Laura J. Martin, MD
One of the first and most important health decisions new parents have to make for their brand-new baby is this: should we vaccinate or not? If we do vaccinate, should we do them all or just some of them? On the regular, pediatrician-prescribed schedule, or a modified one? What are we more concerned about -- potential side effects from the vaccines, or the diseases the vaccines prevent?
A lot of factors go into making these decisions. Here’s an inside look at how three moms (and their husbands) each made three different decisions about if and when to vaccinate their children. One is vaccinating her children on schedule, one created her own modified vaccine schedule, and one is forgoing vaccines altogether.
Lori Allen, 40, computer support professional, Lehigh, Utah.
What did you decide about vaccines?
I have four daughters, aged 13, 15, 18, and 20. I vaccinated my first daughter according to the standard schedule, but did a modified schedule with the younger three.
How did you make that decision? Where did you seek your information?
With my oldest daughter, the doctors told me to do the standard schedule, so that’s what I did. But watching her get her shots, I just burst into tears. She was so obviously in pain and I felt so bad as a mother, watching them take this needle and shoving it into a tiny baby thigh, and imagining a needle proportionally bigger being shoved into my thigh -- it would hurt a lot! It’s a trauma to that poor baby.
So when it came time to bring my second daughter in for her first set of shots at two months, something in me just said, “No, not yet.” And I waited, and brought her in between three and four months instead. I felt that she seemed to handle it better, didn’t spike as high of a fever, and she didn’t cry as much as my older daughter had getting vaccinated earlier.
I continued to delay each set of vaccines by a couple of months for her, and for my next two children as well. I very strongly believe in immunizations and I absolutely was going to do them, but on a delayed schedule. My last daughter didn’t have her first set until she was almost six months old. But they were all fully caught up by the time they were two. I didn’t really consult any experts -- I just trusted my instincts.
What ultimately convinced you to make the decision you did?
I exclusively breastfed all my girls, and I figured as long as I was breastfeeding, they should be protected by the immunities I was giving them, as well as taking other precautions like not letting strangers touch them or letting sick people come to the house. If I’d formula fed, I don’t know if I would have done this schedule.
Do you ever worry about your decision?
No, I definitely would do it again the same way. I was particularly glad with my second child, because as she got older I found that she was the one who had a lot of problems with her immune system. I think it’s good that I followed my mother’s instincts and waited, because she probably would have had much more trouble handling shots earlier, as weak as her immune system was.
How do you feel about your decision now?
I definitely would do it again the same way. I just wanted to do what was best for my babies. I noticed that the older my girls were were, the faster they recovered from immunization, with fevers, irritability, and how much it hurt them. I mentioned to my sister that I found this approach worked for me, and she did the same with one of her kids and agreed that it worked better.
Public health officials stress that vaccination is important for the public good, not just the individual child. Do you agree or disagree, and why?
I totally believe in vaccines, I think they’ve changed the world. I do genealogy as a hobby, and when I looked at my family history, I saw how many people died of diphtheria. When you go into these cemeteries and see these teeny little gravestones next to the parents and can see they all died within a week of each other, that’s powerful. There’s an older pioneer-type cemetery not too far from here, with a book that lists what everybody died of. Over 60% of people in that cemetery are children under the age of five who mostly died of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Krista DiBlanca, 24, nanny/stay-at-home mom, Red Hook, N.Y.
My husband and I decided not to vaccinate our daughter, who is now 14 months old.
Right now, she is completely unvaccinated.
When I was pregnant, we started looking into whether or not we were going to vaccinate and which vaccines we were going to do. We haven’t taken it off the table completely, but we’re just really concerned about a lot of the adverse side effects, and I’m talking now about the ones that are proven, even though they’re rare. There are just so many unknowns.
We read and referred to Dr. William Sears’ Vaccine Book quite often, and had originally talked about following his schedule, but it just didn’t feel right to us. We had a gut feeling that we needed to hold off on them and wait and see as she gets older if we feel she needs anything.
Our original pediatrician’s office was not very supportive, so when she was nine months old, we switched to a more holistic practice. Most of our current pediatrician’s patients are vaccinated, but he’s not judgmental if you choose not to. I also attended meetings of a holistic moms network, where I found more moms who shared similar views, and that made me feel better about my decision.
