Vaccines are not pure evil..right?
February 4, 2012 9:26 AM   Subscribe

BabyVaccinationFilter: Help me deal with antivax paranoia.

With baby mooselini approaching her first round of immunizations (2 months), I am suddenly faced with advice of well-meaning mothers regarding risks of vaccines and SIDS, allergies, and other scary-sounding things. While I have always been in pro-vaccination camp, their stories of a friend of a friend of a friend who got vaccinated and died of SIDS that night coupled with my postpartum hormones are making me unnecessarily worried about something so routine.

Please help me ease my mind and give me evidence, science or anecdotal, that vaccines do not in fact cause SIDS and other life threatening things.
posted by mooselini to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Personal anecdotes are not data, you can ignore them. Personal anecdotes two or three times removed from the original source are pretty likely to be bullshit.
posted by empath at 9:36 AM on February 4, 2012 [25 favorites]

The best way to handle those things for me was to do the research. Serious reactions to vaccines are incredibly rare, and there has never been a credible study linking vaccines to SIDS. You can find more information from the CDC.
posted by KathrynT at 9:42 AM on February 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Do you're own research in a logical fashion, and you'll be fine. I was over-zealous with research and got my baby vaccinated on a normal schedule--some parents opt for drawing it out, that might be a good option for you, if you're worried. I also don't give my baby the flu shot. Talk to your pediatrician, they will also help you out.
posted by katypickle at 9:43 AM on February 4, 2012

My personal stance on such things (vax issues, Cry-it-out, breastfeeding, when to introduce solid foods, time-outs, co-sleeping whatever...) is to choose to not discuss these topics with people.

Sort of like religion or politics.
posted by k8t at 9:44 AM on February 4, 2012 [19 favorites]

The anti-vaccination crowd preys on the hyper-worry of mothers and the nagging "But what if . . . ?"

This is a 7-week-old baby with pertussis. The diseases that you get these vaccines for are very real, very deadly, the subject of many scientific studies, and are unfortunately on the rise because as less people get vaccinated herd immunity has been reduced.
posted by schroedinger at 9:44 AM on February 4, 2012 [41 favorites]

Oh, and if people bring it up and push you to be involved in the conversation, say what you plan to do with confidence and if there seems to be some discussion of different options, answer "This is what is working for our family. I'm glad to hear that X is working for your family."

And continue to change the subject.
posted by k8t at 9:46 AM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have 3 healthy children that have all had their regular immunizations. I have worked in daycare for over a decade and seen hundreds of children safely vaccinated.

It is important and necessary.

The worst I have ever seen (and it is common) is fever and irritability within a few days after one of the shots. It is only a tiny bit worse than what happens when the child is teething and nothing at all to worry about.

Know that you are a good mom and you are doing what is best for your baby. When the well meaning mothers start up, change the subject. They are clearly not capable of intelligent discussion.
posted by myselfasme at 9:46 AM on February 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

There are potential side effects of vaccines, and people do get them. The odds are in your favor, but they are absolutely a possibility. Educate yourself on the vaccines and their side effects and decide whether the risks outweigh the benefit. For a lot of them, they will, but there are some vaccines that fall more in the optional category and you might want to opt out of those. My mom only had me get the important ones, and I'm glad of that.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:57 AM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have a health care professional you trust -- who is your doctor, your favorite nurse, your trusted aunt, or a niece/nephew in med school -- consider talking over your concerns with them.

I am not a parent but I am cautious and I absolutely believe in vaccinations as pro-active, responsible, and necessary tools in healthcare. Seconding schroedinger -- there are very real diseases we have the ability to combat via vaccination. Realizing the possibilities of not vaccinating is as legitimate a concern and avenue of research as the concern of side effect.
posted by countrymod at 10:03 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Boy, is this one a hornets' nest! Bet you get a hundred answers with links to contradictory studies, and dozens of anecdotal stories, also contradictory. I want to offer you my sympathy -- it is scary, and there are such loud voices pro and con. I encourage you to listen to your own mind and heart on this one. Start with how you feel about vaccinations for yourself: do you get a flu shot every year? do you think they're basically useless and a scam by Big Pharma? What about other preventative medical procedures/medicines? Your opinions about that should help inform your decisions about baby immunizations.

One thing to remember is that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. DPT shots (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) have been given to babies for over 60 years (at least), with few reports of serious side effects, and many positive benefits. Babies died from diphtheria and whooping cough, and now they don't.

