had children I didn’t realize how imposing the word is… v-a-c-c-i-n-a-t-i-o-n-s. In fact I clearly remember my best friend, lying on her hospital bed, a few hours after giving birth, asking me whether her newborn son should get one vaccination or another.

I don’t remember the exact words I uttered 6 years ago but I’m sure they were along the lines of,

Well of course. If they say he should get it there has to be a reason.

But now, well, I’m just not so ready to jump the gun.

In fact, when I recently took my son in for a well-child visit I felt intense pressure to give the go-ahead on his vaccinations. Since he was sick at his prior “well-check” visit and unable to receive vaccinations, he was a few months behind schedule and it was time to get him back on track.

But I said no. Well, no to most of the vaccinations.

No vaccinations? I felt as though I were wearing a scarlet A on my chest representing anything from Anti-vaccination movement to A clearly misinformed individual to A bad mother.

And then, I read this. The article points out that researches have loosely identified two groups of people who choose not to have their children vaccinated with the MMR. One group of parents, one that refuses all vaccinations, are considered radical. This group is basically beyond hope; regardless of any information they receive they will most likely say no to the MMR. The other group of parents are those that opt out of particular vaccinations or choose to have their children vaccinated with “single antigen vaccines” (one vaccine for measles, one for mumps, one for rubella instead of the combined shot, etc.). These parents fit in the reformist category and may be able to be persuaded to vaccinate according to the government’s schedule.

Now, if you haven’t guessed, the authors of this article are pro-vaccination. And you may think that I’m anti-vaccination but I won’t claim that title. I think that certain vaccinations have their time and their place; I don’t inherently think they are wrong. In fact, my child is about 85% vaccinated already. I’m open to looking at any and all research on the subject and my mind is not inflexible on the matter. But I definitely fit in the reformist group… although I think that title is a little, um, shall I say condescending. I’m not quite sure I need to be reformed.

When I visited my doctor and asked her a basic question about the amount of thimerosal in the shot my child was going to receive she laughed it away. Thimerosal in shots today, no way. All that mumbo jumbo about thimerosal in shots — propaganda. The funny thing about her response was that if she had only sat down and talked to me about realistic concerns I had, she would have done more good than trying to blow off the “alternative health propaganda” out there. Does she think that government sponsored vaccination information is void of propaganda?

It’s easy to take information from supposedly wiser sources than ourselves and run with it, so to speak. And there are times when that’s the only thing we can do. But when it comes to injecting our children with a HUGE number of vaccines, I don’t think that sitting silently on the sidelines is the best route to take. I’m not saying that vaccinations are wrong, I’m just asking questions:

Why is this the right way to proceed?

What long term studies have been done regarding the long-term effects of these vaccinations? (And don’t just talk about a reduction in polio or mumps… what about other problematic childhood epidemics we’ve seen crop up?)

Why does the government recommend this particular schedule? How do they know that this is safe considering the brain developments during this time?

And possibly most importantly,

Can you discuss anti-vaccination issues with me without acting like I’m dumb, naive, or insane?

I actually find it ironic that asking questions about vaccinations seems to be shunned. Since when did it become wrong to ask, to discuss, to question your paediatrician about the well-being of your child? Especially in this day and age when there are many hidden “factors” that influence various entities, including our government. We don’t simply shrug off rising gas costs and politely say,

Well, if they say it’s so high, there has to be a *legitimate* reason.

In an article titled, MMR controversy has left parents emotionally scarred, study finds, the author discusses the impact that research — which showed a connection between the MMR and complications — has had on parents of autistic children. (Note: since being published many of these findings have been unsubstantiated.) The article points out that many parents:

… felt anger towards health visitors and GPs, who they felt did not appreciate their anxiety when making the decision on whether to allow subsequent children to be given the MMR vaccine… (Kmietowicz, 2007, p. 715)

The article goes on to say that some of the parents felt as though their doctors were being “inflexible” and “dismissive” regarding their concerns regarding the vaccination.

Come on people. The days of patients blindly following doctor’s directions are over. After all, how many times do we hear that we are ultimately in charge of our own health?

If someone wants to convert me from my “reformist” viewpoints, acknowledging my questions and concerns as valid is the first step. After all, I do realize that propaganda does exist… but at least I acknowledge that it’s present on both sides of the debate.


McIntyre, P., Leask, J. (2008). Improving uptake of MMR vaccine. BMJ, 336(7647), 729-730. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.39503.508484.80

Kmietowicz, Z. (2007). MMR controversy has left parents emotionally scarred, study finds. BMJ, 334(7596), 715-715. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.39174.371493.DB

J. R. White

J. R. White is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She has over five years of experience in education and pedagogy.
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