There, I said it: vaccines, vaccines, vaccines.
I feel like the topic of childhood vaccinations has become something that people either GET REALLY, VERY ANGRY ABOUT or avoid altogether. I tend toward the latter. I’m 100% uninterested in online shouting matches, so I steer clear of anything that seems to be devolving into one.
But I do have my (pro-vaccine) opinions on the matter and I am rather fond of sharing my opinions generally (hence the blog), so every once in a while I jump in when the jumping seems good.
A couple of days ago, I spotted just such an opportunity: a conversation was brewing in response to a Facebook friend’s post. I thought I’d answer another person’s comment with a little something calm and polite before the thread got too hot.
The commenter and I went back and forth a bit. We remained respectful. There were no fireworks. Still, she seemed a little hurt, a little defensive. She seemed to want affirmation. More than anything, she seemed to want people to be okay with her position.
I see that a lot on this topic. I don’t see many anti-vaxxers trying to convince the rest of us that they’re right. (Though maybe that’s just the crowd I run in.) I see them trying to convince us that their decision to not vaccinate should be just as acceptable as our decision to vaccinate.
In response to them, I generally see the combative pro-vaxxers SHOUT REALLY, VERY ANGRY THINGS and the peaceful pro-vaxxers come dangerously close (or completely buy in) to the “everything-is-equal” mentality. You know: We all need to make the decisions that are right for us. That kind of thing.
Last week I was one of the many thousands of women, I’m sure, who laughed and then cried at Similac’s Mother ‘Hood video. In it, different parenting factions bump up against each other at a playground: the crunchy moms, the working moms, the babywearers, the breastfeeders, the bottle feeders, etc. They’re each convinced of their own superiority and they’re itching for a fight.
Until a stroller starts rolling down a hill.
Right on cue, all the parents rush to the stroller. They stop it in time, the baby is shown to be safe, and everyone is relieved. “No matter our beliefs, we’re parents first,” the ad says.
It’s incredibly touching; I whimper like a baby every time I see it.
But we’re just shown the two extremes. We parents seem to be expected to fit into one of two molds: Mommy War Combatants or Enlightened Pacifists.
What about the middle?
What about not seeing every disagreement as a FIGHT, but also not letting ourselves fall into the intellectually lazy, PC trap that is “let’s agree to disagree”?
What about having the courage to defend our beliefs and the openness to listen to others’ opinions? What about honoring the love that parents have for their children but recognizing that sometimes people make poor choices? What about distinguishing between parenting practices that are matters of taste and those that are matters of safety?
What about accepting that, as valid as our disagreements might be, sometimes they’re worth airing and sometimes they’re not?
Personally, I’m a stay-at-home, from-scratch cooking, no-organic buying, bottle feeding, stroller pushing and Ergo-wearing, time-out using, sometimes-yelling mom. But I’m not about to say a thing to convince crunchy, breastfeeding, exclusive baby-wearing, peaceful parenting moms that they’re wrong. I may disagree with elements of their parenting styles, but I concede that these are matters of taste. What works for me and my family will not be what works for another woman and her family.
Vaccines, though, are not a matter of taste; they are a matter of safety.
It’s blessedly easy for us to forget these days, but for most of human history, it was terribly dangerous to be a child. If you survived childbirth, you had to withstand round after round of disease (not to mention dangers related to hygiene and malnutrition). And if you survived the diseases, you had to withstand whatever effects they left on you. You might be left scarred or crippled or disabled in some other way.
Just walk around any old cemetery and take a look at the headstones – you’ll get a sense of how many children lost their lives too soon.
Thank goodness, these days most of us don’t have to think much about the possibility of losing a child. A major reason for this is childhood vaccinations. They’ve been keeping us safe for generations, in some cases bringing diseases close to the point of eradication. Or, in the case of smallpox, even getting to that point.
Until other diseases get there too, we’ve simply got to keep vaccinating.
We’ve each got to do our own part, as small as it may seem, to stop the spread of disease. When I get my child vaccinated, I not only protect him, but I protect those he comes in contact with. I protect those they come in contact with. And so on.
Some will rely on my protection (and that of others) because for medical reasons they are ineligible to be vaccinated (infants, those with compromised immune systems, those with allergies to vaccine components).
Others may not seem to need my protection because they’ve been vaccinated too. But nothing in this world is perfect. Though vaccines work the vast majority of the time, sometimes immune systems don’t respond as you would hope. Sometimes vaccinated people have to rely on that beautifully-termed “herd immunity” for protection, just as infants and otherwise medically-ineligible individuals have to.
That’s why, when I make the decision to vaccinate my child, I don’t just make the decision for my own family. I make it for yours too.
And – whether you’re thinking of us or not – when you make your decision regarding vaccination for your family, you do so for mine as well.
Please decide to protect us.
I have a 9-month-old baby, not yet old enough to have been vaccinated against the measles. Please decide to protect him.
Combative pro-vaxxers: Please stop yelling. Please stop calling people names. Please stop questioning motives. Please try not to be so angry.
I know you care about this issue and you want anti-vaxxers to come to see it from your point of view, but anger rarely convinces anyone of anything. If you care enough to weigh in on an issue, you should care enough to try to be persuasive. So, persuade.
Calm down. Think about the issue from your opponents’ viewpoints and do your best to figure out how to make your points in ways that will resonate with them. Go forth and try to make a difference.
Peaceful pro-vaxxers: Please think for a moment about why you vaccinate your own children. If you’re convinced that vaccinations are necessary to keep them safe, then wouldn’t they also be necessary to keep other families’ children safe?
Please consider that maybe issues of safety are worth having a firm opinion on, even worth weighing in on – uncomfortable though they may be. I know you don’t want to hurt others’ feelings. So, don’t be hurtful.
Be brave. Think about the issue from your opponents’ viewpoints and do your best to figure out how to make your points in ways that will resonate with them. Go forth and try to make a difference.
Anti-vaxxers: Please think for a moment about why you don’t vaccinate your own children. If you’re convinced that vaccinations would be harmful to them, then wouldn’t they also be harmful to other families’ children?
If you feel confident in your decision to not vaccinate, then you should want to convince other parents to follow your example. If you feel confident in your decision to not vaccinate, then you should be able to defend your decision. Explain your rationale. Provide your evidence. Own it.
Do not seek affirmation for its own sake. Earn it by convincing others that your side is the right one.
This is an important issue. Precious little lives are at stake. Let’s do right by our discussion of it.
Let’s fight the good fight – one conducted fairly, one for a worthy cause. Let’s remember that refusing to fight fairly is a mark of doubting your own position. And that refusing to enter the fray can be a mark of doubting its importance.