But the doctor will suggest many other immunizations; you can choose which ones to accept for baby mooselini, based on your opinions and how strong you think baby's immune system is. I believe there is some legitimate worry over the number of vaccines given to very young babies, particularly Hep A & B, and HPV. Polio immunizations are important! (speaking as a polio survivor) but live polio vaccine has some problems.

Here are my anecdotes: my children, now grown, and all my friends' children, now grown, got vaccinated (we didn't think much about it at the time) and got only a sore arm at worst. But again, it was only a very few shots; they just got measles and mumps and chickenpox from other kids. Everybody's grandkids are all over the map, from all shots to no shots. One darling child got his second bunch of vaccinations, got very sick immediately afterward, and now has a diagnosis of autism. No one will ever know if there was a cause-and-effect between the two, although his Mom believes there was. ALL the rest of the dozens of little kids I know are fine: no bad reactions to shots, no dire diseases despite no shots.

We can't know the future, and we can rarely even figure out what causes led to the present. Make your best decision and give it over to the Universe.
posted by kestralwing at 10:03 AM on February 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is timely - baby Crab got his two-month vaccinations Thursday. He had a slight fever (about 100.6) yesterday, but is totally back to normal now.

I am a paranoid person with a huge family history of allergies, and I have been fretting (obsessively reading) about SIDS too. I have never seen anything credible linking SIDS and vaccines, even the crank sites seem to prefer the toxic mattress theory or something else. We did drag our feet leaving the doctor so that if he had a big allergic reaction we would be there when it happened - if it's going to be bad it's going to be fast.

You don't have to blindly get everything though. The Sears vaccine book is awesome. It comes down in favor of almost every routine vaccine but it talks about ingredients and brands and risk of side effects. I found it very helpful. Baby Crab is not getting Rotavirus, and he wouldn't be getting Hep B if it wasn't combined in the shots Kaiser uses/ Neither of those decisions is about horrible effects, they're about timing, follow up doses etc.

We were not prepared for how upsetting it would be for us to get him stuck with needles. I always think I'm going to be all unaffected and "He'll live", but my wife cried, and I almost did. It wasn't as bad as the newborn heel sticks, but it was up there. He screamed horribly. However, he was acting like it never happened 15 minutes later - feeding him right after helped.

Consider that what you're feeling is actually about the massive responsibility you've taken on in making all the health and life decisions for a tiny person you are totally in love with. There are no neutral decisions, the choice not to vaccinate is the choice to risk the diseases vaccines prevent. I find the responsibility terrifying, so does everyone else I think, and it isn't going to go away, but that doesn't mean there's any real truth behind the scary stuff - I tend to think of the people spreading that stuff just as people who aren't handling the normal fear so well, and feel sorry for them.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:08 AM on February 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Hi, I'm a medical student and public health researcher. When I or other researchers want to determine whether or not X increases a patient's chances of getting a disease, they frequently do what's called a case-control study. Case-control studies compare the rates of exposure for X in healthy people and folks who have the disease. The best case-control studies are the large ones-- the more people you look at, the more precise your statistics are going to be. Generally, people in the field of Medicine consider something to be true when there have either been a lot of small studies or a few very large ones that all find the same thing.

Back in 2007, researchers at the Institute of Legal Medicine at the University of Munster in Germany searched through all the scientific literature and found NINE case-control studies that looked for an association between SIDS and vaccination. The smallest study had 113 people in it, the largest had more than 3,300-- very good sizes for case-control studies (for comparison, the earliest papers on the association between smoking and cancer had fewer than 1,000 participants). NONE of the nine studies, representing more than 13,000 patients, found an association between SIDS and vaccination; some even found a protective effect.

There are a number of risk factors for SIDS that medical professionals care about. There's good, strong evidence that overheating, prone and side sleeping positions, and maternal smoking during pregnancy all increase the likelihood of SIDS. You're in charge of a very fragile thing, and the fact that you're concerned is a sign that you're doing a good job. Now that you have good evidence that the thing you're concerned about isn't all that much of a concern, you can move on to more effective ways of protecting your child. I would wish you good luck, but with good evidence you do not need luck.
posted by The White Hat at 10:10 AM on February 4, 2012 [46 favorites]

I have two children, ages 15 months and almost-four.

