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A word or two about vaccinations

A few weeks ago I taped some footage for a Momversation about vaccinations, and yesterday it went live:

Here I willingly admit to not understanding parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, an opinion that is now as controversial as refusing vaccinations used to be, and I will admit that this is a bit of a misleading and unfair statement, something I will further explain in a minute.

Thing is, I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, my opinion about the choice to vaccinate your child used to look much like my opinion about most other parenting decisions (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, homeschooling, etc) in that I think you have to figure out what works best for you and your children and ignore all the people who are screaming at you that you’re doing it wrong.

But let me back up a second… when Leta was born five years ago I had very few friends who were mothers and wasn’t participating in any sort of parenting communities online. All of the mothers I did know had vaccinated their children with no lasting side-effects, and my pediatrician, a man who had vaccinated all eight of his children, talked me through what it all meant and assured me it was in Leta’s best interest to have her vaccinated. I had heard stories about certain parents refusing vaccinations, but at the time their concerns were not about autism or side-effects but about fears of a government conspiracy, something I did not take seriously.

Things have dramatically changed in the last five years, and there is now so much more information available to parents about vaccinations, information and warnings and horror stories. And in these years I have listened to many women talk convincingly about how their children developed symptoms of autism in close proximity to the time they were administered certain vaccinations. And then there were the women whose children suffered terrible fevers and rashes and sometimes seizures. This naturally raised some questions for me, and for a time I could totally see why someone would choose not to vaccinate her chid.

I can still identify with these concerns.

However, the issue totally changed for me when news broke last year of a measles outbreak in Southern California that occurred because a seven-year-old boy who had not been vaccinated brought the disease back to the states from Switzerland:

The boy’s measles immunoglobulin M (IgM) positive laboratory test result was reported to the county health department on February 1, 2008. During January 31–February 19, a total of 11 additional measles cases in unvaccinated infants and children aged 10 months–9 years were identified. These 11 cases included both of the index patient’s siblings, five children in his school, and four additional children who had been in the pediatrician’s office on January 25 at the same time as the index patient. Among these latter four patients, three were infants aged <12 months. One of the three infants was hospitalized for 2 days for dehydration; another infant traveled by airplane to Hawaii on February 9 while infectious... ... Overall, approximately 70 children exposed to children with measles in the school, a day care center, the pediatrician's office, and other community settings were placed under voluntary home quarantine because their parents either declined measles vaccination or they were too young to be vaccinated.

And I put myself in the position of the mother of that ten-month-old baby who caught the disease because they happened to be at the doctor’s office at the same time as the infected boy. A ten-month-old baby whose immune system is such that there is a possibility of death. And I realized, I do not think that I would ever be able to forgive the parents of that infected boy. That is my raw, honest emotion toward that scenario.

That our children do not have to fear death from diseases like measles or polio or whooping cough is a miracle made possible by modern technology and science. And I guess the crux of this really complex problem for me is that as the number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children increases so does the likelihood that these diseases will become a problem again. If you’ve decided that the risks are too great to vaccinate your child then you are counting on the rest of us who are willing to take those risks to decrease the chances that your child will be exposed to these diseases. You are counting on us. Maybe what I don’t understand (in reference to my statement in the video) is the act of and willingness to give up that control. The choice to refuse vaccinations just seems to me to be a first world luxury.

In some of the footage that got cut from the final video I talk about how the standard vaccination schedule can seem very aggressive, and I totally understand and support families who want to work with their doctors to modify that schedule (you can read one mother’s level-headed and articulate experience with that here). And I know of and support mothers who have had to change pediatricians who were unwilling to take their concerns about the schedule seriously. I understand that some children are allergic to certain ingredients in some vaccinations and this prevents them from receiving them. Which is why I think it’s crucial to maintain what I’ve heard referred to as herd immunity so that those who really have no choice, who cannot receive vaccinations, are protected by those of us who can.

Perhaps by phrasing my opinion as, “I don’t understand parents who don’t vaccinate their children,” I am misrepresenting my stance, and I will blame that on the fact that I had to film footage in the five minutes I could wedge into a packed SXSW schedule on a Monday afternoon a few weeks ago. Because what I’m really feeling is an unease, one that is directly proportional to the unease that causes certain parents to refuse vaccinations, an unease at what might logically happen if more and more parents refuse vaccinations, even if that refusal is well researched.

