Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Moms Who Vax: Why Am I So Certain?

By Gillian Tarr

People who don’t vaccinate their children intrigue me. If I knew any personally, and was on good enough terms to have a frank discussion, I would be so tempted to put them under a microscope and try to understand where the wires had gotten crossed.  Perhaps that’s why I don’t know anyone who’s ever admitted to me that they don’t vaccinate their children.

Being a typical 21st-century denizen of the Internet, I’m aware of the wide variety of arguments often used against immunizations.  Whether they’re being spouted by some swindler trying to sell garbage to bamboozled parents or by the bamboozled parents themselves, I haven’t yet read a line I would buy, and certainly none I would stake my children’s lives on.  
Gillian and one of her daughters.

Why am I so certain?  You see, I’m not just the lucky mommy of two amazing little girls.  My first passion in life was infectious disease epidemiology, and I’ve had the great opportunity to work directly with vaccine programs. I also have a Masters degree in epidemiology, as well as a graduate certificate in vaccine science and policy.

My education and all the reading required by my training and the original research I’ve conducted left me assured that immunization was one of the greatest triumphs of public health.  So when it came time to vaccinate my own children, I didn’t hesitate.  I was that parent making the special appointment to get my daughter Prevnar 13 when it came out despite her having already completed her series of Prevnar 7 (protection against six more strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae!). I was that parent convincing our pediatrician to give my 22-month-old daughter FluMist off-label (higher efficacy than the inactivated vaccine in children).

While I made sure my own family was as protected as we could be, I didn’t start paying much attention to the anti-vaccine movement till I was working on a phase 4 vaccine trial with a state health department. Part of my job was to telephone pertussis cases and potential pertussis cases. I talked to hundreds of families.  Anyone can find a website with a description of what pertussis does to a person, but hearing it first-hand was a completely different experience.  Parents described how their children had suffered, and how they felt powerless to help them.  Some even openly lamented their previous choice not to vaccinate their children.  Having my own children, I can’t understand how some parents can set their children up to suffer, leave them open to preventable diseases.

But of course, they think they’re saving their children from something worse. There are so many websites, blog posts, Facebook rants on one side or the other.  Almost everyone claims they’ve read "the literature" and that “science” supports them. Of course there’s also the conspiracy theory folks who purport the published literature is filled with lies and everyone’s in Big Pharma’s pocket. If these people knew how vaccines are developed and studied, they would realize they’re talking about thousands and thousands of people that would have to be paid off.  People like me.  I won’t even go into how little folks in public health are paid...

If you’re making a potentially life-or-death decision for your child, whom do you trust?  Do you trust the random blogger who pulls out choice sentences from studies to prove her point but neglects the rest of the study that negates it?  What about the folks that list dozens of animal studies on some vaccine your child wouldn’t even receive?  Dr. Bob Sears, whose only credentials as a vaccine expert are of his own making?  Are you reading the literature yourself and substituting your understanding of it over that of the specialists who’ve devoted their lives to science and the analysis of scientific research?  Do you dismiss the advice of the CDC, the AAP, and the doctors and researchers who have devoted their lives to understanding and improving vaccines?  If so, why?

When did the experts become the ones you can’t trust and the amateurs--many of whom are just trying to sell you something—become the ones you bank your children’s lives on?  

On the rare occasion that I do discuss vaccines with someone, I don’t try to convince them that vaccinating is the right choice.  I simply give them resources so they can see for themselves what the true experts say and try to point out the difference between the consensus of the scientific community and the opinions of a few.

Gillian is the mother of two glorious little girls and trained as an infectious disease epidemiologist. She currently works in the private sector but remains passionate about public health.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.