Monday, 25 May 2015

Stop the Stupidity: Vaccinate Your Kids


One of the most talked about - and hotly debated - parenting issues lately is childhood vaccination, with arguments erupting all over social media between parents, most armed with inaccurate information. It has become a confusing issue with mixed messages and false information, leading people to believe it's a choice each parent has to make for their own child.

Here's the thing: it's not a choice. It's not a debate. There's a right answer and a wrong answer.

There's not a valid argument for one side and a valid argument for the other.
It's not a subjective issue that comes down to parents' personal preferences.
It's not a matter of opinion and it's not a parenting choice.
It's not based on your values or beliefs.
It's a matter of science.

Children who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated. Period.

The most dangerous part of the vaccination debate is calling it a debate at all, giving the anti-vax movement creditability as a potential parenting choice - when, in fact, it's not. The anti-vax arguments are based on fiction, false studies, half-truths and flat-out lies, conspiracy theories and rumours and absolutely ridiculous statements.

There is no science behind the anti-vaccination movement.

Let's stick to facts rather than myths.

Myth: Vaccines have harmful side effects.
Fact: Vaccines are safe. Side effects are minor, like soreness at the injection site or mild fever. Major reactions are extremely rare (less than one in one million); you are far more likely to be injured by a vaccine-preventable disease, if you choose not to be vaccinated, than by a vaccine. (1)

Myth: It's more natural to be immunized through disease than through vaccinations.
Fact: Vaccines produce an immune response similar to the one produced by the infection, but do not cause the disease or the risk of potential complications - like disability or death. (2)

Myth: Vaccines can cause SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Fact: There is no link whatsoever. These vaccines happen to be administered at an age when infants can suffer from SIDS; the two are not linked. (3) Giving the child the vaccines will not increase their risk of SIDS at all; not vaccinating will risk disability and death as a result of these vaccine-preventable diseases.

Myth: Vaccines can cause autism.
Fact: There is no link whatsoever. This rumour started as a result of a fraudulent study published in British medical journal The Lancet in 1998. The study was subsequently discredited and retracted; the doctor who published the study was found guilty of professional misconduct and struck from the medical register; and the study was deemed fraudulent by the British Medical Journal. (4) The completely fabricated connection between vaccines and autism led to decreased vaccination rates - and therefore higher incidence of disease and death. There is no link between vaccines and autism - but there is a link between uninformed parents believing the false story and children contracting the disease they refused to vaccinate against.

Myth: These diseases are almost obsolete anyway.
Fact: Diseases that people once died from - like measles and polio - are uncommon now only because people are vaccinated against them. If people are not vaccinated, these diseases will reappear. (5)

Not up for debate is the effectiveness of vaccines. While one day science may find something more effective, current vaccines are the most effective means we have of eliminating disease.

Not up for debate is the safety of vaccines. Vaccine ingredients, risks and safety stats are all well documented and available.

The only thing up for debate is whether a parent wants to put one of these proven, safe and effective vaccines into their child's body.

Anti-vaxxers get confused by stories of vaccine-injured children (that <0.0001% chance we discussed earlier) as excuses to avoid having their own kids vaccinated. Tragic stories. Stories of children killed in car accidents are tragic, too, but I don't know any anti-vaxxers who avoid putting their kids in a car. On the risk-benefit assessment scale, I think risking a <0.0001% chance of my child having a side effect from a shot that prevents their death from polio is a hell of a lot more important than the significantly higher chance of my kid being killed in a car accident so I can get to the mall quickly and conveniently.

Choosing not to vaccinate your children is the same as choosing not to provide them with anything else they require for survival - food, water, shelter. It's not something subjective to be left up to the parents' best judgement - like cloth vs. disposable diapers or public vs. private school.

Making the parenting choice not to vaccinate your child is the same as choosing between feeding your child or letting them starve; not vaccinating your children is tantamount to child abuse. It's absolutely disgusting that schlock science, shock stories and fraudulent research are persuading misinformed parents that it's a choice.