I know many of you disagree with me and that I risk some of you feeling alienated by even bringing up this topic. And I’d love to hear from you because I don’t think that any of the unease on either side can be addressed or alleviated until we start communicating with each other in a tone that suggests we really want the same thing: health and safety for all of our children.

  • You’ve put your thoughts down in a very articulate manner. Thanks for posting on this…Bad Astronomy ( has the cold hard scientific facts on the matter, and while it might not make many WELL INTENTIONED AND LOVING parents who are anti-vaccination happy or comfortable, it stands to be said that our children need protected from serious diseases. xoxo

  • mommy

    quoting Kim:
    My son’s autism is not a tragedy–he a fabulous, funny person who has taught me more about life, love and humanity than anyone or anything else in my life. Ever. It makes me sad to think that people are so scared of autism that they will put their child’s life at risk in an attempt to avoid it.


  • Anonymous

    kim said “My son’s autism is not a tragedy–he a fabulous, funny person who has taught me more about life, love and humanity than anyone or anything else in my life. Ever. It makes me sad to think that people are so scared of autism that they will put their child’s life at risk in an attempt to avoid it.”

    Thank you so much for for saying this. It drives me crazy when people take a righteously indignant defense of their decision not to vaccinate, standing on “but my child could become AUTISTIC!!!” as though that’s somehow the worst thing that could happen to their child. No, it isn’t, and it’s insulting to Autistic people and their families to insinuate that it is.

    Kudos, kim.

  • And P.S. It’s been proven over and over again that vaccines don’t cause autism. And besides, I’d rather have an autistic child then no child at all… Autistic kids are a GIFT.

  • Liss

    I vaccinate simply because of those kids out there who medically cannot be vaccinated. I am not worried about what vaccinations will do to my kids as I have been vaccinated on the normal schedule as most children are and was “heavily” vaccinated for a teaching stint in China. No side effects either way for me, and so far, no side effects for my children either.
    I applaud all parents who approach medical treatments of any kind with an open mind and also want to make sure it is what they are okay with. As a wise nurse once told me, “Any medical intervention also means there might be a complication”(which would probably be the reason that almost any drug or procedure comes with a lot of disclaimers and paperwork).
    I too am worried about all those other people who are counting on people like me to make sure the diseases do not rear their ugly heads and that is probably the kicker for me as to why I will continue to vaccinate.

  • It should be noted, by the way, that the main study linking autism and vaccinations involved a great deal of falsified evidence (, creating panic where there was no justification.

    I can understand why a parent says, “My child was fine then X happened and then he wasn’t.” Post hoc ergo hoc. The terrified parent of a child with a serious medical condition is naturally inclined to lay blame. The doctors who faked that evidence, though, will burn in hell.


  • Nancy

    Very well said.

    My children (daughters) have had all recommended vaccines to date. They are 13 and 17. So yes… that means Gardisil too. My youngest asked for it. I told she had it already. “Cool!”

    That also means they get their annual flu shot. We have not had flu in our household for 15 years…which was when we first were required to get them to protect our newly diagnosed with a congenital heat defect child.

    It makes me very angry to hear parents justify their refusal to vaccinate with anecdotes about “getting sick anyway” and other shakey (or non-existent) science.

    Their Little Prince or Princess is too delicate or valuable or somehow extra special so Prince/Princess shall not be vaccinated… but go ahead and vaccinate YOUR kid so Prince/Princess won’t get sick. Those attitudes bring me right to the brink of wishing for an epidemic.

    Because a real live genuine epidemic of measles will get everyone’s attention and make the value of vaccines evident.

    You put the little boy next to Prince/Princess in school who is undergoing chemo at risk. How dare you!

    You put the elderly lady who thinks Prince/Princess is just the cutest thing at risk. Who gave you the right?

    You put the woman who’s philandering husband gave her HIV at risk. Proud of yourself?

    Notice to those parents: It isn’t all about you OR Prince/Princess. The sooner both of you learn that, the better off we all will be.

