Something that makes me worry

Let me write this at the very start of the day while I have some energy (although I must avoid false sympathy and say that after a very dark, difficult, and painful stretch, that this has been a far better week than the last few and I’m doing my best to enjoy it and make the most of it while it lasts).

When Nefarious was born, two things were going on in the medical world that I feel are relevant to what I’m going to admit. First, it was the height of the SARS scare, which, at least in rural Belleville, seemed like a huge over-reaction and fear-mongering blow-up. Second, it was when all the worries about vaccines potentially causing more problems than they solved were starting to be made noise about by various fringe figures that I was sympathetic to. As a result, I had a great deal of distrust of the vaccination system and for the first part of Nefarious’s life she was not vaccinated. Over time, a combination of feeling uncomfortable signing “religious exemption” forms and starting to understand the science (and seeing the anti-vax “science” being thoroughly debunked) left me with the understanding that I’d made a terrible — and embarrassing — anti-science mistake that needed correcting.

Unfortunately, even with the antivax science so debunked (and shown to be full-on evil) that all that’s left is a mix of lies and religion, I still have many dear friends who hold an anti-vaccine stance and are by their caring (and I think it’s important to recognize that people are antivax because they are trying to be the best parents they can be) but misinformed actions endangering their own children as well as other children around them. It’s hard to bring it up because people get really mad, to the point of ending friendships, when you question their parenting choices, but I think on this subject it’s worth the risk.

I’m not going to personally break down all the reasons why the antivax position is about as reasonable as creationism, flat-earth science, moon landing hoax claims, and other anti-science lunacy that stems from a weird mix of ignorance, conspiracy theories about “big pharma”, and religion, because there are a great deal of good resources out there that do it better than I could. For starters, Health Canada has a good page debunking various antivax arguments, and if you want to get more indepth — and really understand how the antivax movement is starting to willfully murder children, and the gargantuan health risk it represents — then you must keep an eye on the “Bad Astronomy” blog, which is a real beacon of light and works hard to make sure that science and reason is the voice that drives us, rather than blind fear of the night that we should have left behind in the Dark Ages. Anyway, their antivax posts are a must-read.

I’ve added both of these links to my sidebar. Like I said, seven years ago I started out with worries about vaccines, worries that were strong enough to avoid them at first. So I get how one could start there, but these are worries that I calmed with a little research. I came to understood the harm that I almost did my daughter and felt terrible about it, and, if you are in the same position I was then, please please please just read over the links above. That’s all I beg of you. Look at the sources for the various arguments and their qualifications to make the claims they’re making, make a real risk assessment (because even if the antivax fear-mongering about autism/etc wasn’t an outright lie, from a statistical point of view, you’re still monstrously safer with vaccines), and let the reasoning, conscious, and intelligent part of your mind make the decision, rather than your gut. This is pretty much the only subject on which I feel it’s worth butting ones nose into other people’s parenting, and I do feel bad doing that when I tell a friend I think they need to reconsider their stance, but I do feel that it’s important enough to take the risk.

Especially if you’re going to let your daughter in the lake…







  1. Shannon wrote:

    There are good ones and there are bad ones… But if one is going to worry about blind trust, then naturopaths should be avoided, because they are operating to a great extent on folk knowledge and faith. Not to say that a lot of it isn’t “real” traditional medicine, but a great deal of it has currently got very little scientific testing behind it to determine safety and efficacy and so on (which I would have thought would be important to people who insist that decades of careful and intensive testing isn’t enough when it comes to vaccines).

    For me the key to a good naturopath is homeopathy. If they believe in homeopathy, AVOID THEM. If they tell you homeopathy is a scam, then they have a good head on their shoulders and you can more likely rely on them to make reasonable suggestions.

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  2. Gillian wrote:

    I trust my Naturopath far beyond my family doctor. I really am curious to know if you’ve actually ever gone to see one before.

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  3. Shannon wrote:

    Nope. Never felt the need. I have no objection to naturopaths other than what I’ve already said. There are plenty of good ones doing good work for people (and plenty of bad ones — which is a problem in a largely unregulated and “mysterious” field that operates outside of the tight restrictions that doctors work under to protect public safety).

    To be clear, I’ve got loads of problems with doctors too, but it’s a different set of problems.

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  4. Alison wrote:

    Such a great post! I feel the same way around my friends who aren’t vaccinating their small children. Your arguments are excellent.

    Re: formaldehyde – apparently the amount of formaldehyde in vaccines is far less than the human body produces every day.

