The Battle Between Emotion and Logic Regarding Vaccinations

I consider myself lucky that my children don’t go to the doctor very often. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve taken either of them to the doctor for something other than a routine well-child check. Of course, I’ve probably jinxed myself now, and will endure a long string of ear infections, cuts and strange rashes as a punishment for bragging about that.

But even the well-child visits are stressful for me. Cordy’s visits always start with a full-blown meltdown because she is terrified of the doctor’s office. Thankfully, those are only once a year now. For Mira, however, my stress results from the mental preparation of what will happen with each visit.

I took Mira to the pediatrician for her nine month check-up the other day. The first part of the exam went relatively well: 20 pounds, 29.5 inches long. Cordy may be the Amazon warrior princess, but Mira is proving to be an Amazon in height as well. (But not quite at warrior weight.) She charmed the nurse and charmed her doctor, babbling at both of them, waving her arms and flashing wide, scrunchy-eye grins.

Then the doctor got serious, and the discussion about her vaccinations began. Mira is on a delayed schedule for vaccines, and needed one shot that day. But the one year vaccinations are looming three months in the future, and I felt we needed to establish in advance a schedule we could all agree on.

I’m not against vaccinations. I know how important they are at providing herd immunity against a collection of diseases that once claimed so many lives. As a student nurse, the logical side of me knows they are relatively safe and effective. A couple of months ago, I had the chance to speak with Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philly. He explained how today’s standard children’s vaccines are safer than years ago, and that no study has been able to prove a conclusive connection between vaccines and autism. The logical side of me nods in agreement. After all, I had all of my vaccinations as a kid, and I was fine.

But then the mom in me says wait. Something feels off. While there is no definitive proof that vaccines cause autism, I am still hesitant. I remember the smiley baby who babbled and chatted and acted like every other baby three years ago. And I remember how, between 12 and 18 months, her personality shifted, ever so slightly, and she slowly pulled inward, became more difficult to interact with, and developed the series of traits that would eventually lead to a school psychologist asking me if I had heard of autism spectrum.

I don’t think vaccines cause autism. At least, not entirely. There is a genetic component – there has to be to explain how one child, raised in a manner similar to his/her peers, with similar exposures to environmental toxins, can develop autism while another child experiences a typical development pattern. That genetic defect is the underlying condition, but I think there has to be some sort of trigger also. And I can see how vaccines, or mercury in the water, or BPA in plastics, or phthalates in baby shampoo and lotion, or some other environmental toxin could provide that trigger that activates the genetic problem.

I’ll admit I’m doing it all differently with Mira. I breastfed her for eight months. (Cordy wasn’t as into breastfeeding.) We use BPA-free bottles now, and she eats mostly organic foods. For vaccinations, we’ve taken it slowly, with only one or two vaccines at a time.

So when her doctor mentioned her one year vaccinations coming up, I carefully explained that I didn’t want her to have the MMR vaccine at that time, and that I saw the Hepatitis A vaccine as an unnecessary vaccine. I also mentioned that I’d rather try to get her exposed to chicken pox on our own before considering that vaccine. After I expressed my preferences, I held my breath and waited for the lecture in return.

Surprisingly, her pediatrician looked at me and said, “That’s fine. I’m OK with delaying the MMR. It’s not like there has been a measles outbreak in this area. If there was, you can bet we’d call you to revisit this discussion. As long as she gets it before school, she’ll be fine.”

Whew. She understood my conflicted feelings on vaccines, and together we worked out a long-term schedule to follow. I want Mira to be protected, but I also want to take it slowly and not overload her system.

It’s a completely emotional response, and I know that. It’s possible Mira’s genetics are such that she will never develop autism. It’s also possible that no matter how different I try to make things, she will still succumb to it. Trying something different gives me hope, though. It gives me something to control in this sea of uncertainty, and I’ll cling to that hope for as long as I can.

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Comments

  1. I have a question, why would you prefer Mire receive the actual chicken pox virus? Why do you want her to get it before she is vaccinated? I am just curious.

