Vaccines :: To Vax or Not To Vax

syringe with vaccine

I am conflicted. Yesterday I took my son to the doctor for his annual physical.

Now, let me give you some background. I’m a fairly mainstream kinda parent — or, at least I was until the medical community failed me and I started looking to natural, holistic solutions to my ailments and discovered a whole new way of looking at health and wellness and immunity.

Before that, I always took my doctor’s recommendations at face value. I vaccinated all three kids on schedule, and we go to our yearly “well check-ups” like dutiful American citizens.

A few years ago, I was of the opinion that people who opted out of vaccines were fringe crunchy granola types who at the heart of it were selfish; they choose to opt out and shelter their kids from the possible side effects, while still taking advantage of the benefits the rest of us provide as we subject our kids to the risks of vaccinations for the good of society, keeping these diseases at bay. Harsh? Yes, but that is the way the majority of Americans think.

Since delving into the world of whole foods and natural healthcare, I have come to realize that there are two ways of looking at health management — and both have their valid points.

There is the typical American way – eat whatever crap we want, stress ourselves out with too many commitments, don’t get nearly enough rest, subject ourselves to all sorts of crazy chemicals and environmental toxins, and when we get sick, we take medicine to cover up the symptoms. Then when we don’t feel better, we go for the antibiotics. Oh and add to that? We vaccinate against anything that moves.

Yes, I’m intentionally being flippant in that assessment, but it more or less sums it up.

Then there is the “natural”approach. Yes, I know, arsenic is natural. You know what we mean by “natural”.

The “natural” theory is that you can build up your immune system to fight the onslaught of germs we will come in contact with in any given day by eating a diet high in nutrient-dense, nourishing foods, getting plenty of rest, and staying active. When the natural types do get sick, they don’t run to the medicine cabinet or to the doctor’s office. Rather, they increase their intake of those nutrient dense foods, avoid sugar which is proven to weaken the immune system, and take natural foods and supplements that are proven to fight infection and disease.

They also avoid antibiotics like the plague, believing that antibiotics actually weaken the immune system by killing off the good bacterias and building up a resistance to the harmful bacterias, and when they are forced to resort to them, they start beefing up their probiotics and other methods to combat the side effects of antibiotics.

And vaccines? Forgetaboutit. It’s all a big conspiracy theory, dontchaknow. Do you have any idea the kind of money the pharmaceutical companies are making off of these things??

Okay, seriously now, the anti-vax theory goes something like this. Now, even if you have both feet firmly planted in the pro-vax camp, just take a second to consider the opposing point of view. I dare you.

Setting the whole autism/MMR debate aside, some believe that vaccines may actually challenge our immune systems and lower our ability to fight diseases. Sure, the incidence of childhood diseases has decreased since vaccines have become the norm, but hygiene and medical care is more advanced. And also, a lot of other scary diseases are on the rise… like cancer. Could there be a correlation between all the chemicals we’re injecting into our children’s bodies and the rise of cancers and the like? While lots of vaccine studies are performed, no studies have been done to test the effects of multiple vaccines in a young child’s body.

And also? I’m sure you know who funds most of the vaccine safety studies — those pharmaceutial companies — the very ones that stand to benefit largely from vaccines being not only produced but required by the medical establisment and school systems. Forgive me for not blindly trusting these guys to give us unbiased results.

Phew! Got all that?

Where do I stand on the issue? Pretty much right in the middle. Let’s just say I’m conflicted.

Last week my 5-year-old was due for the last 2 vaccines that are required for kindergarten (or at least, they are required unless you are willing to go through the rigmarole to opt out.) She had to have MMR and chicken pox. I have my doubts about the wisdom of the chicken pox vaccine, as we are now learning that there is a rise in the related disease, Shingles, at younger ages. But since she’d already had her first one, I went ahead with it.

Of course the infamous MMR was the biggie. But again, it was her second round, she had had no side effects the first time, so I felt like I probably might as well go ahead with it too.

I made the mistake of mentioning to my pediatrician that I was nervous about giving her the vaccine. Now, I love this man, and I’ve been going to him for 6 years. I find him to be very laid back and conservative and easy going. But at the very mention of my insecurity over the MMR vaccine, he. went. OFF.

I clearly hit a nerve!

Immediately he reduced me to this silly woman who had been hanging out on the internet too much (ha! little does he know!) who let the crazy autism/MMR people get to her.

I have never felt quite so small.

Of course, I didn’t go about the conversation correctly. I shouldn’t have said anything, because I went in knowing I was just going to get the shots. I didn’t go in armed with information and intelligent questions. I was just making a comment, and it blew up into a very awkward moment.

But even so. I would have just shrugged it off and moved on. But guess who was due for shots at his next checkup?

Yep. My son.

He is turning 12 this fall and was due for the the tetanus and meningococcal vaccines.

Once again, I found myself debating the issue and doing a few lame internet searches, trying to find some good information on both sides of the issue, particularly as it relates to the meningococcal vaccine.

The anti-vax stance makes sense to me in theory, and I don’t like the idea of the government regulating what I put in my child’s body. I think that rankles me more than just about anything else, frankly.

But I’m not one to buck the establishment, and my kids have never suffered any obvious ill effects from following the recommended vaccine schedule. And let’s face it, I don’t exactly relish the idea of nursing my kids through whooping cough or polio, even if they have healthy immune systems to fight them.

On the one hand, I feel like I’ve done them all to this point, why stop now. But on the other hand, they keep adding new vaccines! When do we stop?

Before you go off on how serious meningitis can be, allow me to tell you that my husband contracted meningitis as a baby, he was near death’s door, survived, but has full hearing loss in one ear as a result. It’s not a horrible disability, but it definitely affects him more than you’d think. And what his mother went through when he was in the hospital fighting for his life … I don’t want to imagine.

BUT.

I just don’t know. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Meningitis tends to flare up again in college students. Dr. Mercola explains that because college students tend to experience a decrease in healthy eating, their immune systems become compromised, and they are more susceptible to diseases, meningitis in particular.

Is there a better way? 

Maybe.

Will we be able to keep our kids’ immune systems strong and healthy?

Who knows. College kids have minds of their own, and they think they’re invincible. I know I did.

So. Where does this leave us?

I am not convinced that vaccines are as safe as we are made to believe. But I’m having an awfully hard time finding good information presented in an objective manner. And as I said, bucking the establishment has never been my strong suit.

And what if . . .

WHAT IF?

What would I do if I declined a vaccine and my son caught meningitis as a teen and was brain damaged or worse?

And yet again… how can we be confident that the onslaught of chemicals via vaccinations are not depleting our immune systems and leaving us more susceptible to (or perhaps even contributing to) the cancers and other diseases of this modern age?

Ugh. Just, UGH.

Yesterday morning I took my son to the doctor, and we got the vaccinations as prescribed.

I cannot say that I’m at peace with this decision. But I can’t say that I regret it either.

I just don’t know.

Please don’t write in and tell me how bad things were before vaccines. I know. I get that. I DO.

But I also get that there is a buttload of money to be made on these things, and they are not without their own set of risks.

I wish there was a good place to go for unbiased information. Until then, I continue to tow the line, follow the schedule, second guessing myself every step of the way.