"poking" around for vaccination information
September 9, 2009 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find non-biased information relating to the safety of vaccinations for children?

Divorced. Sole custody and authority over children, but must consult/discuss with exwife on medical issues.

Recently, my 8 yr old was bit by a pet store hamster. In calling the community nurse I was told that she would need a tetanus shot - or rather that it was "Absolutely recommended".

I informed exwife of the situation. Exwife is adamant on no vaccinations ever, with the exception of this tetanus shot.

However, my 8 yr old is asking to be be brought up to date with all of her vaccines.

I have my children do research on things and present me pros/cons which we discuss over dinner. This works with the older kids, but my 8 yr old is too young to make a decision on this.

I have cited the problems with Wakefields immunization=autism paper/combo-vs-individual vaccination articles, articles from the WHO, the US CDC and Health Canada (we are in Canada) to exwife. I haven't gotten a response from her yet, but really need to be educated to the facts instead of the hype.

What I'm looking for is non-agenda based, objective information on the pros and cons of childhood vaccinations.

My bias is to immunize - the risks of not doing so are less than the risks of doing so, however, I want to enter into this decision with more than just a layman's knowledge gained from propaganda websites.

Does anyone have references to help?

I am just tired of googling and finding biased articles.
posted by burhan to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by billysumday at 7:56 AM on September 9, 2009

I want to enter into this decision with more than just a layman's knowledge gained from propaganda websites.

Why can't you ask a doctor?
posted by jacalata at 7:58 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

metafilter did this not too long ago.

There's a lot of links and info, and the arguments on both sides.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:02 AM on September 9, 2009

Best answer: It really depends on what you mean by "biased". Obviously the overwhelming majority of articles and findings you'll find on the websites of reputable universities, National Institutes of Health, UK NHS, etc, will be "biased" against the MMR-autism link because that's the consensus position among the overwhelming majority of researchers. Unfortunately the anti-MMR position is usually only partly a result of reading insufficient papers debunking it — it's usually based on a misunderstanding of the nature of scientific proof, combined with emotional, political or religious objections to being told what to do with your own kids. But you don't sound like you're trying to amass documentation to convince your wife, so the obvious question is, what's wrong for you with the masses of links to leading universities and health authorities that a Google search turns up?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:08 AM on September 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

game warden is right, there is no evidence supporting the autism-mmr link, only speculation, fear and debunked evidence. The only way to counteract this is to fight fear with fear. Measles kills, autism doesn't.
posted by gjc at 8:14 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The WHO and the U.S. CDC are really the go-to places for facts on immunization. They are not "hype."

But two things to keep in mind: your wife's stance on immunization, as you've described it, doesn't sound very rational, so don't expect a rational argument or actual evidence to sway her.

Is she concerned about autism? In vaccinating an 8-year-old? Even if there were a connection between childhood vaccinations and autism (and there isn't), all of the "evidence" for such a connection "indicated" that it was early childhood vaccinations that were the "culprit" (sorry for all the scare quotes). If your kid were to develop an autism disorder, she would have shown signs at a much younger age than eight.
posted by rtha at 8:17 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your child's pediatrician.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Everyone who writes on this subject has a bias, some of the better 'objective' information on autism and vaccination comes from the following two blogs, both have written extensively on autism and vaccination in the archives.

respectful insolence
science-based medicine

Your wife is being an idiot, and i'm not being disrespectful, I seriously mean it. There is no evidence that vaccination is associated with autism or autism spectrum disorders, at all, what so ever.

Case in point: your 8 year old is currently making more intelligent decisions than her mother.
posted by zentrification at 8:43 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Consult with your lawyer on the scope of this requirement to "consult with the ex" about medical issues. You would not consult with her before making a decision to bring your child to the hospital if she broke her leg. You'd do it and report it to the ex afterward.