  2. You are lucky to have such an understanding doctor. That is so important. I was talking to a nurse who was working on her masters and she is really against many vaccines (and I think she delayed the vaccines for her 3 kids).

    She made such a good point: If you discover a vaccine, you will instantly be a BILLIONAIRE.

    Which makes you wonder. When you see all the ads for a new vaccine, like Gardisal, you start thinking and wondering whether they are really concerned about cervical cancer? Or are they working on making their first billion?

  3. I can understand your hesitation and fears. I jumped in and vaccinated Squeaks, simply because I’m terrified of the diseases she could get without them. But if I were in your situation, I would think twice as well. It sounds like you have a great pediatrician who is willing to work with you. So it’s okay that you’re emotional about it because you’re handling it in a smart way. Go Mom!

  4. Dana J. Tuszke says:

    I think your approach is wonderful and you’re informed and I think that’s awesome. I was too much of a pushover when Dawson was a baby. I just did what the doctors said because I was afraid of causing trouble. Thankfully he hasn’t given me any reason to think he was negatively affected by his vaccinations. If we have another child, I think I’ll be more cautious and less afraid to stand up to the doctors.

  5. pinks & blues girls says:

    I think it’s so refreshing when medical professionals are willing to hear you out rather than lecture and berate you for questioning things like vaccinations. Being informed while looking out for our families’ best interests is what it’s all about, right?

    Jane, Pinks & Blues

  6. pinks & blues girls says:

    I think it’s so refreshing when medical professionals are willing to hear you out rather than lecture and berate you for questioning things like vaccinations. Being informed while looking out for our families’ best interests is what it’s all about, right?

    Jane, Pinks & Blues

  7. Mrs. Chicken says:

    I like the idea of a delayed schedule for vaccinations – perhaps I will take that course with no. 2. And I can fully understand your trepidations. How lucky you are to have a) your medical background and b) a sensible, understanding doctor.

  8. wow now i am freakign out over here – never even started to put all of those things in the same hat with any of that …
    I am however SO GLAD thta your Dr was understanding! That is WONDERFUL!!! That is something you can not replace and it is great that Dr understoond your fears and concerns!

  9. I don’t blame you , hon.I think a delayed schedule is more of a benefit for everyone, and not just families that have experienced autism before.

    Hey, btw, how’d that big nursing test go?

  10. Dana & Mrs. Chicken – Check out The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears. He does a great middle-of-the-road approach, telling you which ones are the most important, and which you can probably wait on or skip altogether.

    crackerjacksmo – The vaccine for the chicken pox has recently been in the news because they have found that it didn’t provide full immunity into adulthood. If you get the virus as a teen or adult, you’re more likely to come down with a more serious version of it that can lead to hospitalization and possibly death.

    Because of this study, they’re now recommending a booster, but they still aren’t sure how long the booster will last. I’d rather let her have a harmless childhood disease (it’s harmless for nearly all kids who get it) and have full immunity that way than risk a more serious version of it when she’s an adult.

  11. It’s definitely not a completely emotional reaction, as you said. As your post and your conversation with the doc both show, you’re being very methodical and logical. The extreme response would be to, say, skip her doctor’s appointment or something, or to refuse any vaccines at all and decide you’ll just have to homeschool eventually. You know?

    And wow! She’s tall and skinny! Ev had his 9-mo yesterday and was 21.5 pounds and 28.5 inches — 750h percentile all around, I think he said, meaning little Mira’s weight must be off the charts!

  12. Christina, this was really well written, as all your posts are.
    I had a really long discussion with my parents about the ‘vaccination debate’ and I’ve had it with friends, too. It was nice to see this written intelligently, but still with emotion.
    I think you did a good job of this.

  13. MamaMichelsBabies says:

    I am in love with your pediatrician. I took me years to find one that didn’t try to lecture me like I was the child in the room for not getting the kids the chicken pox vaccine. I delayed many of my childrens simply because I don’t think that many injections at such a tender age is at all good for their little bodies. Especially the way they pile them on in the first year.

