On Parenting, Science, and Trust – and Choosing to Vaccinate

UPDATE: The Mother Geek Blog is no longer online, but the guest post I originally published there was reprinted on the Australian site Mamamia and the U.S. site DoubleXScience.

I had a guest post published on the The Mother Geek blog yesterday. If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably seen it already, but I thought I would post a note about it here since not everyone is on Facebook. Actually, just about the only person I know who isn’t on Facebook is my mom, so this one is for you, Mom:) If you are on Facebook and haven’t yet “liked” the ScienceofMom Facebook page, I invite you to join the sciency parenting conversation there.

The Mother Geek is written by Jeanne Garbarino, a postdoc at Rockefeller University and a mother of two. I love the mix of writing about science, career, and motherhood on her blog, so when she invited me to submit a guest post for her Momday series, I jumped at the chance.

For my guest post, I chose to write about how being a scientist helps me to trust other scientists and medical professionals when it comes to my child’s health. When the scientific community overwhelmingly supports a parenting practice – like vaccinating our children – I’m on board. If you read my blog, you know that I question other decisions plenty. When it comes to the decision to vaccinate, I trust the science that it is the best thing for my child and for our community.

An excerpt… check out The Mother Geek to read the rest! (Link to Mamamia post here.)

Because I trust scientists and doctors, I didn’t question the CDC’s vaccination schedule. I didn’t pore over vaccine research or agonize about the decision to vaccinate my child. Instead, I trusted that the committees of experts at the CDC and AAP carefully make the best recommendations possible based on the data available. Maybe that is naïve. Maybe I am a lazy mother for not trying to become a vaccine expert before I allowed those first needles to enter my daughter’s thigh. Or maybe not.

What would be naïve is for me to think that I could become an expert on vaccinations.  It would be naïve for me to think that I could understand the vaccine field better than the committees of scientists and doctors who have made this their life’s work. I know how much work it took me to become an expert on one or two corners of nutrition and fetal physiology. It took thousands of hours of reading textbooks and journal articles, sitting in lectures, attending conferences, and struggling at the lab bench before I started to feel even a little bit comfortable calling myself an expert in any field. So I think it is naïve for a parent to think that she can become an expert on vaccines by spending some time on the Internet reading questionable sources, almost all of which have some agenda. I accept that I can’t know everything, and I have enough faith in humanity that I trust others who know more than me.

 

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20 thoughts on “On Parenting, Science, and Trust – and Choosing to Vaccinate

    • Thank you Momma, and thanks for your comments on The Mother Geek, too! I also really appreciated your Momday post –
      http://www.science3point0.com/themothergeek/2011/07/29/momday-mommacommaphd-on-vaccinations/
      Lots of good food for thought there as well. It is interesting to contrast your experience in NYC with mine here in Eugene, OR – small, liberal, University town, lots of vaccine skeptics despite being relatively well-educated. I’ve heard (anecdotally) that some pediatric practices here have as high as 50% non-vax patients, which scares the hell out of me. I don’t know of any pediatrician here that turns away non-vax families. They usually do their best to work with families, build a trusting relationship, and hope they can convince them to get the most important vaccines.

  1. I recently learned that a mom-friend of mine hasn’t yet vaccinated her 2,5-year-old for MMR (due to that wacko Dr. Sears not-even-pseudoscience book) and I seriously considered staying away from her for a while. Fortunately the kid got his shot this week. I wanted to scream, “You are putting my wee baby at risk! AVAUNT!!”

    • I really don’t get how parents ignore the humanitarian side of vaccinating. I think it is too bad that they are putting their own kids at risk, but those that can’t be vaccinated are the ones that really lose out. There is a stubborn denial of the whole herd immunity concept.

      • I think they’re under the impression that herd immunity is protecting some random person they don’t know, rather than the kid sitting next to their kid. At least from the brief conversations I’ve tried to stay out of on the topic (only because it’s like teaching a pig to sing).

  2. Have you read “The Panic Virus” and “Autism’s False Prophets”? Both excellent books. At least once a month I have a new set of parents who refuse vaccinations or wish to wait an undetermined, “safe period” of time. Which is what exactly? I don’t’ know, and neither do they! The mind, it boggles!

    • No, but I will check them out. I think the anti-vax and vax-skeptical movement is so interesting, and I want to learn more. It is the collision of science, fear, and information (not all of it accurate), and I think we can learn a lot about how the public sees science and scientists by understanding it. Good luck with your patients – I’m sure it is a delicate dance of wanting to take good care of kids and respecting their parents’ skepticism.