I have to say until your post, I had never once heard anything about a possible connection between SIDS and vaccinations. And I am living in a part of Northern California with an unfortunately high percentage of anti-vaxers. I'm guessing this is the new tactic, now that the vaccines-autism link has been thoroughly debunked.

When weighing the prospects of potential side-effects of a vaccine, you should also take into account the potential impact of failing to vaccinate. Pertussis, Measles, Mumps, Polio are incredibly serious diseases and not to be trifled with. The collective herd immunity that we have gained through widespread vaccination has resulted in a collective lack of experience with how terrible the diseases we vaccinate against are.

My own children were a wee bit fussy and slept more the day of their vaccinations, but that was it.
posted by ambrosia at 10:13 AM on February 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Just another anecdotal input. My daughter just had her 2-month vaccinations on Monday. Mom breastfed her immediately afterward in the exam room. Baby was fine, a little (more) whiny than usual that evening.
posted by gimletbiggles at 10:19 AM on February 4, 2012

The thing about human bodies is that they are tremendously varied and special when it comes to body chemistry. The vaccines that may go over great with one child's chemistry may do significant damage with another's. I am not vaccinated for a lot of things because my body chemistry is not compatible with certain vaccines. I have friends in the medical research community (at institutions well regarded across the globe) who are firmly of the mind that vaccines can and do cause damage for a lot of people, but not all.

Ultimately vaccinations are a good-faith effort on the part of the parents or guardians of a child, and if you will sleep best at night by doing one thing, go with your gut.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:19 AM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

According to the Mayo Clinic, babies are at highest risk for SIDS in their second and third months of life.

the other risk factors include:

Sex. Boy babies are more likely to die of SIDS.

Race. For reasons that aren't well understood, black, American Indian or Eskimo infants are more likely to develop SIDS.

Family history. Babies who've had siblings or cousins die of SIDS are at higher risk of SIDS themselves.

Maternal risk factors:
The risk of SIDS is also affected by maternal factors associated with the pregnancy, including:

Mother under the age of 20
Smoking cigarettes
Drug or alcohol use
Inadequate prenatal care

These Bird of a Feather, the OP is asking for reassurance, and specifically about potential links between vaccines and SIDS. So the well-being of babies immediately after and who are still alive and well todayis not at all off the mark.
posted by ambrosia at 10:32 AM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin is a good read, and rounds up the current state of research. After I read it, I wanted to go get all my vaccines all over again, just because he made it sound so important and the anti-vax forces sound so ill-informed.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:46 AM on February 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Please do get your baby vaccinated. If you have doubts, visit a very old graveyard, where you will see many graves of babies and young children who died of communicable diseases that vaccines can now prevent. In an epidemic, whole families of young children were wiped out. I saw an old plot where five died in a week. Sometimes the "good old days" were not so good. This can still happen today if there are a high enough number of children who have not been vaccinated and an epidemic of measles, whooping cough, or other disease develops. Your child and all unvaccinated children would be at risk.

I think every young mother fears SIDS, I know I did, and kept my infants always in the same room with me. Fears go with the territory of being a mom, and we all want to keep our kids 100% safe from any risk. But that is not humanly possible. My children got all their shots with no ill effects, and are now strong healthy adults. The benefits of vaccination to the individual and society outweigh the small risks that any medical intervention entails. Talk to your doctor, relax, do the right thing for your baby.
posted by mermayd at 11:26 AM on February 4, 2012

We're waiting until Baby Jbenben is a year old. The vaccine schedule in this country is NUTS. They wanted us to vaccinate for Hep B when he was just a few days old. Yeah, because there's every risk of my infant son sharing a dirty needle or whatever at 3 weeks old. No thanks, Big Pharma!

Some vaccines have preservatives like Polysorbate 80 in them, so you want to find out the maker and ingredients list. Some people are VERY concerned because vaccines are sometimes cultivated in live primate cells or whatever, and they worry about disease transmission and increased cancer risk. Plus the thought of that is kinda gross, even if it's harmless. And like I said, there's no reason to follow the currently promoted schedule - you can stagger your vaccines months apart, start when you choose, and only get the ones you think are necessary.

It's hard to find accurate info. The handouts I've gotten are USELESS and contain no specifics details like ingredients list, or even brand name of the vaccine the doctor is promoting. It's really annoying to deal with this issue, I know.