  • Did you happen to hear/see the episode of This American Life about that outbreak? I thought the most interesting quote from that story was something to the effect of… at the end of the day, none of the parents on either side of the debate changed their stance as a result of the outbreak.

    We have Dr. Sears Vaccine book, and vaccinate on a modified schedule. I have yet to see a study on vaccines proving them safe that wasn’t sponsored or paid for by vaccine manufacturers or someone who is profiting from vaccines. I’m not convinced that vaccines are 100% safe, and I’m not convinced that giving a baby 5 at once is safe. I trust the FDA like I trust AIG. It’s all a business.

    I do think people need to chill out on both sides. I think there are very good reasons to vaccinate, and equally good reasons not to vaccinate. Read the information sheet that your doctor hands you when you get a vaccine. It lists the odds of your child getting a side effect, ranging from fever, to seizure, to more serious effects. Unfortunately I don’t have the sheets anymore, but when I read them I noticed that for some vaccines, there are 1-25 cases a year in the U.S. of a child getting that disease, but your child’s risk of having seizures is 1 in 10,000. Sorry, but I’m not risking my child’s health and brain when the odds of him actually getting the disease are practically nothing.

    My five year old is now fully vaccinated. I waited until he was older, and spaced the vaccines out. I am not completely anti-vaccine, because I will agree that we don’t want the diseases to come back. But I don’t think blind acceptance of what the government or the FDA tells you is safe makes you smart. As an interesting side note… (Again from This American Life) the majority of people who choose not to vaccinate are people with more education…

  • I’m taking a history class this quarter, and something we’re discussing is childhood vaccinations. I feel so strongly about this that I’m actually using the topic for another class.

    The CDC recently published a report that once and for all debunks the Autism-linked-to-MMR myth. People want something to blame, and I fully understand that, but I want to slap every person that says that they are not vaccinating because it is ‘God’s will’ or because they think the disease has been eradicated. The only disease that has been completely eradicated (thanks to vaccinations and government regulation!) is smallpox. I said this in class yesterday, and even outside of the heat of the moment, I still feel this way: not vaccinating your child is extremely selfish. When someone doesn’t do that, they are putting not only those who didn’t vaccinate their children, but anyone who gets a vaccination and it doesn’t take, at risk for whatever disease their child picks up and spreads.

    Herd immunity requires 90% of population be vaccinated, which we are far from, and behavior like this doesn’t help. I can understand wanting to protect your child, but part of the increase in the diagnosis of autism is a better understanding of what autism is. If a parent really wants to protect their child, they should allow their kids to play in the dirt and get messy and all that stuff. Its good for them.

  • Heather thank you so much for writing so eloquently about my exact same feelings towards the immunization debate.

  • Susan

    Totally agree with your position. Especially if you have to (like I did) put your child in day care.

    However, I am not doing the Gardicil shots on my 11 year old daughter. That is not an infectious disease at this point. I need more time to go by.

  • My main problem with immunizations is the chickenpox one. It’s still pretty new and they really don’t know how long it will last. And when young children get the pox, like we all did, it’s really not that big of a deal and it’s over and done with. 10-4. But when you get older, CP becomes harder to deal with, and can even much an older male sterile.
    Whoa, mama.
    Wouldn’t it be better to see if the kid gets it as a youngster then immunize later if they don’t?

  • Forgot to post the link to the This American Life story, titled “Ruining it for the Rest of Us.” I think it’s worth a listen. As I mentioned in my last comment, they talk about the San Diego outbreak and talk to all sides involved.

  • Vaccination is a public health issue. Period. There’s a reason that most school districts require vaccination, and it’s for the reason you describe. Herd immunity. My daughter (18 months) is small for her age, and so we’ve delayed some of the big vaccinations (MMR) until she’s more the size of a normal toddler, but you betcherbippy she’ll be vaccinated by the time she enters preschool or daycare (right now she’s at home with her grandmother). Sometimes the vaccines don’t work, and that’s why more people should get vaccinated — so the ones who can’t aren’t exposed.

    I’d also point out that there is no science that points to the connection between autism and vaccines, in fact, multiple trials have found no connection. And the initial study that appeared in the Lancet which introduced the idea that the MMR vaccine is linked to the development of autism has been recently thoroughly discredited (google Andrew Wakefield) and the study’s main author was developing his own MMR vaccine at the time.

