August is National Immunization Awareness Month. I wanted to take the opportunity this month to talk about vaccine hesitancy and share some resources.
*This post is not medical advice, and the opinions discussed here are my own. Please discuss any medical concerns related to vaccines for your child with their pediatrician.
Vaccines are often a victim of their success.
In the early 1900s, it was common to see gravestones of babies never reaching adulthood because of illnesses like diphtheria, measles, and pertussis. In 2000, measles was declared eradicated from the United States. Since then, owing in part to a now-retracted study making a false link between the MMR vaccine and autism, measles cases are on the rise.
Fortunately, most children who get vaccine-preventable diseases recover. But they can develop long-term effects, including deafness (measles), infertility (mumps), and lung scarring (pertussis). Vaccination is the best way to avoid these complications.
Vaccine hesitancy, which has been increasing in recent years, made the WHO list ten threats to global health in 2019, right next to Ebola.
I get it.
It feels weird to give a shot to a healthy child. It stimulates that primal need that wants to keep our children safe from harm. I am not here to pass judgment or preach. The decisions you make are between your family and your doctor. Below are some tips on approaching vaccine hesitancy and how to find information.
1. If you want to do your research, know your sources.
Most of us, even those who are in STEM, lack the expertise to evaluate vaccine research and data. Immunology and virology are hard, so use your resources wisely and ask follow-up questions. Anything coming from the disinformation dozen should be discounted as a reliable resource and (most) Facebook groups. Stick to mainstream information and ask for references if someone is making a bold claim.
2. Find a pediatrician you trust and will listen to your concerns.
Your pediatrician is the one helping you along on your parenting journey. They’re there to answer those “is it normal” and “take a look at this rash” questions. They’re also there to give you information on vaccinations and answer some of the tough questions. You can even see if you can schedule a separate visit to discuss any concerns.
You might not always be happy with a doctor’s recommendation or get the answer you were expecting. However, you should always feel respected, listened to, and heard.
3. Examine your own biases and anxieties.
I vaccinated my children fully and on schedule. I also suffered from postpartum anxiety and struggled with some well visits. Misinformation from social media fed the “lizard brain” and made those early shots high stress. Examining my anxiety issues helped keep my children on schedule.
For more information, check this out:
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is a treasure trove of vaccine information. You can basically Google “CHoP vaccine ____” and get easy-to-understand info. Here’s one on the safety of aluminum in vaccines.
- Peter Hotez and Paul Offit are two of my doctor heroes and vaccine experts. Dr. Hotez is a vaccine scientist, and autism dad who wrote Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism.
- You don’t get away without me mentioning Dr. Zubin Damania, AKA ZDoggMD. He is sometimes controversial but down to earth and uses humor to discuss important health concerns, such as why we give the hepatitis B vaccine so early.
- Read this Toolkit to discuss vaccination with hesitant loved ones and friends in a respectful and meaningful way.