The Vaccination Conversation

Do it! Don’t do it! Do it, but spread them out! Where do you stand on immunizing our children?

Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the newest installment of our parenting column written by two sets of Richmonders: Jorge and Patience Salgado (veteran parents of four gorgeous children), and Ross and Valerie Catrow (parenting rookies who have only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a few months). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.

Today’s question: How do you feel about vaccinating your children?

The Salgados

I have to admit, vaccines have always scared the bejesus out of me. While I wholeheartedly believe in Jenner and the life saving work he discovered, it seems counter-intuitive to actually expose your kid to the very illness you are trying to prevent. Before all our infectious disease experts and doctors start throwing beakers at me, I want you to know, I depend on your knowledge and our children have been vaccinated.

So now that all our medical friends have taken a deep breath and feel a sigh of relief, I have not. I still hold my breath every time I sign the papers and hand them to the nurse.

Seven weeks after my son was born we moved from Miami to Richmond. Before we left my pediatrician suggested we give Josiah the full load of shots to buy me some time to find a new doctor and get settled after the move. This sounded logical to me, and I had yet to do any research on immunizations, so I agreed. Four shots and lord knows how many actual vaccines later, my kid was sick with an infection that sent us to the hospital a week later. While I’m sure it was unrelated, it did get my brain working to research this world and make some more thoughtful decisions.

It was hard to sort through the information; the two sides were so strong, and I found myself feeling lost and more conflicted. Other countries like Italy and Japan have more lenient vaccination schedules, and in the 80’s saw a decline in their rate of SIDS. Japan later saw an increase in cases of Pertussis and reversed some of their recommendations. Throw in the autism scare (which was found to be bogus), mercury madness, and the increased rate of neurological problems with our children and you have yourself a serious parental worry cocktail.

After reading about the effectiveness of certain vaccines compromising little immune systems and even more dizzying research we decided to work on a delayed schedule and give only two at a time. We secretly bank on the herd immunity of Richmond which makes us terrible public health citizens but allows me to be able to actually sign the consent forms at all. This is one topic that every parent should research for themselves. It’s more than playground conversation and news articles. However, when I start to get all up in my head, my wise mother reminds me that these are problems of privilege and wealth in our highly developed country. I sigh, kiss my babies and say a little prayer for parents everywhere.

The Catrows

When I was interviewing the doctor who we ended up choosing to be our child’s pediatrician (and who I like to call Dr. Cutie McSweaterVest – but that’s an ENTIRELY different post altogether), we naturally discussed the topic of vaccinations.

When I asked him, “What are your views on vaccinations?” he almost winced, I imagine from memories of being taken through the wringer by parents who wanted to 1) debate the vaccination/autism connection or 2) scold him for the AAP’s recommended (sometimes deemed “aggressive”) scheduling of those vaccines.

I think he was relieved when I said, “Oh don’t worry, I’m not going to fight you on any of it, I was just curious.”

Not that parents shouldn’t fight for the well-being of their children. That’s a big part of the job… you’re there to be their advocates until they can do it themselves. But based on the research I did (which was extensive – I mean, the majority of my job requires me to tool around on the Internet, so you can bet your sweet bippy that Google was groaning, “Vaccinations AGAIN?” at me by the end of my second trimester), Ross and I both just didn’t view vaccinations as something putting our child in danger. To us, not doing it seemed to set us up for something much riskier.

It’s our opinion that vaccinations are a public health issue. They are the result of advancements in medicine to which we are privileged to have access. And not only do I want to protect my child from certain life-threatening illnesses, but, had we chosen not to vaccinate, I would be paralyzed by fear of the possibility that not only could my child contract one of these diseases but also pass it along to someone else.

So we vaccinate. “On schedule,” I guess you could say, because, although some might consider it naive of us, we operate under the assumption that our child’s doctor (who was carefully selected… and not just because of the sweater vest) wants the best for him as well. We’ve been lucky that we haven’t had horrible side effects following the shots, beyond some minor fussiness. Does it give me the willies that I’m knowingly and willingly allowing someone to inject some infectious disease into my child, even though I understand it’s how vaccinations work? Yes. Do I hate how he looks at me in shock and then his face turns purple while he screams as the nurse plunges a needle into his chubby leg? Totally. But would we ever opt not to do it? Absolutely not. The alternative seems much more terrifying.

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Patience Salgado

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Mel on said:

    I’m not even going to follow this post because this topic brings all the crazies out with their conspiracy theories. I’m with the Catrows. There is no evidence or link between vaccinations and autism. None whatsoever. Period. If you do not choose to vax your child then you are not only putting your child in danger, but you are putting other lives in danger and that is disgusting. People like Jenny McCarthy should be jailed for spreading false information and leaving behind an actual body count.

  2. Jeb on said:

    Since, for example, there’s been at least one newly reported case of measles, it means that diseases have NOT gone away. The anti-immunization trend means that it’s more likely than ever that these diseases are going to continue to crop up in places where we think they’ve been eradicated. Since I can’t make other parents keep their sick kids out of the pediatricians’ offices (and nor would I want to), all I can do is safeguard mine, and that means taking advantage of modern medicine and listening to our doctors.