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 7:43 pm | Permalink
  5. DIYer wrote:

    I didn’t say the doctor grandparent was a wise one. Of course, by the time the antivax movement got going, he would have been worrying about trans-fats, and about five years before you ever heard of trans-fats, he’d be nurturing his telomeres or some such thing. BTW, he died of cancer in about 2002 or so…

    As for the scary sounding chemical names, it has recently been discovered that small molecules, like nitric oxide and hydrogen sulfide, carry signaling information from one cell to another — it’s why they are so toxic in bulk. But minute quantities of things like formaldehyde or carbon monoxide exist in your body all the time. And the quantity that goes into a vaccine is tiny enough to be absorbed and handled by the body.

    I had a final thought on the vaccines, Shannon — you’re right, the ‘herd’ thing wears kind of thin eventually. If there were one thing I’d give Nefarious at this time it would be a polio vaccine. It’s one of a handful of diseases that gets more dreadful the later in life you catch it. If she were a boy, the mumps vaccine would be a good one as well. The others, *shrug*, probably just let her play in the dirt with the other kids ;-)

    Gillian, the buttermilk was my idea by the way. Plain homogenized milk upset our baby daughter’s stomach, while buttermilk did not. None of us ever believed in “formula”.

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  6. Smyttie wrote:

    @Gillian (comment 39) : “…to vaccinate against something that’s almost impossible to get!”. Well, maybe it’s almost impossible to get because most children are vaccinated?

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 11:57 pm | Permalink
  7. smallfarmgirl wrote:

    “which is a problem in a largely unregulated and “mysterious” field that operates outside of the tight restrictions that doctors work under to protect public safety).”

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink
  8. Gillian wrote:

    Smyttie: definitely! So I’ll continue to be happy to have other kids vaccinated and I’ll keep my child unvaccinated. :)

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  9. Gillian wrote:

    DIYer: Well, of course I think that cow’s milk and buttermilk are CRAZY for giving infants, but it’s moreso the honey that you gave her that made me go, “AHHHH!!”

    Cows milk is for cows! Formula is evil, yes, but far better than buttermilk. :)

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink
  10. Heather wrote:

    There are more reasons than fear of autism to avoid vaccines. Juniper had a horrible allergic reaction to the few vaccinations we agreed to (due to travel.) They ended up seriously affected her immune system long term. Her t-cells started attacking her gut days after the vaccines, and caused multiple food sensitivities. That caused intestinal bleeding in my exclusively breastfed infant.

    Juniper got chicken pox the old fashioned way and it was easy. I nursed her through it. She has a tiny scar on her chin, but it looks like a cute dimple, and I’ll take that over a possible reaction to the vaccine. We both had swine flu (which did suck, but we got through it) and the regular flu. The only disease preventable by a vaccine that makes me nervous is pertussis, but the vaccine gives lousy protection, anyway… no long-term immunity and a very small percentage (can’t remember at the moment, but it is LOW) for even short-term.

    Anyway, do what you want. I’m not one of those anti-vax nutcases and will not judge those who choose to do it, however, I also want you to know that there are some very real reasons to make the choice not to vaccinate.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  11. Heather wrote:

    Sorry for the typos. My kiddo was climbing all over me as I was trying to post.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  12. Shannon wrote:

    Absolutely, no one denies that some people have medical conditions that preclude being vaccinated.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  13. Carmen wrote:

    I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the vaccines. I have been and lived in third world countries where kids don’t have the luxury of free government vaccines against diseases for which there is a cure!!! So many lives would be saved if they had access to vaccines. Anyway, we’re here, in N. America and you’re damn right I’m using the vaccines that are available to me on my kids, for them & the community.

    Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink
  14. R wrote:

    “So I’ll continue to be happy to have other kids vaccinated and I’ll keep my child unvaccinated. :)”

    For fuck’s sake, Gillian. Do you not fancy living in a society?

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:24 am | Permalink
  15. Gillian wrote:

    Fuck society.

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink
  16. bonnie wrote:

    I have to say that I find that attitude extremely disturbing…If I thought someone was doing something harmful to children, I certainly wouldn’t be content to sit back and merely protect my own children. I would shout to the skies and try to change it. Either you don’t feel that strongly about this, or you just don’t give a shit about anyone but you and yours?

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  17. leanna wrote:

    I’m so glad the anti vaccine thing is cooling down. It was so blatantly ridiculous. Beyond all the stuff thats been said a big thing a lot of people forget is those kids who can not, for various medical reasons (cancer, etc.), get vaccines and therefore rely on herd immunity. The decision not to vaccinate has potentially far reaching effects.

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  18. Joanne wrote:

    Gillian, people like you make me absolutely FURIOUS. Your belief that you “know better” than medical professionals. Your flagrant, selfish disregard for the wider community. As long as your darling child doesn’t “catch autism” from an MMR for example, that makes your stance ok, right?