You also don't ask her whether you should feed or clothe the children. Some things are just done to care for the children, and vaccinations are one of those things.
posted by explosion at 9:27 AM on September 9, 2009

Agreed that "bias" is a meaningless word in this debate. There are two kinds of statements regarding vaccinations - those that are supported by science, and those that aren't.
posted by downing street memo at 9:58 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Zentrification/rtha: Very quickly, only because: Exwife. My wife is a very lovely, rational and patient woman! :-)

Nelson/Jacalata: We live in a city where there is a shortage of doctors, so there is no family doctor/pediatrician to go to. I can go to a walk-in though and ask.

Zentrification: I'll take it as a complement to the children. I have tried to get the kids to learn as much as possible when it comes to issues about their own bodies - we discuss it over dinner and usually have a good dialogue. I do not want to raise sheep, and the kids know this. But they also know that simply bucking the trend is not independent thought either, it's just being a different colored sheep. They know that they need to look at all sides. :-) We have fun dinners!

What I know will happen is that when I say "WHO/Health Canada/CDC", that I'll get "Oh! The establishment! Of course that's what they're going to say!"

What I need to do is understand what she may throw at me, and why it is wrong/right.

There are a lot of good links - some I missed when checking askmefi archives.

Thank you for that info.

This is all very good guys. Thank you.
posted by burhan at 10:02 AM on September 9, 2009

Response by poster: game warden: what's wrong for me? I guess just the hassle of having to argue with her about this. It'll get all homeopathy and whatever, and honestly, I just don't have time for it, nor do I want to take the risk either.

At the same time, I feel morally obliged to entertain her thoughts in the spirit of co parenting (this is such a different conversation, for a different place), and feel like I should dialogue with her on this instead of being arbitrary.
posted by burhan at 10:06 AM on September 9, 2009

Ask your wife how many people she knows that died of smallpox, are crippled by polio and deaf from measles. How many people that she works with have driven her insane with a month of whooping cough.
Lucky for her, vaccination works as a system only if 99% of people get them.
This debate is proof that no matter what you do for people, some cannot accept a beautiful gift horse.
posted by alkupe at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2009

Best answer: It's a tough question in some ways, because people on both sides are going to allege that the other is "biased." It's also not tough, in the sense that you will not find a pediatrician or immunologist who will tell you that vaccines are dangerous. If we didn't have vaccines, kids would die (or be stillborn) every year from all those diseases that your grandparents had to worry about and that are gone now - measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, smallpox, polio. Not vaccinating your child is only "safer" if everyone else does vaccinate their child, otherwise these diseases come back. The lies spread by people like Wakefield have already resulted in outbreaks of measles in Britain that have killed children. These decisions have real consequences. The anti-vaccine crowd can't seem to think beyond the potential for a bad reaction to a vaccine, to what happens when we lose herd immunity to deadly diseases.

Your wife, with all due respect, doesn't know what she's talking about. It's become fashionable to treat knowledge received from experts, and especially doctors, with huge skepticism. There's a whole alternative community that prides itself on eating weird shit and embracing alternative medicine. Usually this is harmless enough, and I don't really care if adults want to make themselves sicker. But not with kids. Not when one child's lack of a vaccine puts his whole class at risk, because vaccines are not perfectly effective, so protection relies on high levels of vaccination.

Regarding the MMR vaccine in particular, check out this article in the London Review of Books. Note especially the opening lines:

There is a tradition of underestimating the nastiness of measles. It has never had the bad publicity it deserves, or been represented in the canon of ‘plague literature’: it has never featured in a Decameron or a Magic Mountain or a Death in Venice or attracted a Defoe or a Camus. Its victims, mostly children, have gone to their early graves anonymously, so there have been no stories to tell.

Spiked online, a website dedicated to reason and liberty, which to many people would signal a bias, you can decide, has followed the MMR debate for years. Here's a list of its articles on the subject. Recommedations include:

MMR is safe - so why are many still scared of it? - An authoritative study has failed to confirm that children with autism carry persistent traces of measles virus following MMR immunisation.