For our daughter and in our situation, I think it’s the safest thing. I left my job and am watching my nephew so I can contribute to the household but not have to put my daughter in day care. If she were in day care, we’d have to think strongly about which vaccines we wanted to do, but she’s not in contact with enough other children for us to worry about it now. I know I’m lucky because I don’t have to worry so much about what someone else is bringing in.
We try really hard to make sure that no unnecessary chemicals are in her body. We buy organic as often as we can, she’s still breastfeeding, and we try to avoid exposure to toxins. It was hard to wrap our heads around injecting her with chemicals that we weren’t comfortable with, especially the amount of aluminum that is in vaccines now. We’re more scared of reactions than we are about her getting sick.
Our daughter was in the hospital a few months ago with a high fever caused by a virus. In the ER, it was scary thinking, “Did I cause this, is this my fault because I didn’t give her a shot?” Although it turned out that it wasn’t because she wasn’t vaccinated, we did revisit the discussion with our doctor because I couldn’t imagine having her sick in the hospital because I didn’t do something. He said that she will get sick sometimes, and that this had nothing to do with being vaccinated or not -- but he does recommend the DTaP vaccine because of the pertussis outbreaks recently. Still, he didn’t want to pressure us just because we were scared.
We definitely feel very comfortable with our decision. Every now and then, we’ll talk it over and see how we feel. My husband was a little less on board with it than I was. He’s definitely more concerned with her not being vaccinated, but it’s something that we talk about and address. He does think he wants to revisit it at school age, and I’m comfortable with that, but I don’t know if I’ll change my mind.
I definitely understand that, and I think it would be hard to be a parent of a child who was immunocompromised. But I feel it’s more important for me to look out for my own child than the public as a whole. I know it sounds awful, but I can’t reconcile giving her a shot that could have life-altering consequences, just for everyone else. She’s fine without it. She’s still breastfed and gets my immunities, and so far she’s a happy and healthy 14-month-old. We’ve done a lot of reading, and haven’t seen anything that makes us seriously question our decision.
Jody Urbas, 37, teacher, Medina, Ohio.
I have two daughters, ages three years and three months. My girls get all their vaccinations on schedule.
My husband and I both were very much in agreement from the outset that we would do all of them. I work around kids in a school setting, and so I see all the diseases that are going around. With my kids also being in day care, I wouldn’t want them to catch something from someone else. My husband points out that these things that we vaccinate for were all epidemics in the past, and if we don’t vaccinate now, they could come back, like we’re seeing with whooping cough in California. I just feel the benefits outweigh the risks.
I know some people say they don’t give certain shots or delay because of an autism risk, but that’s not a belief for me. I don’t think the evidence supports it. A substantial number of those with autism are boys, and that’s what I see at school too. If vaccines were involved, then it would be the same among girls and boys.
I did a lot of research online, and I read Dr. Sears’ Vaccine Book with the alternative schedule, but I just didn’t have any issues that made me want to consider delaying any vaccines.
I’d be more scared of my child having the illness than having the vaccine. After the first time we took our oldest daughter in for her vaccines at two months, she didn’t have any reactions at all, and she still hasn’t. So I didn’t have any reason to not give them to her. I can see some people who delay them because their kids have reactions, but we are comfortable with full vaccinations, including flu shots. I got the H1N1 shot when I was pregnant, and my DTaP [diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis] booster in the hospital when I had my second daughter.
No, I don’t. When my older daughter was two, she got rotavirus. We had to take her to the hospital she was so dehydrated. They told us that if she hadn’t gotten the rotavirus vaccine, the illness would have been worse and she would have had it longer. I can’t imagine having her feel even worse. Like with things like chicken pox -- I don’t understand people going to “chicken pox parties.” Why would you want your child to have something that would hurt them? It’s not like a cold. I teach sixth graders and last year, just on my team alone, we had five students who had chicken pox and they were out a good two weeks. I was pregnant at the time and I was scared.
We will definitely continue to fully vaccinate. Our thinking, both of us, is that most of the time what could happen to you without immunizations is worse than the common side effects, like a leg hurting for a day or two, or a fever. If you can keep your child from getting something, why wouldn’t you?
I completely agree with this. We’re now seeing diseases that were almost unknown in my 37 years of life coming around again, like whooping cough. People wait, they think because all these other kids have the shots, I don’t need to give them to my kid. But there are so many people getting on that bandwagon that now some of these diseases are making a comeback.
SOURCES:Lori Allen, Lehigh, Utah.Krista DiBlanca, Red Hook, N.Y.Jody Urbas, Medina, Ohio.
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