  • m

    Thank you for your level-headed input, Heather. I don’t understand parents who decline vaccinations either.

    In response to one of the previous comments, the statement that polio is completely eradicated is false. If you get a chance, glance through the book, “Better” by Atul Gawarde. [It’s an easy read, more “medically-related,” not technical.]

    He travels with a member of the World Health Organization and he details the extensive work that the WHO people must do when they hear of a polio breakout. These happen in developing countries and they scour densely populated villages/ slums and vaccinate every last kid in the area to keep the rest of the world safe.

    There are risks, but the current overpopulation of the world necessitates vaccinations. One child traveling from India with polio could wreak havoc on all of the work that has been done so far. I wish parents here would appreciate being able to afford vaccinations.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that people choosing not to vaccinate should not be relying on immunized people to guard them from these diseases. I was vaccinated with the MMR immunization when I was younger, but did not develop the rubella immunity and did not find this out until last year, when I was pregnant with my daughter. I had to wait until after she was born to get vaccinated again. I also think that people claiming vaccinations are linked to autism spectrum disorders have some validity but that the amount of children that have a reaction to a vaccine cannot warrant risking the fact that most of these diseases don`t even have to exist anymore.

  • Another parent of a fully-vaccinated autistic child chiming in to say that vaccines didn’t cause my son’s autism. The Wakefield “study” which started all of the rumors has been so thoroughly discredited that I’m surprised people still call him Doctor. Huge HUGE studies have been done showing no causation of autism from vaccines like the MMR.
    I’m due in a few weeks with another son. He’ll be fully-vaccinated too. He already has our genes (which is what we believe caused our elder son to have autism), so it’s already set either way.
    People who talk about the “horror of autism” have never met my son, or his autistic classmates. Yes, there are DEFINITELY issues, but they are still wonderful, beautiful children, and there is no horror there.

  • Carrie

    We use a modified schedule (DD1 never got more than 3 shots at a time and was finished at age 4. DD2 never gets more than 2 shots at a time and will be finished at age 4.). I’m much more comfortable with the spacing of this schedule and I wish more parents realized that it is an option. Our ped actually does advise against the varicella vaccine due to a huge increase in the number of pediatric shingles cases that they’re seeing. If they make it to childbearing age without ever catching chicken pox, we’ll vaccinate at that time to be safe. That’s their recommendation and it sounds good to me!

  • Ritamarie

    Heather: You are so on target. My parents are a little bit older than most of my contemporaries and remember when some of these diseases were the worst nightmare imaginable. To not vaccinate in their eyes would be not only irresponsible but downright incomprehensible.

    The LA Times ran a story last week about the uptick in parents requesting waivers for vaccinations when they enroll their kids in school. One mom who did not vaccinate her kids was quoted as saying something to the effect that she would rather sit in a hospital with her sick kid than deal with autism forever. I found this to be incredibly arrogant and cavalier. Easy for her to say given that she has health insurance and beyond that probably can afford the best care around.

  • Great post! I too vaccinated my child. This is what I chose for my child. I have close friends who chose not to vaccinate. We’ve discussed our differences, but we’ve always agreed to disagree.
    BTW, I drove all the way down to Denver (Highlands Ranch ironically has a large concentration mormon population) from Boulder to see u! It was so worth the two hour RT, 10 fold! HILARIOUS! Finally, a huge congrats on the success of your book. You keep keepin-on witcha bad self!

  • I totally agree – we all just want to protect our children; mine, yours, everyone’s. Vaccinate!

  • Anonymous

    “I have two children, 18 and 16. Neither of them have been vaccinated. It was a personal choice after much research. My daughter had a few shots before we moved to India when she was an infant, as a precaution.”

    Those shots for India WERE vaccinations and they were a precaution against possible diseases. I have to wonder (and I say this completely without sarcasm but rather with bewilderment) why one would vaccinate a child for life in another country but not for life in your own.

    I am an American adult currently living in China and it has never occurred to me to ask whether I was immunized as a child. That’s definitely a conversation I need to have with my parents, just to be certain. I also need to discuss possible boosters with my doctor.

