Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Will Just Hurt A Bit

Vaccines. Ah, the wonderful debate that 8 letter word can start. I never gave much thought to vaccines until my daughter was born. Let me add a disclaimer here, read this entire blog before making any rash comments. Now to continue...

My side of the family is extremely into natural living: a good, fresh diet that limits highly processed foods; using herbs, minerals, and vitamins to sustain your health, and avoid unnecessary medical intervention. Basically, live in a way that promotes your body's own defenses and avoid the side effects of more advanced medicine. Now I think anyone can agree with doing those things, add a little exercise and we would all be a lot better off. Unfortunately, the women in my family are also big proponents of homeopathic medicine. I was always a bit skeptical (especially since you give the same dose to a newborn as you give to an adult) and after a bit of research into the studies that have been done, my suspicions were confirmed: nothing but an expensive placebo. The placebo effect has worked well for them and they continue to spend their hard earned money in spite of my protests. Since this is the information I grew up hearing, however, I have come to a different conclusion than the average majority regarding modern medicine and the place it should play in our lives.

This is not the blog to discuss whether or not health care should be a for-profit business but the fact that it is has effected my opinions on the subject. Western culture has the horrid mentality of 'popping a pill' for every little ailment and enduring the side effects rather than trying to be balanced in our diet and exercise. I'm sorry, but when advertisements for medications list death as a possible side effect I wonder about the pro/con lists people are creating. Health care and insurance is a hot topic here in America and that is not going to change anytime soon. There is colossal amounts of money to be made, especially when quick fixes are preferred over true health. All these things considered, I think our health care system is more of a lazy care system most of the time.

Back to the topic, the little needles in little arms. When Audrey was born until she was about 6 months old, she received all of her shots according to the CDC schedule. Then I started doing research and freaked myself out. I ended up asking her pediatrician to hold off at her next appointment on some of the more debated vaccines, at least until I could do more research. This is my child we were talking about and I wanted to do what was best for her, fully informed. Due to the afore mentioned reasons, I am not one to just listen to my doctor unquestioningly. They are, after all, fallible humans just like the rest of us. Instead of trying to rationally address my concerns, however, my daughter's pediatrician freaked. She became very emotional and insulted me on several levels. She told me she would do whatever I wanted to do that day but that I needed to find a new pediatrician since I wasn't willing to take her advice. Now, I know it can be an emotional issue on all sides but I needed a calm, rational opinion not someone telling me to accept their authority and shut up. It is easy to lose sight of reason when it comes to your children and her response only served to anger me.

We moved to another city not long after and I found a new pediatrician for my daughter who let me pick and choose but failed to give any truly helpful advice. I spent months sifting through studies, opinions, stories, and more. Looking back, I read too much anecdote and not enough science. It seemed that no matter what I read, it was emotionally charged and I never felt comfortable making any clear cut decisions. Meanwhile, my little girl was receiving most of her vaccinations but not all. She has a urological birth defect and was on several different antibiotics over the first year of her life. She always had some sort of reaction to the antibiotics, no matter which kind, and I was always on edge. My tightrope walk was not improved by the statistics showing children with chronic problems and allergic reactions being more at risk for increased side effects from vaccines. Every time she got a shot she got a fever and was lethargic, well in the realm of normal. However, when she only received one vaccination (as opposed to the normal schedule's 3 or 4 each containing several vaccines in one) she didn't even get a low grade fever.

Finally, I started looking ONLY at independent, well researched trials. Long, long, long story short....
I do not feel comfortable with all the ingredients in vaccines. Not because I think they cause Autism but because of the well documented side effects that can develop. There are risks that go along with giving your child vaccines. But, here is how I look at it now. We are surrounded by all sorts of things that are bad for us. Cell phones are being shown to be harmful on several levels by good science, but we are willing to accept those effects for convenience sake. Just like we are willing to accept an elevated risk of getting into a car wreck for the convenience of a higher speed limit. We like fast food and processed snacks not so much for taste, and definitely not for their nutritional benefits, but for their convenience. There are a lot of activities I participate in that are not good for my health all in the name of convenience. Vaccines are not all in the name of convenience. They actually save lives, protect populations as a whole, and prevent catastrophe. I would rather try to improve my overall health in other areas and take the heightened risk associated with vaccines for the benefits that they DO provide. Give me the less technologically enabled cell, a fresh veggie instead of a fry, etc. and give me the shot. My daughter now receives all of her vaccines at the recommended age, but not all at once. I take the time to go back to the pediatrician over and over so that her immune system can fully handle each vaccine individually. Her system seems to be more delicate than most and prone to reactions. This system is how I, as a parent, feel comfortable and confident that I am doing what is best for her. I plan on doing the same for her brother when he is born. Some will agree with me and some will not, boo hoo. I spent too long listening to junk when I should have been looking at actual studies doing actual science.

I will admit that I am still weary of the fact that they keep putting more vaccines into one shot which I think is unnecessary. I am also on edge when it comes to seasonal shots, like those for the flu. I understand the need for the shot to be updated quickly and be put on the market as soon as possible. It concerns me only because there is such a rush and so little time for making sure everything is truly in order. There seems to be a problem in some way with one batch or another every year. I also take issue with the a certain vaccine that has come out to prevent cancer. Worthy cause, no doubt. My issue comes when it is a cancer you only receive through an STD gone wrong and they are recommending it for girls as young as 9 years old. I understand the whole idea of it being more effective when given earlier and that we live in an age where more and more teens are sexually active at a younger age but COME ON! Why not try a little parenting? Talk to your kids about being sexually responsible and then decide whether or not they are at risk. Don't just stick them with something that has already been shown to have very serious side effects, i.e. paralyzation. If you aren't going to practice safe sex and check out who you are sleeping with it is probably a great idea to get the vaccine. Admittedly, most teens are not going to tell their parents "I'm going to have unsafe sex with multiple partners that I know nothing about so please give me the vaccine." It is complicated but it goes against my sensibilities nonetheless.

In the end, vaccines present a complex issue as they are preventative medicine that carries risks. In the end, I think that vaccines are a risk well worth taking and the science backs up that opinion.