This is how we're dealing with the issue: by taking our time and only choosing vacs that are reasonable, necessary, and by vetting the ingredients list ourselves - not just trusting that someone else thought it all through for us.

Hope that helped.
posted by jbenben at 11:27 AM on February 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

There are ample reasons to follow the currently established schedule, jbenben.
Let me pull-quote my favorite:

"We immunize children so young against these diseases because infancy is the time period that kids are MOST vulnerable to life-threatening diseases."
posted by stevis23 at 11:46 AM on February 4, 2012 [31 favorites]

Mod note: AskMe is not the place for debate. I know this is a touchy topic but please, state your piece and move on.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2012

I have four children. Each one of them have been fully vaccinated since birth and have done just fine.
posted by narcoleptic at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2012

I would like to favourite Stevis23 a hundred times.

Get all the vaccines, on time. Its not just about you and your baby, its for all of our kids and choosing to rely on the immunity of the herd rather than get vaccines for your baby is unbelievably selfish and puts the rest of us, and those too young or with weak immune systems at risk.
posted by saradarlin at 11:56 AM on February 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

We chose not to do Hep B because hubby and I were both tested for it during the pregnancy and were both negative, so the ped said we could reasonably skip it.

Family history is an important factor in your decision-making process here. I would also encourage you to look at both sides of the picture. Your ped will likely give you good pro-vax info; look at the counter arguments too, such as those from Dr. Sears or Dr. Lauren Feder.

You don't have to do every vax, if you want to do them you can stagger the schedule, etc. You are a good parent for even asking the question and thinking about the issue, rather than going forth blindly. In the end you will make the decision that works for your family, and you don't need to apologize for your decision to anyone.
posted by vignettist at 11:57 AM on February 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

My twin brother and I had all of our shots on the set schedule, which did not include chicken pox at the time, but which, for me, has now included Gardasil-- which is now on the list of recommended vaccines for both sexes, though at a much later point. We were both allergic to the pertussis vaccine, and we have been told to not even try the new formula. This is actually really important information to have, because there have been rising cases of pertussis in schools in PA, and many adults and students have to be vaccinated now (or have caught the disease unsuspectingly). Because I know I'm allergic to it, I know to avoid any places whatsoever where I might be exposed to the vaccine, instead of dealing with a potentially serious allergic reaction. My parents were really glad to have known about it so that we could get separate boosters for the D and T parts of the occasion. I am not saying "allergic" to scare you, because both of us were totally fine and my mother has never seem scared or freaked out about it. I am saying it because knowing that has helped me be extremely safe and healthy as a teenager and as an adult.

Mainly, congrats on your kid! You sound like you're a great, caring parent, and whatever you choose, be it a slower schedule or whatever-- it'll be fine.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:05 PM on February 4, 2012

*uh, equation and seemed, not occasion and seem. Sorry!
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:06 PM on February 4, 2012

Following this info will help you decrease the risk of SIDs.

Getting your child immunized will help protect it from serious illnesses. Annectdotally I caught whooping cough (Pertussis) as an adult, I was hospitalized and would cough so hard I would pass out or throw up as I couldn't breath and it was terrifying for me as a logical adult that knew what was going on, the idea of a baby having to go through that along with the increased risks for them of actually dying from it and getting brain damage from lack of oxygen.

Not only will getting your child immunized protect your child it will protect immune compromised children that can't be vaccinated for whatever reason, that need to rely on herd immunity to protect them.
posted by wwax at 1:04 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

minibatmonkey has received and will continue to receive vaccinations on the prescribed schedule.

I have many examples amongst people I've known personally that have helped me with this decision, but the one that had the most impact was this:
A friend nearly lost her twins to pertussis in '03 because of a ridiculous chain of circumstances (unvaccinated kid at her husband's co-worker's daycare gave it to co-worker, who gave it husband, who gave it to twins...who had not yet been vaccinated because they were on delayed schedule).

I'll never be able to be certain about the chains of exposure in our busy, urban lives, so I'd rather know she has the strongest defense on her side.

Each time she's vaccinated, we cuddle after and she gets breastmilk as soon as possible. I tend to stay watchful through that day and night, just because I'm cautious that way. Co-sleeping makes that easier. She's never had any problems, even though she shares several of my allergies and sensitivities.