    I appreciate the need for every parent to make the decision that they feel is best, but I truly hope parents who decide not to vaccinate keep these conversations going as their children grow into adults. It is a global community and so many people travel and work abroad. My parents are still around to discuss this with but in a couple of decades today’s children will be adults making decisions about their own health and it will be so important for them to know about their own immunity. If their parents aren’t willing or able to answer questions, they won’t be able to make well informed decisions about their own health care.

  • CDC

    There are very smart and very hard working people that devote their lives to making sure we are healthy. I work with them every day at the CDC and they all vaccinate their children. Remember these are the folks who get to see the vaccines under a microscope every day. They have families just like you and I do. They are not part of some cover up. Please vaccinate your children.

  • Miriam

    I’m sorry I don’t have time to read the other comments first, but just wanted to chime in that the measles thing can also threaten pregnant women and their fetuses. My cousin’s family does not vaccinate or have health insurance because they think it’s all a conspiracy and doctors are in the pockets of so-&-so. I understand they are on the extreme end of this discussion, but it seems to me that is where much of the logic originates and leads back to. When this cousin was pregnant with her third child her first two children looked like they might have measles. And her midwife said, “Hey, bring them to our office and we’ll check them out.”

    This convinced me that they are not only over the deep end, they are seeking out fringe medical “professionals” who will support their dangerous preconceptions. (I love my own midwives, nothing against them as a profession.) Not only were the midwives untrained in pediatrics, but if the kids indeed HAD the measles then anyone in contact at their offices in the strip mall that day would be at risk. Why would they take that kind of chance? Did they even consider it a risk?

    I have trouble with the fact that the arguments against vaccinating have changed so dramatically in the last few years. I see that several women in the momversation listed that as something that made them respect the anti-vaccination arguments more, but to me it removes the last shreds of their credibility.

  • Dana

    Thank you for this. I am delurking to comment for the first time. I can see why so many families are searching for an explanation in the huge rise in autism that cannot be accounted for, by say, simply widening of the definition of autism.

    The original study from the Lancent in 1998 on the link between autism and vaccinations has been discredited. 10 of the 13 authors have formally retracted their paper. This is really where the whole idea got started, and I think its gained traction because another explanation (surely it will be many many explanations) hasn’t been offered yet, especially one that resonates like the vaccination one.

    I don’t know what the right approach is to start communicating some of the ideas that Heather and many of the commenters have offered on a wider scale (although Dooce of course is the big time!!) – but we need to! This post is a great example of a heartfelt and reasonable approach. Thank you!

  • kate

    as a public health professional who has investigated many cases of vaccine preventable diseases and as a mother thank you for addressing this issue.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t want to start a war here, but I really don’t understand Susan (@111) when she says she won’t give her daughter the Gardasil vaccine because it’s not an infectious disease. Do you understand that HPV is RAMPANT, and that it is directly linked to cervical cancer? Cervical cancer is a wretched, silent killer. The vaccine prevents two types of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancer. I…just don’t understand how you can make this choice for your daughter.

  • cmb

    That there is any issue about this is something I consider deeply tragic. The measles outbreak in southern California tells me that science education in America is failing (okay, and that the peer review process at the Lancet might be substandard).

    How is it that there are enough educated people (and they were educated people, if you read about the context of this outbreak) that believe anecdotal correlational data about a link between autism and MMR vaccines in this country to allow for outbreaks? How do we let people graduate from high school without knowing what constitutes reliable evidence of causal relationships?

    I will admit, I believe enough in individual rights to think that no one should be forced to do anything to their kids. HOWEVER I think if you use the right not to vaccinate your children, you give up the right to participate in group aspects of society by refusing to participate in the aspects that keep others in society safe.

    There shouldn’t be such a thing as vaccine exemptions for public schools. Doctors should enforce this standard on their patients, or warn their patients of the risks they face from other unvaccinated patients. Freedom of philosophy is a wonderful right, until your freedom puts my child at risk for dangerous disease. Then it’s not your right any more than it’s my right to refuse to wash my hands if I work in a restaurant. If you don’t vaccinate, you should be criminally and financially liable for the damages caused by any outbreak your kid starts. Willful ignorance is only okay when it ISN’T KILLING PEOPLE.