When your kids are kids, you are the one who has to make the decisions for them. It's your job as their parent to protect them, to keep them safe, to keep them healthy, to give them the best start you can in life. You worry over whether to breast or bottle feed, whether to buy organic produce, you fill your house with safety equipment and research everything related to your little one's health and safety. There are many decisions to make as a parent, most with a variety of options - but vaccination is not one of them. If you choose not to vaccinate, you're making the wrong choice. You are putting your child's health at risk, and you are doing it for no good reason.

Vaccinating your children is not a parenting choice any more than it's a choice to drive drunk. You can make that choice, obviously, in that you are a human being with the ability to exercise free will, but it's the wrong choice and there are potential consequences to that choice.
If you choose to drive drunk, you could hurt or kill yourself or someone else and, hopefully, you will be caught and arrested. If you choose not to vaccinate there are the same risks - there should be the same consequences.
Choosing not to vaccinate your children is wilfully negligent.
Calling vaccination a parenting choice lets the stupidity of the few risk the lives of the many. Do we discuss drunk driving with words like "choice" and "opinion"? Of course not.

Do your own research as a parent before making any decision for your child - of course. In the case of a medical decision, that research should mean valid scientific studies, vetted articles published in reliable medical journals, facts and statistics proven and endorsed by the scientific and medical communities by scientific and medical organizations and professionals, not a Facebook group or an actress on a talk show or a post that went viral. I've included relevant sources here for those unable to find accurate information for themselves. Valid, legitimate sources acknowledged by the medical community throughout the first world.

I can't understand why this is even an issue. Why any parent would choose to intentionally withhold vaccines from their child that could prevent them from contracting and spreading diseases - contrary to all valid scientific research and against the advice of the world medical community - makes no sense. Talk about first world problems - I can guarantee there are no parents in Uganda saying "no, thank-you; I'd prefer to take my chances" when offered life-saving vaccinations for their children. What a luxury to live in a part of the world where we have developed so far that some people are actually choosing to move backward instead of forward.

Measles - a disease which was officially declared eliminated in North America by the turn of the century thanks to four decades of routine childhood immunization - has returned in recent years thanks to anti-vaccination propaganda. The measles. A disease for which there is a very simple vaccine, which has been regularly and safely administered in Canada since 1963. More than half a century ago. There is no excuse for the kind of backward ignorance that would prevent a parent not only from protecting their child against diseases humans once died from, but risking the rest of the population's health.

It's back because a few ignorant, ill-informed parents have "chosen" not to vaccinate their children against this and other debilitating, life-threatening diseases - putting our entire society at risk.

There is no good reason not to vaccinate your healthy child. There are children who cannot be vaccinated - because they are too young, because they are immunocompromised - and it is these children who our herd immunity is protecting. It is not going to work if it has to protect every poor child who happens to be born to stupid parents.

Breast vs. bottle, sleep training vs. co-sleeping, public vs. private school, allowance and chores and consequences of behaviour - these are parenting choices. Parenting choices like these should be made based on what each parent believes will be best for their child, and though we all have different ideas of what's best, we should respect one another's choices as parents doing what we believe is best for our own child.

Vaccinating your children is not a parenting choice. Vaccinating is the best thing for your child, if he is able to be vaccinated. Period.

So by all means, don't vaccinate your child if you feel more qualified to make that decision than your pediatrician, Health Canada, the World Health Organization, every legitimate medical journal and organization and the entire scientific and medical community in the first world. I'm thrilled that group immunity granted by my child and the other children in our community will - hopefully - keep your kid from dying from a third-world disease.

However, if you choose to live here, in this society with this level of civilization and education and science and medical care, where your children will be interacting with others on a daily basis, they should have their required vaccinations. If you choose not to vaccinate your children against these completely preventable diseases, your poor choices shouldn't be allowed to put the rest of our children at risk.

Because every time some ignorant parent "chooses" not to protect their children it increases the risk that those diseases we once all but eliminated will return.

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