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Vaccinating Your Child: Look for Evidence, not Middle Ground

Sometimes anti-vaccine fallacies make their way to people who are sincerely trying to figure out how best to protect their children. In fact, most parents who refuse all or some vaccines are simply good-intentioned people who pick up misinformation that is blasted out by the very loud voices of the anti-vaccine movement.

That may be what a friend stumbled across when she found the blog of Christian writer Emily McClements and her post entitled, “Vaccinating my Child: 15 Reasons I’m Looking for Middle Ground.”

As the title betrays, it is a missive based on the fallacy that there are two different sides to vaccines and that the science is up for debate. So right away, let’s dispense with that by acknowledging that when 99.9% of doctors, nurses, researchers, and immunization-related scientists in every corner of the globe in private, governmental, and non-profit industries stand behind the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, there are no sides. There is evidence, and there is the denial of said evidence.

But let’s go through her 15 reasons, nonetheless, and respond to them.

1. I want to have an adult conversation with my doctor.

Every parent deserves to have their doctors and nurses answer their legitimate questions thoroughly and with respect. I also have heard from doctors whose patients have treated them with contempt and have assumed that the doctors are idiots and that they are not knowledgeable about vaccines.

So adult conversations really travel both ways. However, what McClements means by an adult conversation would require someone who lets her opt out of some vaccines:

I want my doctor to be truly educated about vaccines enough to be able to handle my questions without using scare tactics. I want my doctor to provide me with guidance about which vaccines are most important and which are okay to be delayed or skipped altogether.

The evidence shows that delaying and skipping vaccines is a terrible idea because it leaves children at risk of disease for at least some amount of time and at the precise time that they may be more vulnerable to that disease. Dr. Paul Offit compares a parents request to delay vaccines to saying: “I don’t want to use a car seat for my under 4-year-old child. I want to hold my child in the car; could you just tell me the best way to hold them?”

2. I want to talk honestly about the risks of vaccines as well as the risks of the diseases they are made to prevent.

This is a great point. Unfortunately, many vaccine hesitant parents have no experience with diseases and fear the prevention more than the illness. But good risk assessment is crucial, and the resources to make this assessment honestly are everywhere.

For example, how likely is a child to suffer a severe reaction to a vaccine?

Far less likely than being struck by lightning.
Far less likely than being struck by lightning.

As for the risks of diseases? If your child were to catch a disease because everyone in your community wanted to have an “adult conversation” with their providers that resulted in skipping vaccines, the chance of your child being permanently disabled or killed by a disease is far, far, far greater than having a serious reaction to a vaccine.

3. I want real research done on vaccinated versus unvaccinated children.

Fortunately, it has been done.

For some reason, she also included other demands in this section. Such as: “I want to be offered an alternative schedule that I feel comfortable with without having to just make it up as I go.” So even though ACIP went to all the work to create a schedule based on the best science available, she wants someone else to forgo those recommendation and create a new schedule for her based on nothing (except their hunches about what she wants)? That seems a little precious to me.

And then: “I want to be provided with information about vaccines beyond what the pharmaceutical companies and the CDC offer.” How about the NHS in the United Kingdom (where healthcare is free to everyone) or the WHO? Vaccines are not just an American phenomena. Every country in the world recommends vaccines based on the studies conducted in private, governmental, and university labs all over the globe.

And then: “I don’t want to get in fights with people when I question the necessity of the current vaccine schedule.”  Well, she’s wrong, so she might have trouble avoiding those fights. Unfortunately, when asked, she claims she is told that’s just the way it is. Or that’s what her hyperlink to an anti-vaccine website told her was the answer given people. But the real answer is that vaccines are given when children are most likely to respond to them and most vulnerable to the diseases they prevent.

4. I don’t want to feel pressured, bullied, guilted, or harassed into giving a vaccine to my child. Ever.

Truth be told, neither do I. But when your doctor answers your questions and you continue to believe erroneous information and refuse the standard of care, perhaps you deserve to feel guilty.

5. It seems to me like there is a huge piece of the vaccination puzzle that is missing – the middle ground. 

There really isn’t a middle ground. Close to 95% of parents fully vaccinate their children based on the advice of the 99.9% of experts working in the field. Those who lie outside of giving their children the recommended vaccines are not searching for a middle ground. They are frightened by anti-vaccine misinformation. And McClements is definitely one of those people, as she describes this so-called middle ground as:

The place where it’s okay for me to ask questions, and I can choose which vaccines to give to my child, and at a pace I feel comfortable with. A place where I don’t have to feel like a terrible parent because I do vaccinate, or be told I’m a terrible person and parent because my child is only partially vaccinated.

Is McClements a terrible person? I don’t know. Probably not. But if she’s not giving her children all their vaccines, she is choosing to leave them at risk for diseases. She has no idea how sick they would get if they contracted these diseases and no idea to whom they would spread these diseases. That knowledge alone probably makes her feel terrible, and maybe it should. But like most vaccine-hesitant parents, she is probably a pretty good mom who is trying to make good choices, even though she is basing them on bad information.

6. As parents, we have the right to make informed and knowledgeable decisions about our children’s health care.

As parents, we have the duty to make decisions for our children to safeguard their health, and our decisions should be based on the best information available–not conspiracy theorist anti-vaccine websites. Too many parents refuse immunization without being properly informed about the risks to their children and their community. To do so is also a dereliction of duty.

7. We need to know that it’s okay to question. We need to know that we don’t have to choose a side.

It is always okay to have questions. It is a parent’s right to have her questions thoroughly answered by the closest available expert: the family doctor. But creating sides often divides a parent from the provider and makes it impossible for her to get the best information from this new-found enemy. This dichotomy, this us-versus-them, is the primary tactic of the anti-vaccine movement. They sow distrust of government and doctors. The sides are not being made by the CDC or doctors because those who rely on science know there are no sides. There is only what the science shows us.

8. We need to know that there are other parents out there who feel similar to us, and are asking the same questions and seeking the same answers that we are. Can we join together in looking for these answers? 

Sure. All sorts of people knowledgeable about science love talking to parents. Sit down. Talk to them. It’s not a war, but a conversation.

9. I want a solid middle ground. I don’t know, is that too much to ask?

Yes, it is. Creating a middle ground makes parents feel comfortable while endangering the lives of children and communities. It’s absolutely too much to ask. What’s not too much to ask is that parents sit down with their doctors and actually listen to the rationale behind the immunization schedule and learn about the diseases vaccines prevent. If you are looking at someone between the conspiracy theorists and the doctors, who would that be? Who stands in the middle of expertise and the utter lack thereof?

There is no middle ground, not because pro-vaxxers are angry at you and want you to feel bad about your parenting. There is no middle ground because science doesn’t function that way. You can’t find middle ground between Flat Earthers and scientists who know the Earth is round. The evidence clearly shows that we live on a round planet, just as the science shows that vaccines are safe and effective. The experts do not stake a claim on a side in order to debate. They simply follow the sides.

Yes, I know that I only have nine reasons listed above, even though her post claims 15. Since she did not number her reasons, I have no idea how she came up with 15. 

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2 thoughts on “Vaccinating Your Child: Look for Evidence, not Middle Ground

  1. When I first read “I want to talk about the reality that vaccines are marketed to consumers in the same way that toys, or food, or beauty products are” from the original article, I laughed because that is a result of American culture, not vaccines.

    Oh, and is there a typo here?

    “Flat Earthers and scientists who know the Earth is round. The evidence clearly shows that we live on a *flat* planet, just as the science shows that vaccines are safe and effective”

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