  3. Does anyone know the rules pertaining to vaccinations and admission to public school? Here’s a list of what’s required from the VA Dept. of Education: (#4 on the list).

    It does say that immunizations aren’t required if you have an affidavit saying that you opt out because of religious reasons or a letter from a physician stating that a specific immunization would be hazardous to the child’s health.

    I wonder how public schools would handle a parent who opted to not vaccinate for reasons not related to those mentioned above. Anyone know?

  4. Tiffanie on said:

    I’m with Val and Ross and the on-schedule vaccinations and how awful it is to take your happy baby who has been showing off for the pediatrician and waving at the nurses and let someone shove a needle in her leg.

    Which makes me wonder what the doc is injecting into the little girl’s arm in the picture above and why she seems so pleased about it!

  5. I do find it a little funny. That we say YES government make all kids get vaccinated. but NO government do not take away my Cigarettes or say I cannot smoke in public. Seriously, go ahead chuckle it’s true.

    Yes, my kids are vaccinated. My daughter who will be here in 6 days will also get vaccinated. But it’s something we feel we need to do – but with fingers crossed and a little prayer.

  6. I agree with the fingers crossed and a little prayer thing, Eric. I think parents are like that with most decisions they have to make though.

  7. Groover Johnson on said:

    The thing I find odd about the “autism debate” is that nobody really notes that the rise in the autism rate is perhaps linked into the ‘loosening’ (for lack of a better term) standard of diagnosing somebody with autism. Children are being diagnosed with autism these days who would not receive such a diagnosis, given the same symptoms, ten years ago. Much of this argument seems to be the tail wagging the dog…

  8. RVANews, are you just trying to start flame wars with these parenting segments? You’re picking some really hot subjects.

    We vaccinate, but not everyone we know does. We are on our own schedule. Many of the non-vaxxers I know get irritated when discussion centers around the autism debate. They will tell you it is one of the least concerns in their reasons, if they consider it relevant at all. There are other reasons not to vaccinate.

  9. Jorge on said:

    Val: I think public schools will give you a hell of a time if you do not have valid reasons for not vaccinating. We have NOT tested that at all…

    Crazies or no crazies, we had to pause and really think about how to go about administering the vaccinations. We would never not vaccinate, but wanted to find a Doc willing to take a more gradual approach with our kids.

  10. Kat, I think most parenting issues will get this kind of response. I know the conversations happening here have caused me to think about the choices I’m making about parenting.

    I think the delayed schedule is a great option for those wary of vaccines. We just weren’t wary enough to opt for that.

  11. Joss on said:

    I constantly deny my kids things simply by telling them that it’s been linked to autism. It works because they really don’t want autism.

  12. Jonesy on said:

    There was a story on NPR’s This American Life about this. Episode #370: Ruining It for the Rest of Us.

    I do not have kids so I guess I haven’t had to seriously think about this, but to me it sounds like by not getting your kid’s shots and putting other kids at risk and being responsible for worst case scenario would be way too horrible to handle.

  13. We asked our doctor to stagger the shots so our baby wouldn’t have to get six injections in a single visit. “Okay.” So, which ones can we put off until next visit? “It’s up to you. Which disease do you want your baby to die from?”

    ??? !!! I’m all for going along with the western medicine biz when it’s expedient, but why the freakin’ zealotry? Did she just come from protesting at abortion clinics or did you graduate from Liberty U med school? (this bares some resemblence to our bad interactions with the OB in the run up to the birth) We switched doctors and we’re still proceeding with the shots.

  14. Wow. Even though I’m fine with the immunization schedule they recommend, I would have switched doctors after that as well.

    It’s like on pediatrician we interview who, when asked about his opinions on breastfeeding, said, “It’s my experience that most women who end up stopping breastfeeding early on never really wanted to do it in the first place.” Yes HE said that. HE who obviously has never breastfed anyone. While I’ve had no problems at all, I would have been paranoid to bring up any concerns about it with him. But I digress.

  15. Mark on said:

    As one of the vaccine givers (I’m a family physician working on Southside) I strongly promote vaccines and think that the protection they provide is critical. Most (all?) of us reading these posts haven’t seen kids die of tetanus, diphtheria, etc and hopefully we never will.

    I find that, by and large, most families we work with are ok w/ vaccines. I haven’t found a parent yet who likes seeing their son or daughter get the vaccines but most recognize the long-term benefits.

    I’ve been guilty of offering 5 or 6 vaccines at a time, but usually those are for children who have fallen off the schedule and who (for various reasons) I feel are at risk of not returning or completing the series.

    The issue of school-required vaccines: most parents I’ve worked with opted out with the religious exemption. If a parent refused vaccines for non-religious issues, I really don’t know how to address it. I wouldn’t force the vaccines, but I wonder if the school would let them in? It’s a really good question; I truly don’t know.

    The vaccine/mercury/autism links have been, in my opinion, convincingly refuted. The alternative vaccine schedules that are out there stretch out the vaccines, result in more shots, and complicate things–the recommended official schedule is preferred and usually limits to 3 or 4 shots any given time.

    Just some thoughts.

  16. Jennifer C. on said:

    We spaced ours out, and neither child got his hep B at birth. I don’t see the point in overloading an immature immune system with a potpourri o’ germs.

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