  • Kat

    I had a really bad reaction to my first MMR shot; I spiked a fever so high I ended up in the hospital being given ice baths. Even with my reaction, my parents continued with the recommended immunization schedule for myself and my younger brother. Both of us are old enough that the chicken pox vaccine wasn’t yet developed when we were children, so when it went through our school we both caught it. We were lucky that chicken pox didn’t land us in the hospital, but we had friends and family who did end up in the ER, and even some who didn’t ended up with ongoing health issues and severe scarring.

    Having gone through both a life-threatening reaction to a vaccine and also suffered through a now-preventable epidemic, when the time came I chose to vaccinate my daughter. Why? Because I was playing the odds. To me, the odds looked much greater that my child would lead a much healthier life if she were to be vaccinated.

    Also, by choosing to vaccinate I became the one who decided what would happen to my daughter in a controlled, supervised environment. Yes, there can be side-effects to vaccinations, but you know when your child will be vaccinated and you can be on the alert. If you don’t vaccinate you can’t be sure if/when your child will contract an illness — some have incubation times and you can leave for a camping trip to the middle of nowhere (or head off to another country where the medical coverage isn’t as strong) before realizing that your child is sick.

    True, it’s a gamble no matter what you choose, but I am more inclined to trust my doctor and my personal close supervision rather than the hope that someone won’t send their un-vaccinated child to school with a communicable disease. People aren’t supposed to send their children to school with head lice, either, but that doesn’t stop periodic rampages of the little buggers through every school I’ve ever heard of.

  • Courtney in FL

    I could not agree with you more! I understand that there could be a risk in the vaccines, however, I think the risk is much greater with no vaccine. I know a mother who will not have her children vaccinated and has harsh as it sounds I will not allow my child to play with her children. I cannot justify the risk and would never forgive myself if the worst actually came true.

  • Colleen

    I come from one of those paranoid families, I suppose. I have five siblings and none of us were vaccinated. Unlike other commentors, none of us has ever come down with anything worse than chickenpox. And there has been evidence of both an aunt and a cousin having serious and permanent damage as a result of vaccination, so it was an issue I had to think long and hard about when I had my little boy.

    The assertion that NO link has been found between autism and vaccines is completely untrue. Even as articles such as this one: try to negate any such link, they admit that there have been government settlements to families with vaccine-related health issues. The EXISTENCE of the “federal fund that compensates people injured by vaccines” should be an indication of some truth in the possibility of damage.

    That said, I chose to vaccinate my child. I did extended research and felt like it was the most socially responsible thing to do, despite the risks. Risks that I do feel are real.

  • peg

    most of the comments I’ve heard were people who felt that the MMR vacinnation was causing autuism. Even tho there are studies that indicate some children can withdrawl from autism it isn’t always the case. the hope is that the treatment while availbale would actually help some families

  • Heather

    I haven’t had my MMR because I am allergic, and I can’t have the flu vaccine because I am also allergic.

    I completely agree with you. I hate knowing that I am at risk for this stuff.. and that some people choose not to be vaccinated, or vaccinate their kids. There was a mumps outbreak in my province recently and it would have really stunk if I had caught something like that. When I get, sick I always have serious trouble breathing due to my asthma.

    Furthermore, in the States I kept being threatened by my then unversity due to not having had the vaccines. I was told I would be have to be quarantined because I am a risk to others, and my grades were withheld for a period.

    If I ever get pregnant, I have to be labelled a high risk pregnancy.

    I have a cousin with autism, and have so much respect for parents who face those daily challenges with their children…but thus far there is no definitive answer that vaccines contribute to such conditions.

    There is definitive proof though, that as vaccinations infectious, potentially deadly disease will rise.

    In an age of SARS and Bird Flu, why run that risk?

