Wow. I just read one of the best pieces I’ve ever come across on the great vaccine debate, Western vs. Holistic medicine, Big Pharma and our addict culture. And get this — it wasn’t some nine-page dissertation in the Times — all of those topics were covered and addressed thoroughly and logically in a two-page blog post on Mommyish.
The post I’m referring to was written in response to another Mommyish piece titled, Your Unvaccinated Kid is Not Welcome to Play With Mine. Angela Arsenault says in this, the original essay, that parents of unvaccinated children are “responsible for the unnecessary illness of babies who were too young to yet be vaccinated.” She then adds, “I definitely blame you for your own child’s sickness and I just have to remind you that it was preventable.”
Okay, there’s some truth to those statements, sure. We know about “herd immunity” and how unvaccinated children — and adults, for that matter — put infants at risk for disease. But let me say that Arsenault jumped to this conclusion (50 days ago, it should be noted) because her daughter caught a cold at pre-school and it got passed to Arsenault’s 16-month-old son. The “sound of his phlegmy coughs” led Arsenault to “mind-Google” the symptoms of whooping cough. (Are you following this so far?) Then Arsenault realized her son was vaccinated against whooping cough, so he was fine. (Arsenault doesn’t suggest, by the way, that her daughter was infected by an unimmunized child, so I have no idea why she drew the connection between a common cold and vaccinations, but, that’s neither here nor there.)
Because here’s the real kicker: Arsenault is chastising parents for not vaccinating their children against viruses like pertussis when she herself used Dr. Sears’ modified vaccination schedule for her children — and — she admits that she doesn’t like the flu vaccine and has never had her children immunized against influenza.
Umm… projecting much, lady?
So here’s where Bolaji Williams’ response post, Parents, Get Over Your Fear Of Unvaccinated Children, comes in. Don’t let the post’s title mislead you: Williams doesn’t argue against vaccination, instead she encourages it, but says unvaccinated children are only a threat to themselves. (Which is only sort of true.)
Regarding the flu vaccine specifically, Williams writes:
Flu viruses change as a result of genetic mutations. Which means that the flu we have this year may have changed in a way that is not the same as the previous year. For example, the vaccine made against the flu virus of 2010 may not be effective against the flu of 2011. New virus types emerge all the time, which is why a vaccination is required each new year. Flu shots are preventative; for that reason alone, they be should be considered.
Williams consulted her father, Bolanle Williams, PhD, “a microbiologist-virologist, a research scientist with patents, and a former university professor,” on the topic of unvaccinated children playing with vaccinated ones, and he told her:
Nothing will happen if unvaccinated children play with a vaccinated and immuned child. It’s discrimination. It is not a biological exactitude. That said, the only individuals who will be at risk for highly contagious and infectious microbes like whooping cough, for example, are other unvaccinated children and those children should be isolated. If your child has been properly vaccinated and immuned, then the unvaccinated child poses no risk to your child.
To be fair, Arsenault does acknowledge that dynamic in her post, saying, “I understand that since my kids are vaccinated, I shouldn’t really be concerned about them being exposed to such maladies, but there’s a bigger issue that I just can’t get past. It’s an issue I have with you, parent of the unvaccinated, not actually with your child. It’s a feeling that you’re not doing your part here; not holding up your end of the bargain.” Which pretty much proves Williams’ point about discrimination.
So, this brings us to an open thread discussion about childhood vaccines, those that choose not to get them, those that get them on an adjusted schedule (I have written in the past that I think the validity of the Dr. Sears schedule is at least worth considering, even though I went with the CDC schedule), the flu shot, and whether or not you would discriminate against an unimmunized child. I just realized while writing this post that as a parent I wouldn’t even think to inquire (before a playdate, let’s say) whether or not the child my daughter was set to play with had been vaccinated. I would just assume he/she had been.
My daughter attends a public school in Brooklyn, as do all of her friends. In New York State, for the most part, children cannot attend public school without being vaccinated. I didn’t know this until researching vaccination requirements for this post, but New York State does extend a religious exemption to those who wish to attend public school without vaccination. (Yikes.) According to the website vaclib.org, however, “New York is probably the most difficult state in the US in which to exercise your right to determine what goes into your body and your children’s bodies.” (Whew.) New York State is not the only state with such exemptions available to public school families; many states have religious and other exemptions that might allow a child to attend public school without immunization. In discussing this with a teacher friend of mine, she wondered if schools are required to inform parents that there is an unvaccinated child in their midst. Is the right to medical privacy trumped by the need to protect the larger school population, including pregnant teachers?
It seems clear that the exchange between Arsenault and Williams is important for this reason alone: to get all of us to realize that vaccinations are clearly something worth bringing up to anyone who will have contact with your unprotected infant, since there may be more unvaccinated children around than we realize, and even though your vaccinated older child is safe, your unimmunized infant is not.