To Vaccinate or not to Vaccinate

By Russell Lee, U.S. Department of Interior Wikimedia Commons

Image By Russell Lee, U.S. Department of Interior
Wikimedia Commons

(Not intended to provide medical advice.)

A measles outbreak in the Fraser Valley has brought the question of vaccines to the forefront again. Even though I am not a medical professional I am going to weigh in on this, because I have something of a unique perspective. I grew up when measles, mumps and chickenpox were still common diseases. Since then, I have raised four children, during which time an increasing number of vaccines have become available.

In the late 1960’s my brother and I contracted the measles. I was only about four, so I don’t remember much, except that my two year old brother fared much worse than I, with terrible screaming fits.

When the measles vaccine came out, my mother was first in line with my youngest brother, who hadn’t been born when the first round hit. She was disappointed to find out he couldn’t have it as the vaccine culture was grown in eggs and he was allergic.

Wouldn’t you know, when he was sixteen, he got the measles. Not fun times for a young man.

We were all hit with the chickenpox when I was 11. I still remember the torment of that disease and have a tiny scar around my hairline to prove it. The worst part though, was the infections I got afterward. The doctor said were it not for antibiotics, I could have gone deaf.

My sons got chickenpox too and we had sleepless nights filled with oatmeal baths and incessant crying.

So what did I do about vaccines for my children? It wasn’t even a question in my mind, since I had firsthand experience. I brought my kids to the doctor’s office and got them inoculated more or less according to schedule. Their only obvious reaction was to uncharacteristically fall asleep for a few hours afterward and that was fine with me.

When they were school aged, I began to read and hear about people who were choosing to not vaccinate. Questions about links with autism and accounts of severe side effects arose, especially as information on the internet expanded.

New vaccines were coming out too, for chickenpox, hepatitis and HPV. When my daughter was around two, we were planning a holiday and rumor had it of a chickenpox outbreak. I plunked down $80 and got her shot for that. I did not want a repeat of past experience.

The hepatitis B vaccine became a topic of discussion among a few mothers at school. In reading about Hep B, we concluded that the disease required certain behaviours and conditions to get.

The same went for my daughter when she came of age for the HPV vaccine. Since HPV is a sexually transmitted disease and there was a lot of controversy regarding potential side effects, we decided to forgo that one, since we taught our children to avoid sexual contact before marriage. As far as I know, they have bought into our family values on this matter.  If at some point my daughter shows signs of serious rebellion or that she is engaging in high risk behaviour, I would talk about her health.

As you might have guessed, I lean towards vaccines for easily transmitted serious illness and away from vaccines where there are other less invasive ways of preventing the disease.

But it is not a one size fits all conclusion! You need to decide for yourself and your children. Find out about the diseases that vaccines are supposed to prevent. How prevalent is the disease? What are the risks and the possible complications? Note to those of child-bearing age right now: You likely did not experience these diseases because of widespread vaccinations. Talk to your mother or grandmother about measles, mumps and chickenpox.  They might have an opinion.  In looking at the STD vaccines, hiding your head in the sand is not enough. Have you passed along your family values and has your child caught the message or could they be involved in high risk behaviours, or even a job or trip that may expose them to hepatitis or another serious illness?

As to the risks of vaccines, look it up. Occasionally children react badly to their first vaccines and worse to subsequent vaccines. Talk to your health care provider and do your own research from reliable sources.

Group think is not an acceptable response. Make a properly informed decision. Figure out where the most risk lies and mitigate it in the best possible way.

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