  • I have two children, 18 and 16. Neither of them have been vaccinated. It was a personal choice after much research. My daughter had a few shots before we moved to India when she was an infant, as a precaution. We were fortunate that there were never any serious outbreaks of any diseases when they were young. Now that they are older, I feel it was a good choice. They made it through childhood with the standard childhood diseases, which I think is actually a good thing. It is up to them now, if they choose to be vaccinated. This was the right choice for my family, I know others feel differently. I just feel that we are forced into these “decisions” by fear and the heavy hand of the drug companies. I am not convinced that being vaccinated improves the quality of our lives. My children are living proof that a child can grow and mature without having live virus’ pumped into their bodies.

  • Thanks for an eloquent post. Best thing I’ve read about the pro/anti vaccination debate in quite a while.

  • Anonymous


    If you’ve decided that the risks are too great to vaccinate your child then you are counting on the rest of us who are willing to take those risks to decrease the chances that your child will be exposed to these diseases. You are counting on us. Maybe what I don’t understand (in reference to my statement in the video) is the act of and willingness to give up that control. The choice to refuse vaccinations just seems to me to be a first world luxury.

    Probably the most powerful thing you have written in the history of this blog.

  • I did not read through all the comments, so I’m sorry if someone else has already said this. But I just wanted to add one point to your awesome post:

    I took a class on autism in which we discussed vaccinations. The professor mentioned that many of the vaccinations that kids need, have to happen right around the time that autism first starts to be noticed in kids anyway – around 1-3. So it’s an illusory correlation – at the point of my taking the class, there was no evidence to support that the vaccinations CAUSED the autism. As far as the seizures and rashes, I don’t know. But just wanted to point that out. 🙂 Excellent post.

  • Jenny

    I totally agree with you! I too weighed up the pro’s and con’s and after reading about recent out breaks of whooping cough where I live, am so glad I decided to vaccinate. I think perhaps the schedule should be broken up as my 2nd daughter always has a reaction (high temp), but on the whole this small reaction is much better than the actual illness. I understand why people decide not to vaccinate, but in a society like ours where these illnesses have been kept at bay, I think why risk it? Why risk bringing these things back into such huge epidemics!

  • Heather, I agree with you completely and guess what? I am the MOTHER of an AUTISTIC CHILD! My son, now almost 4, was diagnosed with autism at age 2. I have made wonderful mommy friends in the autism community, but I am not able to express what you said without starting trouble. It seems like all the autism moms are on the Jenny McCarthy bandwagon, and will stay there no matter what science continues to tell us.

    I highly recommend the book “Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure” by Dr Paul Offit. It is fascinating, even if you don’t have a kid with autism.

    Congrats on all of your recent achievements! (the baby,the book, the tour, Oprah, etc)

  • As a pediatrician, I have seen first-hand what happens when kids don’t get immunized. They end up in my hospital, sicker than snot. Luckily, this doesn’t happen much anymore and when it does, we all thank our stars for vaccination. I know flu shots are recommended but are not part of the required immunization schedule. I have seen influenza cause more horrible disease this year than I have in years’ past. I’m not sure why it’s just this year (maybe it’s because I’m paying attention for once) but the ACIP (American Council on Immunization Practices, who along with the CDC guide the formulation of immunization schedules) should really consider making it a required shot. For everyone.

    I have a couple of parents who refuse vaccinations for their children and they have good reasons why. At every well child visit, I review what immunizations they need, why they need them, and talk to the parents about their concerns. If they still don’t want to immunize, fine. I document that we talked in the chart and document the refusal.

  • Krista

    I think you did a great job of speaking your mind, but I did find your post a tad inflammatory. I’m a bit offended and surprised by your emotional personification of vaccines as “miracles” (I’m a pharmacist, so needless to say I’m a realist when it comes to medications) and your relating your inability to “forgive” a parent who simply made an autonomous medical decision that had no personal target, let alone a 10-month-old infant. Did you know that vaccines are not 100% efficacious? And you can’t blame a person as being the cause of an infectious disease, anyways. C’mon, seriously?

    You said it best yourself when you noted that every parent needs to figure out what’s best for them. I think that if we keep asking these questions, then one day we will fully understand why some parents opt not to vaccinate.

    My (soapbox) advice is to read about and scrutinize each vaccine suggested by your MD. Individually scrutinize – because yes, I believe that SOME vaccines make sense, while others are downright unjustified and potentially dangerous (depends on the kid!). Easy for me to say, I don’t have children. Good luck!