And these two articles dealing with the trial that took place in the U.S. on the issue - this one regarding the testimony of an expert, and this one reviewing the judge's findings.
posted by Dasein at 10:09 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I guess that you could call him biased because he is set to challenge disinformation put out by the anti-vaccine groups, but Respectful Insolence is a place to at least get a skeptical researcher/surgeon's perspective on the issue (with a bit of humor thrown in).
posted by crenquis at 10:12 AM on September 9, 2009


Even by the standards of the anti-vaccine crowd, there is an acknowledgment that one a child grows past five years old or so, the danger of autism has passed.

My controversial opinion is for your daughter to get the vaccinations done anyway, and keep it on the QT. Yes, it's against mom's wishes and also the court's decree. Both of which I would happily throw in the trash to save my son's life. Your mileage (and, your tolerance for consequences from your ex) may vary.
posted by Citrus at 10:17 AM on September 9, 2009

Sorry, ex-wife.
posted by Dasein at 10:18 AM on September 9, 2009

Response by poster: This is all very good stuff guys.

I have given my exwife my opinion yesterday in an email and asked her for her thoughts, and to start a discussion on it. The hope of course, that we can agree that it is in their best interest. Unfortunately, it's been almost 24 hours, and no response. My guess is she's getting hoards of homeopathic info to bombard me with.

Citrus: I wish I could keep it on the QT, but then I'd be teaching the kids to lie to their mother, and I can't do that, regardless of how I feel about this topic, or her. :-(
posted by burhan at 10:25 AM on September 9, 2009

burhan - apologies! I did mean to type ex-wife, but lack of sufficient caffeine got in the way of the signal from the brain to my fingers.

If your child is ever to travel outside the developed world (I'm making an assumption about where you are right now, apologies again if I'm incorrect), here are some stats about worldwide measles deaths, just as an example. If she only ever lives in places where herd immunity is (pretty) effective, keep in mind as well that common childhood diseases acquired by adults can have much more serious consequences than in children (aside from the whole thing about maybe dying from it, that is).

Additionally, her schooling and career choices may be limited unless and until she's vaccinated. And then there's the fact that she can spread something like measles to people who are unable (due to age or immune status) to be vaccinated. There was a measles outbreak in San Diego, CA a couple of years ago that was traced to an unvaccinated 7-year-old who had traveled with his parents to Germany, where he caught measles and brought it back to the U.S. At least 70 people were exposed, among them very old people, babies too young to be vaccinated, and people with compromised immune systems.
posted by rtha at 10:29 AM on September 9, 2009

I look at it as a different teachable moment. Sometimes, it's really worth it to defy authority for the greater good. As long as they understand that you're all going to be taking some lumps for it, but it's truly the right thing to do, it's not a bad lesson. Preventing death > all other moral concerns, or at least the ones that your ex is standing on.
posted by Citrus at 10:41 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look into homeopathic apologists who argue that alternative medicine should augment, not replace, established medicine.

Perhaps cite some court cases where parents lost custody of their children for ignoring this homeopathic wisdom - denying their children necessary lifesaving treatment in favor of alternative medicine. Not analogous, since those children were presumably already very sick, but it underscores the point.

Go to a clinic, get a doctors written recommendation, and then perhaps you can argue it is an impossible position for her to expect you to deny the children what they have requested, what their doctor has strongly recommended, and what you think they need, on grounds that even homeopathic experts disagree with.

Also - is it possible that this is about more than the children? She might be fighting this because she feels it is the only significant say she still has in her children's life, and she doesn't want to lose that by ceeding her remaining decisions to you.
If so, perhaps look for something to sooth that. Maybe you could offer her a choice of which clinics you should take the children to, and say that you will agree to the vaccinations and schedule recommended by that clinic. This way a third party at her decree is making the calls, not you riding roughshod over her input. (Though I wouldn't ask her to "find a clinic" lest she go looking for quacks, I'd send her a list of highly regarded legitimate clinics)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:45 AM on September 9, 2009

game warden: what's wrong for me? I guess just the hassle of having to argue with her about this. It'll get all homeopathy and whatever, and honestly, I just don't have time for it, nor do I want to take the risk either.