  3. Are we pretending that the US Government isn’t bedfellows with Big Pharma? Are we also assuming that the peers of trusty peer reviewed journals don’t also have their own agenda? Assuming papers of yours were published, wouldn’t you know that better than anyone? Don’t you know first-hand that data can be manipulated to say anything you want it to say? Why, when so much information is available on the internet, do science-background people put down the internet? ALL of the information is available on the internet; just because it came from google doesn’t discount the quality. There is no need to get a library card and cozy up to microfilm in 2012 just to prove that an unconventional belief is defensible. With herd immunity only being a theory applied to populations that have actually carried a disease, how is it so easily applied to vaccines, which are not the natural diseases? How is it applied to pertussis; a bacteria, not a virus? How do you get this so-called herd immunity from a vaccine when the real immunity can never be acquired in real life? Why do non-vaccinated children scare the hell out of you if you so firmly believe that yours is protected by the almighty vaccines? Do you know the rates of colds/flu/ear infections among the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated? Do you know how much healthier the unvaccinated are due to their immune systems, which don’t produce antibodies until 6-12 months old, being allowed to develop naturally rather than being forced to deal with artificial inflammatory responses from vaccines? Why are nearly all of the pertussis cases in vaccinated children? Do you know that the FDA recommended limit to intravenous aluminum for an infant is 10-25 micrograms at once and that a 2 month old is receiving 1,225 injected micrograms at their well baby visit? Can you show me the research that says this is safe and if not, because there isn’t any such research, can you tell me why it’s even allowed? How do you explain that 1 in 7 children today has a neurological disorder? Why are you writing a blog about mothering when you so freely hand over your parental rights and mother’s instinct to a doctor who has studied absolutely nothing about the side-effects of vaccines? Can your doctor even tell you what’s in any given vaccine? Would you sit down and feed your baby a meal of 1,225 micrograms of aluminum, some formaldehyde, polysorbate 80, MSG, and monkey kidney cells? Why not? Because it’s disgusting? But injecting it is safe and healthy because the government told you so? You try to prick the boil with your “maybe I’m a lazy mother” line but in all honesty, “lazy mother” is the first thing that comes to mind when I hear that anyone trusts their doctor/the AAP/and the CDC to make their parenting decisions about injecting aluminum and preservatives into a newborn. Why would they look out for your child when they’re busy looking out for their bank accounts and what they consider to be “The greater good?”

    • Robyn, I’m genuinely curious who you DO trust when it comes to making health decisions for your family and understanding how your decisions impact the rest of the community. If you don’t trust peer review, the CDC, the AAP, or the FDA, then where do you go for information about this important decision?

      • Good question. The answer is: no one. It’s not an issue that has arisen. My children are healthy from a whole foods organic diet, quality probiotic and a whole foods D3 in addition to playing in the sunshine. We don’t get colds or ear infections in this house; knock on wood. In the event of illness I would turn to a naturopath in addition to our current pediatrician who isn’t a quick trigger with a prescription pad, plus the community of like-minded mothers who have experience with a similar situation. I trust mothers’ experience (aka anecdotal evidence if you ask a doctor) far more than a politician when it comes to decisions for my family and advice on child rearing. I don’t agree with the “impact on the community” statement– I don’t feel a responsibility to sacrifice my child’s mental health/nervous system/immune system for the alleged benefit of someone else’s child. As someone with a PhD in nutrition do you not find your pedi’s advice on nutrition laughable? We’re told to feed empty calorie rice cereal to babies who need nothing more than breastmilk? We’re told to give our children fruit juice? Gerber lines the babyfood aisle with wheat products and we feed them to our children. Do you not think the FDA food pyramid is a scam dreamed up by the wheat producers and dairy farmers of America? Do you not think it’s keeping our country fat? Does the FDA tell you how to feed your family? Years ago the CDC said that smoking did not cause cancer and now they’re saying vaccines do not cause disease; the only difference is the lobbyists lining their pockets.

        • I’m glad that your children are so healthy, but like it or not, widespread vaccination programs are part of the reason why they have likely not been exposed to any number of serious diseases.

          If my daughter ever becomes seriously ill, God forbid, I would be an informed advocate for her. But I would absolutely put my trust in her doctors. For medical decisions, I wouldn’t seek advice from like-minded mothers, except for the ones with medical training. I would thank Big Pharma, not curse it, for the resources they have put into drug development. I feel the same way about preventative medicine. I’ll trust those with medical training on that, and I also know that it is backed by good science.

