Each time Finn has been admitted to the hospital for a procedure (as with his sedated echo a couple weeks ago, and more recently, a second set of tubes being put in his ears), upon admittance we are asked by a nurse a slew of questions which she checks off on a form. One of the questions is invariably, “Is he up to date on his immunizations?” My answer is always “No,” at which point I get the questioning look from the nurse who follows up with “Which ones are not up to date?” “None of them are. He’s never had any vaccines,” I answer. More quizzical looks from the nurse. “Is this by choice?” she asks. “Yes,” I say.
All of my kids, with the exception of Finn, are vaccinated according to the recommended immunization schedule. I never questioned it early in my mothering career. Just like having baby boys circumcised, vaccinating per the recommended schedule was just what you did, end of story. But as time went on and I had more children and my whole perception of modern mainstream maternity, postpartum, and infant care began to change, I began questioning more and more. By the time I was pregnant for the third time, I was ready to throw in the towel on medical/hospital-based maternity care and opted for midwifery care and a homebirth instead. Lo and behold, we found out we were expecting twins, though, so my dreams of a homebirth were postponed until the next time around. By the time I was pregnant the fourth time, with Lilah, I was going to have a homebirth come Hell or high water, and by then I was really questioning circumcision and vaccines. We opted to go ahead with most of the recommended vaccines for Lilah, though I refused the rotovirus vaccine, feeling very distrustful of newer vaccines that did not appear to have a proven safety record. We’ve also never done flu shots on any of our kids.
When I was pregnant the fifth time, we found out we were having a boy and decided, based on lots of reading, talking to other parents, and talking to our pediatrician, not to have our new baby boy circumcised. I agonized over vaccinations – should we or shouldn’t we? The skyrocketing autism rates were scaring the crap out of me – despite the fact that our pediatrician and a lot of other people kept saying “There is no link between vaccines and autism.”
Ironically, the deciding factor for us was finding out that Finn has Down syndrome. Because he has Down syndrome, he (supposedly) already has a “compromised” immune system. This fact alone seems to spur a lot of parents to definitely go forward with vaccines. It made me even more gun-shy of getting him immunized. In my mind, I couldn’t help but remember that my pediatrician has always wanted to delay vaccines if one of my children were sick when they were due for vaccines, exactly because it wasn’t a good idea to put toxins into the bodies of children whose immune systems were compromised by illness. Seven months after Finn was born, my husband was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer, and throughout his treatment, our kids could not receive live-virus vaccines because Michael’s indirect exposure could prove very dangerous to him while his immune system was compromised by chemo. That said a lot to me, too. Vaccines are not entirely benign; they can be dangerous.
Down syndrome also, as I understand it, puts Finn at a higher risk already of developing autism. I just couldn’t justify taking the risk; if by some chance he sustained a neurological injury because of a vaccine, I don’t know how I would live with that – with something that could be prevented. So we opted not to have any vaccines administered to him. Once the decision was made, I felt completely relieved and at peace with it. I have felt perfectly comfortable with our decision: he’s not in daycare or school, so is not exposed to lots of other children anyway, and his siblings are immunized, so they won’t be bringing home polio or rubella or whatnot.
But all along, people (including our pediatrician) keep saying, “There’s no link between vaccines and autism.” I’ve never understood how such a sweeping statement can be made with such confidence. The fact is, nobody knows what does cause autism – so how can anybody say with absolute certainty what does not cause autism? My, albeit very amateur, guess is that different things cause autism in different children. For some, it probably is vaccines. And the scary thing is, there is no way to know which children will be adversely affected and which will not.
The CDC is now – finally – going to conduct a study of a possible link between vaccines and autism: CDC to Study Vaccines and Autism. I think this is wonderful news. There is an autism epidemic, and we need some answers.
In all honesty, I still find myself torn to some degree about vaccinations. Without a doubt, vaccines have saved millions upon millions of lives from diseases that, in the past, almost always ended in death. Even so, I feel extremely fortunate – as in nothing but a lucky roll of the dice – that none of my kids who have received vaccines have been injured by them. I have very, very mixed feelings about the Gardasil vaccine that my daughters will be old enough to receive in just a few short years (and I will say that I, personally, am not unfamiliar with HPV and precancerous cell growth caused by it). Check this out from the Gardasil website:
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
Anyone who is allergic to the ingredients of GARDASIL, including those severely allergic to yeast, should not receive the vaccine. GARDASIL is not for women who are pregnant.
The side effects include pain, swelling, itching, bruising, and redness at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and fainting. Fainting can happen after getting GARDASIL. Sometimes people who faint can fall and hurt themselves. For this reason, your health care professional may ask you to sit or lie down for 15 minutes after you get GARDASIL. Some people who faint might shake or become stiff. This may require evaluation or treatment by your health care professional.
“Shake or become stiff”? Hello?!? That sounds very much like seizures to me.
As an aside, I took our little malti-poo in for her shots a couple months ago. She was due for everything, so they gave her all of her vaccines in one visit. For the next 48 hours, she was, well, as sick as a dog – lethargic, vomiting over and over . . . ugh, not pretty. And that’s a dog. It really had me thinking about things.
I am also torn about whether or not to begin at least some vaccines for Finn as he gets older and we enroll him in school, where he will be regularly exposed to other children. Do I assume/hope his immune system is better able to handle vaccines at age three than it was when he was an infant? It still feels like a huge leap of faith to me, faith that I’m not sure I have.
So, in the end, everyone has to make the decision for their own family. And I’m not saying that nobody should vaccinate, ever. I’m just saying that there is clearly a lot more to be explored and studied here, and we parents need to be aware and cautious.