  • Dot

    All three of my sons have been vaccinated. My middle son is autistic and people come up to me all the time and say, did he get “shots”, first off, yes, and dogs get shots not children. And, damn that Jenny Mc for thinking vaccinations are the cause of autism! BTW…if she can cure her sons autism, send her on over to my house cause I have a job for her!

    Thanks for the post…it made my day!

  • Amanda

    Thank you, Heather. As a mother of a child who deals with extreme allergies, I depend on my neighbors to vaccinate their kids since we don’t have that luxury.

  • Kay

    I decided to skip over the comments before leaving mine – I don’t want to get worked up and defensive (like the one or two I skimmed left me feeling).
    I’m the mother to a 10 year old disabled child. Not mildly disabled, but severely. He was born with a neurological disorder that is untreatable and eventually terminal. One of the main “indicators” of his disorder is severe seizures. We did NOT know he was disabled at birth. We found out after the seizures began, within 24 hours of his first vaccination. Did the vaccinations cause his disorder? No. Did they trigger the seizures that led to his diagnosis? We believe so. Despite our beliefs, we continued with his scheduled vaccinations, only leaving out the “Pertussis” in the DPT because it’s not recommended for children with seizure disorders. Despite numerous reassurances from doctors that administering the MMR and DT vaccines would not be a problem, once again we wound up in the ER with a fever of over 104, and unstoppable seizures. He required 3 days of heavy sedation to break the seizure cycle.
    So – I ride the fence on this one. What’s typical isn’t always what happens. We can’t assume all children will react the same to a vaccine. And as a mother who does NOT vaccinate her child, I have to respect the other parents who make the same choice, whatever their reasons may be. At the same time… as a mother who CANNOT vaccinate her child, I worry about those that choose not to for “philosophical” reasons, because those children pose a risk to my child.
    When there was a local outbreak of pertussis a year or two ago, I kept BOTH my children home, including my 14yo who IS vaccinated as scheduled.
    However… the commenter that believes our children should be kept home and not be out in public – please, think before you speak. My child has just as much of a right to be in school as yours does. There are varying reasons for not vaccinating children. Some you may consider valid, some you may not. But most parents do not make that decision lightly.
    We’ve had doctors tell us that we should vaccinate anyway – the risk of infection is too high. Personally, I think watching my son seize for 48 hours straight, knowing that he can (because it happened both times before) stop breathing, and that he might not make it through this episode… that’s too high of a risk for me.
    But he deserves to be able to interact with others his age, no matter how limited his abilities may be. And I refuse to take that small joy away from him because of the risk it might pose to him, or others.

  • Anonymous

    In respect to what one reader wrote, I think to say that you are going to surround you children with only vaccinated children is like saying you won’t have you family around anyone with aids. How do you know? Do they fill out a resume in order to play on the playground with your kids?

    We decided to vaccinate for several reasons. They can become sick from vaccinations just like they can be sick without them. The same reason I decided to have my boys circumcised. My friends son was circumcised at at 7, it was brutal! There are risks, you do what you think is right and hope it all works out.

  • Anonymous

    VACCINATE! your animals and your babies PLEASE!

  • kim

    i am 2 months pregnant with my first child and not surprisingly i am wading through sea of information at the moment. of course this is one of the topics on the list. although i’ve always felt that when the time came i will vaccinate my children, i could never really articulate why.

    these are the words i was looking for.

    thank you.

  • Laura

    I totally agree. Totally. My kids are vaccinated- for exactly the reasons you outline.

  • Perhaps I have not heard enough about these new arguments against vaccination, but I never considered NOT getting my kids their shots after they’re born. I guess because, in the same way I have not heard these concerns, I have not heard much in the way of problems caused by vaccines. I had them, and I’m fine – so why not?

  • Whitney

    This is a tough topic and you handled it intelligently. I am an registered nurse in a NICU and I fully agree with vaccinating your children. Unfortunatly, my sister and her husband have decided NOT to vaccinate their kids and no amount of discussion would change their minds. Her kids are not allowed to go to the gym daycare because they are not vaccinated. Some pediatritians won’t even take kids that have not been vaccinated. I think more strict laws against those that choose not to vaccinate are warrented.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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