    My pediatrician now is new to me, but already she and I see things similarly on these things. It’s always a help to be backed by your doc.

    Great post!

  14. Anonymous says:

    I think a big reason that the young’uns get so many vaccines at one time is because some (most?) parents wouldn’t be compliant about coming back to the office in a month to get another vaccination. Think of it: time off work, pay the copay, wait in the germy waiting room…
    Ask one of your nursing instructors about chicken pox (the disease). Most people think of chicken pox as this mildly annoying itchy rash, and that’s all. It’s not. It’s a serious respiratory illness. It can kill. Since it’s contagious before the rash is visible, you could conceivably spread it to lots of people, some of whom may be elderly or immunocompromised. Like you said, it’s about herd immunity. Unless you never leave the house, you are putting other people at risk. I understand your trepidation with the vaccine. It’s just a vaccine, not a guarantee. Most children who still contract chicken pox have a much milder case than they would without the vaccination. They may not have full immunity into adulthood, but lots of children who had the disease don’t have full immunity. That’s why adults can get shingles (which is varicella, too).
    Kudos to you for standing up for your family. It’s great that your pediatrician is so understanding.
    Hepatitis A may be an optional vaccine for most kids, but where will you be? If you’re in a clinical setting where you could be exposed, you may want to have her immunized.
    Some studies have suggested that environmental factors play a big role in influencing autism. Television is one such factor. How much TV did Cordy watch from being an interactive infant to a withdrawn toddler? It could be that the developing brain develops in an anomalous way because the TV doesn’t really interact with the child.

  15. Sounds like you’re taking a logical approach. It’s all so scary. So many chemicals. And as if life isn’t busy enough without having to worry about exposing our children to dangerous chemicals.

    I didn’t have the information about vaccines when my boys were going through it. In a way, I’m glad. It would have completely stressed me out.

  16. I can not blame you one bit. I took control of my kiddos health when I took control of their education. It was simply the best thing that I could have done. Listen to your instincts. Mommies are usually right on the mark. :)

  17. I’ve actually ended up switching doctors because our pediatrician, who told me she supported my alternative schedule, ended up trying to shame me about it every chance she got. I’m glad your doctor was supportive.

    I think, when it comes to vaccines, it’s all still relatively new. While no one has yet proven a link between Autism and the shots, it would be very difficult to prove there is not a link. So it’s sort of a matter of no one has proven a link…yet. So it’s better to err on the side of caution, as I think we are by spreading them out and opting out of some.

  18. Karianna says:

    I wouldn’t say “emotion” versus “logic,” because as one commenter already pointed out, you are going about this in a logical way.

    I am sure you know where I stand: genetic component, environmental trigger(s).

    You’ve seen the recent stories about the case where the girl WAS shown to be vaccine-injured, right? It has certainly set off yet another “round” of the controversy.

    Meanwhile, British studies continue to agree with a link between petroleum-based food additives and behavior.

    I’ve been on the “inside” of the pharmaceutical industry – and alas, it isn’t pretty! ;-)

    I am glad your doctor is being understanding!

  19. I agree with everything you said 100%. My son is on the spectrum and while I don’t completely blame the vacination, I do think he has/had a predisopisition that with the vacination brought out the autism more. He needs his next round to go in 6th grade (he’s in 4th). Not sure what I’m going to do. I know they are good for you in protecting you from stuff, but will I also have to fight extra hard to keep him with us vs. pulling into himeself after the shot, even if they are spaced out?

  20. Great well thought out post. I was wondering if do they do the MMR in three sepreate vaccine injections?

    I know that’s a lot of sticking for a little one but it might be better the the three in one and a bit of piece of mind for you.

  21. Major Bedhead says:

    I think whenever you have a child with a chronic condition, of any kind, you’re always hyper-aware about the same or similar symptoms in your other children and you worry about what might have caused it in the first place. I know I am. If I were in your shoes, I’d be doing the exact same thing you’re doing. You’re not refusing to vaccinate, just taking it more slowly. Sounds like you have a fantastic pediatrician.