Whatever you decide, I'm sure you'll be making the best decision you can for your little one and the situations you're likely to find yourselves in.
posted by batmonkey at 1:19 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Like jetlagaddict I was also allergic to the pertussis vaccine, and I had a very bad reaction (hard time breathing, rash) to vaccines that were egg-based as a child. When alternative vaccines came out that were not egg based, my doctors and I had a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of me getting them and we opted to not do it because I'm also pretty sensitive to preservatives (vomiting, diarrhea).

So for me, being allergic to certain egg proteins and preservatives = no go for most vaccines. I am not against vaccines, personally; I think they're crazy important and work well for a lot of people. I'm 24 and I'm doing fine without them though, so that's where I'm coming from on this front. :) I know a handful of other people who were likewise not vaccinated for the same reasons, and we're doing okay, too. Some vaccinated their kids when they had them, others decided not to.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:20 PM on February 4, 2012

I had whooping cough recently for my entire last trimester, thanks to an outbreak in my area due to parents who don't believe in vaccinations. I would cough until I threw up and broke ribs on both sides, then had to sleep on them at night as being pregnant, I couldn't sleep any other way. Did I mention this meant I couldn't take a thing for it either? The most miserable experiencIFAD my life. Ruined what should have been a happy exciting time.

So you can bet now that jubey jnr is due for his shots, I will be running as fast as I can to get them all. I wouldn't put my worst enemy through that much less my beloved child, who would surely struggle to survive. The fact that we've had infants here die of it just hardens my stance (and totally terrifies me). Just my 2c. But if in doubt, research is your friend.
posted by Jubey at 1:50 PM on February 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

Our little one got all the recommended shots on schedule. No problems other than fever and fussiness, but always less severe than that from teething.

I get very angry when I think about antivax campaigners. Many more babies will die as a result of a decline in herd immunity than is necessary, even the babies of normal parents who get their children vaccinated on schedule. Antivax campaigners are responsible for those deaths.

Our perception of risk highly skewed. The scientific evidence is firmly in favor of vaccines for protecting the population, and as stated above, there is no scientific link between vaccines and either SIDS or autism. The risk and consequences of the diseases against which those vaccines protect us are very real, however, and very firmly established.

If someone told you that your car was more likely to be struck by lightning if it is sitting still than if it is moving, and so you should start running stop signs to minimize the risk of lightning striking your car, would you believe them? Would you be tempted to follow that advice? I hope not. Even if the claim were true (which it isn't), the risks of running stop signs, for you and for innocent drivers going the other way, far outrun the chances of being struck by lightning. This situation is very close to the vaccine situation. Antistop (antivax) campaigners try to convince you that there is actually a link between stopped cars and lightning strikes, however small, while ignoring the very real risks presented by running stop signs. Not only does running a stop sign put you in danger, it puts everyone else in danger too. Even worse, there's no reason to do it. All it does is make the world a worse place.
posted by indecision at 3:33 PM on February 4, 2012 [16 favorites]

Personal anecdotes are not data, you can ignore them. Personal anecdotes two or three times removed from the original source are pretty likely to be bullshit.

This. A hundred times this.

However, it's hard not to be emotionally swayed by these stories, even when you have no way of determining their veracity. So also consider that for every "friend of a friend" whose child allegedly had some disasterous reaction to vaccination, there is probably at least one friend of a friend with a disasterous story or near-miss from the diseases that vaccinations are preventing. For instance, a friend of a friend of mine had a baby son who contracted whooping cough at five weeks and died of it, after a further five agonising weeks in hospital. These stories can just as easily be bullshit, of course, but here is a newspaper article to tell you that in this case it definitely happened.

I suspect that when dreadful things happen without explanation (and don't get me wrong, a baby dying of SIDS or a toddler being diagnosed with autism are unbearable to contemplate) as humans we want to latch on to something that accounts for the event, rather than having to believe that the world is really random and sometimes unaccountably cruel.
posted by Cheese Monster at 4:07 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to work at legal clinic to help people under the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, an interesting federal program that is almost the only way to be compensated for injuries caused by vaccines. The program is based on things like the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. That clinic handled a significant proportion of all the legal cases in the US that asserted that a vaccine cause harm. I also have a PhD in the biological sciences. So I know a little about the potential for harm from vaccination.