Sorry, what I meant (badly phrased) was, if you're not trying to convince your ex-wife, but rather to gain "more than layman's knowledge" for yourself, as you said in the question, then it's just a question of deciding which sources you trust on a Google search, and you've really got no reason not to trust the consensus emerging from NIH, numerous leading universities, the UK NHS, etc.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:49 AM on September 9, 2009

Extreme but accurate: Jenny McCarthy Body Count which includes CDC data on vaccine preventable morbidity and mortality in the U.S.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:18 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's an article from Newsweek that does a pretty thorough job of covering the (since discredited) research that kicked off the vaccine/autism hysteria.
posted by sad_otter at 12:24 PM on September 9, 2009

Best answer: Maybe you want to talk to a lawyer. What does consult mean? Have the ex sign off on all medical issues, or just be aware of what is going on? Does Canadian law smile on non-vaccinators? Were the circs reversed and she had custody and took her anti-vaccine stance, would the law support her, or you? (Oh, and the child who's asking for vaccines.) Have you considered what other future medical notions she might have re: your children?

I get it, you’re trying to be nice here, which is commendable- but we’re talking health and safety of your children and frankly, the rest of us. If you cannot convince her – as seems likely – are you going to give her veto power? This may make her happy, but will it obviate tension and resentful civility on your part (along with the risk to your children)? (Rhetorical question, I really don’t want to know.)

Easy for me to say - I'm not as nice as harlequin, unfortunately - but I’m thinking that you may have to forget about a happy compromise here, however you decide. Best of luck, I don’t envy your situation
posted by IndigoJones at 12:32 PM on September 9, 2009

Best answer: Someone upthread mentioned career/education limitations due to not being vaccinated. I work in a hospital and am studying an allied health field (both in Toronto). Your children would not be able to go on placement/work as nurses, paramedics, doctors, OTs/OTAs, etc. due to incomplete immunization schedules. Granted, they would be teens or adults at that point and would just be able to take care of it themselves, but it is a major hassle to try to meet program deadlines if you haven't been vaccinated already.
posted by purlgurly at 12:57 PM on September 9, 2009

Response by poster: rtha: Canada, but we travel to the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. Lack of caffeine - it's Ramadan, so I'm suffering the same withdrawal! :-)

harlequin: Your last paragraph is really something to ponder. Thank you. I do like your suggestion of a doctors written note. I also like your suggestion of finding a good homeopathic doctor that supports augmenting allopathic medicine instead of replacing it.

game warden: thank you - I was losing focus. I want to learn as much as possible so I am sure I am right in wanting to contradict her.

Sophie1: Wow. Very interesting.

I have so much reading to do - I really do like it. At one point I thought of summarizing my data into tables and creating my own website!

At the end of the day, I will support my children - I have taught them to self advocate, which after the divorce took so long to do. I feel that this is particularly important for my girls to do, especially as they grow older - their bodies, their rights.
posted by burhan at 12:59 PM on September 9, 2009

Your eight-year-old really is old enough to make this decision, and she is making it intelligently. Her mother is the one who is being childish and uninformed.

But if you feel that your daughter's not old enough to overrule her mother, and you don't want to overrule her mother, I think that getting the courts involved might be a reasonable next step to protect the child's interests.

I don't know if your daughter wants vax because she doesn't want measles (reasonable) or if she wants vax because she doesn't want to be excluded from summer camps, extra-curricular activities, etc. that require current vax records from all participants (also reasonable). But dismissing either or both of those because she's eight years old is teaching her that when she advocates for herself, you're not going to listen.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:14 PM on September 9, 2009

Response by poster: Sidhedevil: Very powerful last statement.