  22. Wisconsin Mommy says:

    I don’t think you are being emotional at all. This story http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/06/11/health/main2911164.shtml sent shivers down my spine as these are medical people making this claim. If I ever have another child, I will definitely do things differently. And as someone who had chicken pox at age 25, I can completely agree that it is much better to get it as a child!

  23. I think you are taking the right approach. We are having our first baby in May and I’ve already starting thinking about what I might do about the vaccines. I haven’t come to a conclusion yet, Im just trying to educate myself.

  24. I agree with you completely. Though I didn’t wait with my kids, because I wasn’t as well educated then, I did pass on the Chicken Pox one. After all, EVERYONE I know has had them, and WE are all fine. And you know what, my little Ninja got them! Now we just have to wait until the Princess gets them now. I can’t wait! (crazy, huh?)

  25. Annon:
    Getting shingles as an adult is directly related to getting chicken pox as a child. It is a re-activation of the virus in the body, and has nothing to do with immunity. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles. Scientists think that in the original battle with the varicella-zoster virus, some of the virus particles leave the skin blisters and move into the nervous system. Something triggers those particles, sometimes stress, and the virus re-activates. When the varicella-zoster virus reactivates, the virus moves back down the long nerve fibers that extend from the sensory cell bodies to the skin. The viruses multiply, the tell-tale rash erupts, and the person now has shingles. Some studies done on the vaccine have shown a tendency for people later in life to have more severe and frequent shingles episodes, where as those encountering the virus naturally have a lower incidence.

    As far as TV causing autism. Read the TIME article regarding that “study.” If it can even be called that.
    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1548682,00.html
    We might as well go back to blaming refrigerator mothers.

    Why should she or Cordy get a hep A vaccine? Accodring to Wiki, Hepatitis A does not have a chronic stage and does not cause permanent liver damage. Even regarding Hep B, Wiki states, “More than 95% of people who become infected as adults or older children will stage a full recovery and develop protective immunity to the virus. However, only 5% of newborns that acquire the infection from their mother at birth will clear the infection. Of those infected between the age of one to six, 70% will clear the infection.” Being in nursing school where blood to blood contact is possible, I would be more concerned with Hep C, which neither Hep A or B vaccines would “prevent.”

    IMHPO (and I’m not a scientist; just a mother of an autistic child), autism is a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors. I don’t think any 1 thing is responsible, and I think it’s going to be difficult to define what environmental factor(s) coupled with genetics for every different person was indeed the trigger for autism.

    Christina: I think it’s great that you found a doctor willing to wok with you. Most won’t. We had to switch doctors because I was tired of the lectures, and being treated like a brainless idiot for questioning the doctor and choosing not to vaccinate at least at this time. If and when we do vaccinate the children, it will be at an older age, selective, and only one at a time. I met with our new doctor, and explained how we felt, our research (which is extensive), and our delay/selective plan. The new Dr. has been wonderful, and I am so happy to be respected as a well educated parent. Good for you!

  26. Staci Schoff says:

    I did a delayed vaccination schedule with both kids and I didn’t give either of them Prevnar or Hep A, though now they are almost 7 and 5 and my pediatrician may have me convinced that Hep A could be a good idea now (not for a year old necessarily, but for my bigger kids I mean). I didn’t give my kids the Chicken Pox one until one was 5 and one was 4. I’ve had several pediatricians and all have been pretty logical and easy to get along with in that way. I think they get kind of cranky if you’re not going to do it at all, but an informed mom who as a schedule in mind should not be dismissed or she should find a new pediatrician!

  27. Anonymous says:

    The reason “everyone we know had them and we’re all fine” is because the people who died are no longer with us. It’s the same argument as people who don’t use seatbelts or feed their kids junk food “‘cuz we turned out fine.” Yeah, we did, and the people who didn’t aren’t in our circle. It’s like saying, “Everyone who turned out fine turned out fine.”

  28. I think you are doing the right thing. Maybe vaccines and other influences triggered something in TC too. I really don’t know. But I am glad people are paying attention.

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