Years ago, when I was pregnant with Beans, my first, the Cap’n and I were up late watching television. There was an episode of “E.R.” on where one of the plot lines involved a kid brought to the hospital after collapsing on a school trip. It turns out the kid had measles, and ended up dying in the emergency room. Further inquiry into the case turned up the fact that the child’s parents had opted not to vaccinate him.
How he managed to get through school (especially public school in America) without being current in his vaccinations escapes me. But the real point was the fact that despite widespread immunization programs in the U.S., diseases like measles have not yet been eradicated. I remember as a child an outbreak of measles in our area, and my parents taking us on a Saturday to a school gym many miles from where we lived in order to get my sister vaccinated.
This made a conversation I had recently with another mom about our children all the more interesting. She’s a new immigrant to Israel, and I was telling her about our experiences with Tipat Chalav (the well-child clinic) and Nurse Evil who works there (sister to Dr. Evil, I’m convinced). She smiled at my stories, and said, “Well, I won’t be taking my children there.” “You won’t?” I asked. “No,” she answered. “I don’t vaccinate them.”
The way she said that last sentence was with the same casual assurance as one might use to say, “I don’t spank my children” or “We don’t eat non-kosher food in our house.”
This fascinates me for a number of reasons. Most of my home-schooling friends here and in the States don’t vaccinate their children either. (This mom’s kids go to regular schools here in Israel.) I suspect their reasons include the fact that their children aren’t in regular contact with children they don’t know, they believe that these diseases are essentially eradicated, they don’t need to vaccinate since everyone else does, and some developmental difficulties have been correlated with (note I don’t say “caused by”) administration of some vaccines. There may be other reasons as well, but these are the ones I can guess at or have heard.
The Cap’n and I have chosen to vaccinate our children against all the typical diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whooping cough, hepatitis A and B, and the rest) except chicken pox, which we will do as late as possible. (Despite the vaccine being given for a couple of decades, no one seems to know how long it’s good for, and when a booster might be required. Since the result of a woman coming in contact with chicken pox while pregnant is usually quite bad, and because we have three daughters, we will have them get the vaccine as late as possible in the hope that it will carry them through their child-bearing years at least.) We believe that despite what some people may think, these diseases still exist on the planet, and while the chance of catching them has been drastically reduced, the morbidity and misery associated with them is not worth taking the risk. Our children are healthy, thank God, and we have observed no ill effects from giving our children the vaccines against them.
What I do find interesting is that in the population I know that doesn’t vaccinate, all the same sorts of anomalies in children exist as in the vaccinated population—developmental delays, ADD, personality disorders, learning disabilities, and sensory integration difficulties. In other words, their children appear comparable (not superior) to vaccinated children in mental and physical health, intelligence, and every other category.
In the end, it’s up to the parents to decide whether the risks (as yet unproven, to my knowledge) of vaccinating outweigh the risks of a child getting ill, and act accordingly.