As people have already mentioned, injuries from vaccines are extremely rare. The only injury pattern I recall seeing with any regularity that resulted in legally sufficient proof for a vaccine claim was a fever that followed the vaccination, with the fever followed by seizures (febrile seizure), followed by lingering complications or even death. But I emphasize that these problems are very, very rare, and in fact most febrile seizures are harmless. The American Academy of Pediatrics goes so far as to say that febrile seizures "are harmless to the child. Febrile seizures do not cause brain damage, nervous system problems, paralysis, intellectual disability, or death." Still, if the topic comes up, I tell my friends with small children to watch for a fever after a vaccination. That's all.

If I had a child, I would not hesitate to vaccinate according to standard medical practice.

As mentioned already here, herd immunity is important. People who refuse vaccines out of generalized fear, without a medical reason, are a serious problem.
posted by exogenous at 4:07 PM on February 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I run with a fairly anti-vax crowd and was living in a very anti-vax neighbourhood when my kid was born. I hemmed and hawed and tried, in vain, to get good information. I was hanging out at the health unit for their mom and baby hang-outs and they were, of course, very pro-vax, even as most of the moms were not.

What shook me out of my anti-vaccination haze was a serious outbreak of pertussis in the neighbourhood, which occurred largely because of the breakdown of the "herd." I realized that I was actually way more afraid of the very well documented effects of the diseases than I was of not very well documented rumours about the effects of the vaccinations.

And then, when I really thought about it, it was clear to me that I was a strong believer in the public health benefits of universal vaccination. I think all the confusion of the first months of parenthood left me feeling a little rudderless.

In the end, I went with a modified vaccination schedule: my daughter got all the shots I'd received as a kid thirty years earlier--meaning no chicken pox and no Hep B--plus the HibB. Confirmation bias has helped me feel very good about my decision: she got a very mild case of chicken pox three years ago, whereas several of her friends who got the immunization ended up with fairly gnarly cases anyway.
posted by looli at 4:19 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm 24 and I'm doing fine without them though, so that's where I'm coming from on this front. :) I know a handful of other people who were likewise not vaccinated for the same reasons, and we're doing okay, too.

I think this comment is really worth highlighting. The reason people like These Birds of a Feather do not get sick and die despite their unvaccinated status is because of herd immunity, as I linked to earlier. Herd immunity is a phenomena that occurs when enough members of a population are protected against a disease that the disease cannot easily spread through a population to reach the weakest members, such as the unvaccinated. The more people that don't vaccinate, the further the population goes from herd immunity, and the more vulnerable the weak and unvaccinated members of the population to the disease. The US population used to have herd immunity for a wide range of very dangerous communicable diseases due to vaccines. Because more and more parents are refusing vaccines, devastating diseases like pertussis and measles are on the rise.

These Birds of a Feather, if I were you I would be encouraging everyone to get vaccinated so you can maintain your disease-free status.
posted by schroedinger at 4:20 PM on February 4, 2012 [29 favorites]

Jbenben, I think there's a lot going on behind the scenes that you're not aware of. Every single person who gets a vaccination at my underfunded free clinic in North Philadelphia, for instance, is screened for allergy to egg proteins, history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, and past adverse reaction to any vaccine. We screen for those things because they are incredibly rare, but genuine risks (about ~1% of the pediatric population has an egg allergy, and there was one extra case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome per 1,000,000 folks vaccinated). I want to stress that: we screen every single patient in order to avoid a one in a million adverse reaction. We do it because there's clear data to prove that an association exists, and we do it because we care. If there were any evidence to prove another association, you can bet that we'd screen for that, too.

You're concerned about the purity of the vaccines and the differences between vaccines from different manufacturers? So are we. We fill out paperwork for each patient detailing the site of injection, the vaccine manufacturer, and the lot number of the vaccine. If an adverse event were to happen, it would be reported to VAERS, a traceback investigation would be initiated immediately and all the vaccines from that lot would be immediately tested for purity and recalled if necessary. In the last decade, there have been exactly FOUR recalls of vaccines on the pediatric schedule (one of those was because the vaccine batch had dropped below a certain level of potency).

We established pretty early on in this discussion that the plural of anecdote is not data; if you've got any actual evidence besides a "vague memory" of a "casual relationship," I'm more than happy to read and evaluate it, but it's counterproductive to talk about "valid concerns" or "PR spin" without enumerating exactly what those are.
posted by The White Hat at 5:18 PM on February 4, 2012 [22 favorites]

I run with a reasonably anti-vax crowd and they love the "refer off hand to a study they can't remember that supports their view as long as you never find that study, in which case it was a different one".