    You have no clue. No clue how herd immunity works. No clue how. You don’t even understand the PURPOSE of a vaccine! A vaccine is not a magic wand that prevents you from contracting an illness. At best it prevents you contracting an illness, at worst it drastically reduces the severity of that illness.

    Last week I was in a pub in London and a “yummy mummy” wandered in with her toddler and older son. The toddler was in a pram and was absolutely riddled with chicken pox. I overheard her telling her friend she was hoping the other child would catch it “so he will become immune”. In addition to this, there was a pregnant woman standing very close to her (I don’t think she had seen the very ill child nearby). I was so furious I didn’t trust myself to say something to her myself, so I went to the landlord and told him I was leaving because I was so disgusted this woman was permitted in his pub.

    I went back there a few days ago and found out he’d asked her to leave and barred her. Victory for common sense.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 1:36 am | Permalink
  19. Gillian wrote:

    I don’t care what other people do, vaccinate or don’t vaccinate. My only wish is that they research this important decision. Most people out there go into this decision with blind trust. I don’t think I know “better than medical professionals,” but I know that each child is different and not every 12lb baby can get a vaccine and not have a problem with it.

    Ash has about a DOZEN food sensitivities and I don’t doubt that it’s lowering his immune system so that he’d be more susceptible to side effects of vaccinations. This is not a risk I’m willing to take.

    And Joanne, I have mentioned before that my decision not to vaccinate my child has NOTHING to do with autism. Before you get furious with me, please don’t think that I’ve expressed all of my views and knowledge about vaccinating in Shannon’s blog comments, and please do read what I’ve said. I KNOW how vaccines work, I’ve said in here before that it’s NOT a magic wand that will protect you from an illness- they’re not as effective as what people are lead to believe.

    If anything I just recommend DELAYING vaccinating until the children are older, not avoiding them altogether. As I’ve said, I MAY VACCINATE my child now that he’s bigger!

    (And ignorance like yours, about when/how chicken pox are spread- (ie THAT CHILD WAS NO LONGER CONTAGIOUS WHEN YOU HAD A PART IN HAVING IN HER BARRED) is exactly why people need to do their fucking research.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:21 am | Permalink
  20. Joanne wrote:

    Yet again you are wrong, Gillian.
    Chickenpox is most contagious the day before the rash appears and until the blisters are all dry and crusted over. I don’t believe I said the toddler in question had crusted over blisters on his skin. He was noticibly unwell and his rash was fresh. He was clearly in the highly contagious stage of illness.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:29 am | Permalink
  21. R wrote:

    Do you know, I was all prepared to come back here and really express myself well, to really articulate to the limits of my ability, because I expected your reply to be so fluent and so impassioned and so full of the arguments you’ve apparently researched and absorbed and UNDERSTOOD, because after all you’ve made a hard descision, misled but well-intentioned, that’s borne of wanting the best for your children – which is something everyone can understand – and it’s not something you’d take lightly, out of sheer ego or some misplaced misanthropy, right? Of course not!

    I really expected to have to to try and express to you how fragile society is, how it’s made up of so many unspoken agreements between so many strangers to not fuck each other over and that yes, sometimes we’ve just got to take one for the team, for the herd, because that’s what society does for us every day, and you get that, right? It’s not like your whole argument could possibly boil down to something so inarticulately selfish, so base, so indefensibly wrong as “fuck society”. “Fuck society”!

    Apparently I gave you way, way too much credit. “Fuck society”. The attitude of an anti-vaxer laid bare, that is. That’s your argument? Go and live on a goddamn rock with your pox, then. I’m with Joanne, you people make me furious.

    “Fuck YOUR children”, says Gillian. “Fuck YOU”.

    Absolutely unbelievable.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:30 am | Permalink
  22. R wrote:

    “If anything I just recommend DELAYING vaccinating until the children are older”

    Explain why. Show your working.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:32 am | Permalink
  23. Gillian wrote:

    Why? You can do the research. There is absolutely no point; I’m not going to change your mind or anyone’s mind.

    I’m done.

    (It was more of a “fuck society” where gays and lesbians don’t have the same rights as other people, people with tattoos and piercings aren’t considered professional, where anorexic-looking women are the height of beauty, where McDonald’s food is considered a meal, where no one knows where their food comes from, where obesity is prevalent. FUCK THAT SOCIETY, and I’ll say it 100x over. Go back to your herd.

    Thanks everyone for the discussion, but I won’t be back. I’ll continue to make the best choice for my family and you can make the best choice for yours.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:50 am | Permalink
  24. R wrote:

    Indefensible choices are indefensible.