          As someone with a PhD in Nutrition, I actually think that the AAP gives pretty good nutrition advice, particularly on a population level. For every important nutrition issue for which I’ve studied the science closely, I have come out agreeing with the AAP. And we have had two pediatricians, both of whom gave good nutrition advice and have been very supportive of breastfeeding. When I worried if my daughter was getting enough iron at her 9-month appointment (she would never eat fortified cereal), our pediatrician recommended lentils. Solid advice, I thought. This is in part what gives me confidence in medical organizations when it comes to topics where I am not an expert, like immunology and virology and public health.

      • ScienceofMom, thank you for your response to therobynnest. The opinions therobynnest expressed in her comments above and below are so dangerous, for her family’s health and public health. I am sure she is well intentioned, but reading her comments scare me. Vaccines are so incredibly important, and are the reason our society doesn’t have many of the infectious diseases that killed thousands each year just two generations ago. A diet of whole foods and sunshine doesn’t protect you from infectious disease; vaccines do.

  4. This is a great article. I appreciated your point about it being naive to think that a parent can become more of an expert on vaccines than someone who has spent their career studying them. I also appreciate your intelligent response to some of the comments above. I am also a biologist turned mom turned blogger- though I have just started. My blog doesn’t focus on parenting necessarily, but I did just write a post about the intersection of parenting, science and the media: http://picahudsonia.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/when-n-1-reason-0/. I really like your perspective here and with your permission I would like to link to your post from my post as kind of a “P.S. this blog has a great post on this, check it out”. (Just FYI: for some reason the Mother Geek site doesn’t seem to be working but Mamamia is.)

    • Hi Meredith,
      Thanks for stopping by! I’m happy to be introduced to your blog, and I love your post! Of course you can link to my post – I’m always happy to share this view. Write on:)
      Alice

  5. Pingback: When N= 1, Reason= 0 « Pica hudsonia

  6. I’m just curious…what about all the doctors that choose not to vaccinate their children? I know there are many doctors like that, and I know a mother, personally, who is a doctor who stopped vaccinating her kids. She makes my head spin with her doctor-ese explaining it all to me. There are many intelligent, highly educated people who oppose vaccines….not just lay-mamas surfing the internet. What is true is that both sides have convincing arguments. What is also true, is that there is plenty of evidence to give us reason to question the credibility of government organizations.

    What I think is most dangerous of all is the vitriol and the judgement that the ‘opposing’ sides are ignorant, uninformed, and as some people seem to believe, evil. What is the MOST true is that every single parent on either side of the issue (and even in the middle) is passionate about his and her child/ren. Both sides just want their kids to be safe.

    It seems to me from many of the slings back and forth I’ve read online that the malice comes from one side being appalled that parents are questioning ‘authority’, and the other side saying we don’t trust what that ‘authority’ says is gospel.

    I absolutely do not know what is true or not about vaccines. But what I do know is unquestionably dangerous is the demand that people do not question their government. History is chock full of evidence of that.

    • I absolutely agree with you that overwhelmingly, parents just want their kids to be safe. That is true for parents who choose to vaccinate as well as those who don’t. What differs is the quality of the information that informs their perception of what is safe.

      Choosing to vaccinate is not about accepting authority from the government. It is about accepting scientific consensus. The evidence that vaccines are safe and effective is overwhelming. Yes, there are side effects, but they are rare, and the risks from vaccine-preventable diseases are very real, particularly for those who CAN’T be vaccinated, such as very young babies and the immunocompromised. The vast majority of doctors agree on this, and they’re basing that conclusion on science. The doctors who oppose vaccination are ignoring scientific consensus at the peril of patient safety. That doesn’t make them uneducated or evil, as you say above, but it does make them misguided, in my opinion.

  7. Pingback: Parenting and Science Part 1: Vaccinations | Dan|thropology

  8. Vitamin C has been shown to be effective against tetanus in numerous studies

    Effect of ascorbic acid in the treatment of tetanus
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6466264
    “none of the patients died who received (ascorbic acid / vitamin C) AA along with the conventional antitetanus therapy. On the other hand, 74.2 per cent of the tetanus patients who received the conventional antitetanus therapy without AA (control group) were succumbed to the infection.”

    Why risk a tetanus shot (which in the above study was only 25.8% effective) when vitamin C was 100% effective?

    Yes I know this is a single study and that the preponderance of data states that the above study must have have issues somewhere, and that the tetanus shot is actually really safe and very effective.

    The study goes on to state:
    “This was supported by the fact that AA (vitamin C) was found to mitigate the toxic effects of strychnine producing tetanus like condition in young chicks in the present study.”

  9. Pingback: The Secularite » Parenting and Science Part 1: Vaccinations

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