Please note though in my comment directly above yours - "I will support my children" - I am not dismissing my daughter because of her age, or dismissing her at all. I am simply trying to get as much information, as at the end of the day, I will be the one having to argue with her mother, not her. An 8 yr old stands no chance against an authority figure 30+ years her senior.
posted by burhan at 1:29 PM on September 9, 2009

you will not find a pediatrician or immunologist who will tell you that vaccines are dangerous.
Kind of tangential, but: this is very much not true. You won't find a pediatrician or immunologist who believes in the MMR-autism link, but vaccines do have risks, nonzero ones. Every time I've had a vaccine as an adult I've had a brief discussion or at least a little patient-information sheet outlining the risks of the vaccine. I've even had a doctor counsel against one for my very specific situation (iirc, it had limited effectiveness, more side effects than most, and I was at a pretty low risk of encountering the disease anyway on the particular trip I was going on). Vaccines, like any medical intervention, have benefits and risks; pretending otherwise may not be as dangerous as claiming vaccines cause autism, but it's still dishonest.

(I also think -harlequin- had a good insight about this maybe being more about the ex-wife's fear of losing her part in her children's lives than about vaccines in particular.)
posted by hattifattener at 2:10 PM on September 9, 2009

I am simply trying to get as much information, as at the end of the day, I will be the one having to argue with her mother, not her. An 8 yr old stands no chance against an authority figure 30+ years her senior.

Agreed on the latter bit, for sure.

The "dismissing" thing was prompted by this bit in your earlier post:

my 8 yr old is too young to make a decision on this.

She's too young to make a legal decision on this, but I think she's made a good decision and it's unfortunate her mother doesn't see that.

I don't know how much information, no matter how authoritative, will help you with your ex-wife, though. If she doesn't believe national health services, doctors, or research universities, it might wind up being a case of arguing with your dining room table and you may have to go back to court.

To be quite honest, if I were in your shoes, I would be going back to court to get the authority to overrule my ex-wife in health care decisions when necessary, because although I believe in integrative medicine myself, I believe in evidence-based integrative medicine, not unfounded quackery. But that's me--someone who has never had a divorce or a child, and I know that renegotiating custody agreements isn't something one does lightly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:39 PM on September 9, 2009

An eight year old cannot become autistic, as someone noted above. It's a developmental disorder that tends to become visible around the time kids normally learn to speak. I don't believe there has ever been a case of an eight-year-old suddenly becoming autistic-- there's something called selective mutism in which traumatized kids stop talking after a traumatic event, but that's not autism and hasn't been even putatively linked with vaccines.

The main argument against the autism vaccine connection that is simple is this: MMR has no thimerosal (the mercury ingredient blamed for causing autism in the U.S.). It was linked to autism in the UK-- while in the US, the vaccines that supposedly caused autism all contained thimerosal. The two would have completely different ways of "causing" autism in two different countries if they did. This makes no sense.

Second, autism rates were *not* affected by the removal of thimerosal from vaccines-- nor by the decline of uptake of MMR. So, if it's causal, how would that work?
posted by Maias at 5:02 PM on September 9, 2009

Vaccines, like any medical intervention, have benefits and risks; pretending otherwise may not be as dangerous as claiming vaccines cause autism, but it's still dishonest.

I'm not sure I can agree. I don't think people who say "Vaccines aren't dangerous" are saying "there are absolutely no risks to vaccines". They are saying that the risks associated with vaccines are less than the risks we take every day in activities that we don't consider dangerous.

Most people wouldn't say that getting out of bed and taking a shower is dangerous, but have you seen the statistics on how many people injure themselves by falling in the shower? Most people wouldn't say that buying groceries is dangerous, but have you see the stats on car accidents that occur within miles of your house?

It's not dishonest, it's using common shorthand where "not dangerous" doesn't mean completely safe, it means relatively safe.
posted by Justinian at 5:09 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This has been an awesome learning experience. Thank you all so much.

If anyone is curious as to the outcome of this situation, let me know. (and feel free to post more if you like)

posted by burhan at 8:23 PM on September 9, 2009

I don't think people who say "Vaccines aren't dangerous" are saying "there are absolutely no risks to vaccines".

Thanks Justinian. "Not dangerous" does not equal "zero risk." Sometimes they ask about egg allergies because vaccines are grown in eggs. It is always possible to have a reaction, but that doesn't make a vaccine dangerous, certainly not on the grounds that the anti-vaccine crowd fantasizes about.
posted by Dasein at 7:51 PM on September 10, 2009

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