    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:10 am | Permalink
  25. bonnie wrote:

    I’m going to add just one thing in the hopes that Gillian is still reading this, if not actually posting anymore. I understand that you are concerned for your child’s well-being. I get it, I really do. But let me make an analogy for you. I get every animal I’ve ever owned spayed or neutered even though there are risks. Even though I end up scared sick they may get hurt or even die during surgery. It’s the right, responsible thing to do, correct? So how would it be if I decided NOT to do it? Because I was afraid. Because I knew that there was a chance, even a small chance, that something bad might happen. Say just 200 people in the very large city I am from decided that they too would no longer do it. Can you imagine the EPIDEMIC of unwanted animals that would be born? The numbers swelling the ranks at local pounds? The number of young animals euthanized? Sometimes you do things because in a society it’s just the right thing to do. You can’t just say “fuck society” because you are a part of that society, whether you embrace all it’s ideologies or not! I would hope that you are not really as “every man for himself” as your posts would have you sound.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  26. bonnie wrote:

    P.S “I always said the worst reason to not do something is because you’re scared. ” Those are your own words.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm | Permalink
  27. DIYer wrote:

    Gillian, in my opinion formula is more evil than buttermilk — our baby got some breastmilk too, but the quantity was not sufficient. Lot of variables there. Buttermilk is very low fat. And so on.
    Far as I know, it worked out, she’s 30 now and in good health. She was weaned at a pretty young age, and went on to other weird food favored by her mother. She recently told me she doesn’t ever need to see another sardine.

    Saturday, July 3, 2010 at 5:38 am | Permalink
  28. DIYer wrote:

    Haha, reading through the comments from the beginning again, I find this:
    “No rebuttal from me. Vax debates are one of my least favorite things in the world! ;)”

    The actual science behind vaccines is quite mature, starting with cowpox more than 200 years ago. I won’t quote you the Wikipedia page, but vaccines do work best when given at the recommended ages — very young children have extremely powerful immune systems. One example is the polio vaccine, which is made up of live virus. It would kill you or me if we hadn’t already been exposed to it.

    At her age, Nefarious might need an attenuated vaccine, and I’d definitely consult with the physician about available options. (if she hasn’t already had that one)

    Saturday, July 3, 2010 at 7:01 am | Permalink
  29. FETRET wrote:

    Saturday, July 3, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  30. Yes, the MMR _does_ cause kids to be Autistic. That’s why Autism and Asperger’s were identified in the 1940s, over 20 years before the MMR vaccine was created!

    Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:41 am | Permalink
  31. Merideth Cooper wrote:

    Natural products are a dime a dozen, but this mist spray by Dr. Shawn Mueller is amazing.

    Sunday, August 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Permalink
  32. Heathre wrote:

    You don’t need a fancy degree to know that formaldehyde is bad for your health. Hang around people with health problems from formaldehyde and you will understand.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  33. Joanne wrote:

    Heathre, you expose yourself as a typical, ignorant anti-vaxxer!

    Formaldehyde is an ORGANIC CHEMICAL comprised of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. It is also PRODUCED BY the human body. The amount of formaldehyde contained in a vaccine is tiny compared to the amount of self-produced formaldehyde in the bloodstream of a baby/child.

    It’s interesting that many antivaxxers i’ve encountered have been smokers. And thus are imbibing more KILLER FORMALDEHYDE than they’d ever receive from a vaccine.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  34. Erika wrote:

    “Erika on IAM used to say all the time that her boobs were for her, not for the baby and it was gross.”

    Oh, really? That’s interesting. Way to misquote me, Gillian. I would never say breastfeeding is “gross”…it’s just not for me. I have no desire to ever breastfeed (I would be uncomfortable with it and have no desire to be tied down in that way, especially with my career as it is) but I wouldn’t call it gross. And what do my (misquoted) personal views about using my boobs to feed my child (or not) have anything to do with this conversation? I find formula to be an acceptable alternative. A happy and mentally stable mom who uses formula and lovingly feeds her child is better than an unhappy mother who possibly resents having to feed her baby.

    My child, by the way, is 7.5 years old. NO ONE CARES about whether or not your child was breastfed when they’re 7.5 or 6 or even 5. Moms seem to snap out of that BREASTFEED OR YOUR CHILD WILL DIE mindset when their kids are a bit older and they get some perspective.

    Also note that breastfeeding or not breastfeeding only has an impact on me and my child, unlike your choice not to vaccinate, which impacts everyone around you, especially those most vulnerable (infants too young to be vaccinated, pregnant women and their fetuses, people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and those for whom immunization did not produce sufficient immune response). I have made a career out of examining parental beliefs and attitudes and the ways they impact the health care interventions they choose for themselves and their children. Hopefully my research will have the end result of more families trusting science and doing what is best for their children and society as a whole.

    Friday, August 27, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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