So, here is my contribution to the Great Vaccination Debate. Although I’m not going to take a stand, and I’m not going to try to convince you of anything, so in the “debate” format, this is a dubious addition. What I am going to do is tell you a story.
Here is the story of how we finally got to the Pointy Doctor. That’s what my son calls her. It was a much-delayed trip; the older children had their vaccines years ago, but the youngest is nearly 4. There were all kinds of reasons for this delay on the vaccines, mostly to do with not having a doctor, but partly to do with H1N1 vaccinations hijacking public health so they refused to do any well baby visits for months and months, and eventually most of a year. But part of it had to do with fears – mine.
I have seen the word “arrogant” batted around fairly freely in reference to people who choose not to vaccinate. I can understand how it looks that way to someone outside my head. The medical community knows best, right? The doctors and the CDC and WHO all say, “Vaccinate early, vaccinate lots. The risks are small. You have no reason (or right) to refuse.”
But sitting in the office with a perfectly healthy child on my lap, I am handed a piece of paper to sign that says (in the fine print) that I may be back in the hospital in two days with a child with encephalitis and brain damage, and it’s completely unpredictable, but the risk is very low, and it’s a risk that they are willing to take. And I know that the risk of ‘catching’ measles in the next two days is nearly zero, and the risks of complications are low, and I’m measuring vanishingly small risks against one another, and I have a perfectly healthy child in my lap, and if I take this action and something happens it will be my fault. That’s what the piece of paper says. If I consent, I am accepting this risk and the responsibility for it. If this vaccine kills my child (and it might), it Will. Be. My. Fault.
And I chicken out. I defer. I go home and think about it a little more. And I know the lifetime risk of the infection exceeds the lifetime risk of the shot, and I know that the autism connection wasn’t well-shown (and might actually be fraudulent.) And I know that we are so lucky that most of us don’t even have a conception of how sick children can really get because we’ve never had to watch our babies through weeks and months of recovery from scarlet fever or polio, and I know that (almost certainly) nothing will happen but irritability and a mild fever that can be controlled with ibuprofen and acetaminophen. And I know all those things and I steel myself, and I go back to the Pointy Doctor (the one physician in town who does vaccines for children who don’t have a doctor of their own.) And it is over in an instant, these tiny needles putting the tiny quantity of hamstrung and killed virus into my baby’s legs, and he whimpers, and scowls, and snarls, “I said I didn’t want to go to the Pointy Doctor.” (It is his second trip.) And I feel relief of sorts. The action is taken, the outcome is beyond my control. Even if (whisper) something happens (end whisper), I have done the best I can to make a good decision. A scientific decision. A rational decision. The best decision I can make under the circumstances.
But right now, I find myself in that two week period after the MMR, where probably nothing will happen. I accepted that risk. But the piece of paper haunts me… what if my child is the one that must be sacrificed to keep the others safe? This does not feel like arrogance. It feels like fear.