Toddler anachronism had all of her shots - hep b because I have no idea what she will be when she grows up and I'd rather do it now than later. Not to mention that it's not exaclty a difficult disease to catch unknowlingly and can do devastating damage. So the risk of getting the disease and suffering badly was higher than craptastic anecdotes about some highly implausible reaction. Chicken pox because I got it as a teenager and always said I had an easy time, until my mother said I was actually severely ill for a week and I just can't remember it. Whooping cough because my sister had a case as a teen and it's insane to pretend it's anything like a cold. Measles and polio and HiB because I am not an idiot. Rubella because my mother doesn't develop an immunity (three bouts, four attempts at vax) and has miscarried more than once because of it (including the child who should have been my younger sibling except I was exposed pre-vax because of anti-vaxxers and passed it to my mother).

My riskk management strategy had very very little risk on the vax side, even though she is allergic to egg (she never reacted to the vax). There has been no plausible causal relationship between autism and vaccination, SIDs and vaccination, allergies and vaccination, or anything like that. But I have seen diseases like this in real life and it's nothing like the "simple childhood illness" anti-vaxxers talkl about.

HPV comes much later. She will probably get that too.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:16 PM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Others, in particular The White Hat, have provided excellent information. I am a microbiologist specializing in childhood respiratory diseases and always prefer hard evidence and data. However, anecdotal evidence does often contribute to the opinions of lay people. Might I suggest you seek alternative sources for some anecdotal opinions on vaccines? Talk to an elderly relative about what it was like to grow up when polio outbreaks killed children, or left them paralyzed or dependent on an iron lung. Do you know anyone from a developing country? Ask him or her to tell you about child health in their country. Over 7 million children under the age of 5 die each year, many because they do not have access to vaccines. Pneumonia is the leading killer of children under the age of 5, and most pneumonia can be prevented by vaccination against Streptoccus pneumoniae and Haemophilius influenzae type B. (more info here)

Vaccines do not cause SIDS. Vaccines prevent deadly infectious diseases, and people able to protect their children by vaccination should consider themselves among the world's most fortunate.
posted by emd3737 at 7:39 PM on February 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

Mod note: Folks again, tricky topic, please take asides to MeMail, don't just put them in smalltext. OP is not anonymous. Do not start a debate in this thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:06 PM on February 4, 2012

As the father of a boy about to turn a year old: There's the consensus of the complete research of the entire medical community. And there are people exploiting the (all-too-familiar) SIDS fears of new parents in order to help a former Playmate profit now that the autism lies about vaccines have been thoroughly debunked.

Choose one. The fact that you want evidence at all is enough; only one of these communities relies on documented, falsifiable evidence. Hint: It's not Jenny McCarthy's acolytes.
posted by anildash at 8:59 PM on February 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

The White Hat, if you are still reading, I LOVE that your clinic screens for allergies. No ped that I've talked has even offered that as an option. What is the name of that screen/panel, so that folks know what to ask their ped for? I think having that screen would be another useful tool in the decision-making process.
posted by vignettist at 12:33 AM on February 5, 2012

Someone recommended talking to an older person about polio and what it was like before the vaccine came in. Here I am, I was one the "Polio Pioneers" in the early 50s, the first kids to get the vaccine. I knew all about polio, two uncles had it in early childhood, and one was badly crippled for life, braces, canes, and shriveled, twisted legs. He was lucky, I still remember the pictures of people in iron lungs, who would never get out and could not even breathe without mechanical assistance.

Another charming anecdote of the joys of "natural" living....and dying, back in the day; my husband's mother was one of a large family of children, many of whom died in an epidemic of communicable disease in Europe in the early years of the 20th century. His mother was one of the oldest, had to live with the memory of her siblings dying before the family came to America.
My father had a brother and sister who died in infancy, and one who was mentally slow because of a high fever. He had said this was common among those his age, everyone he knew had kids who died young, or were impaired by disease.

This was life before immunization and antibiotics. Do we really want to go back there?
posted by mermayd at 6:06 AM on February 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

For egg allergy, all we need to do to screen is ask whether or not the person is allergic to eggs. We deal mostly with adults, so with the rare exception almost everyone knows their status. Same for Guillain-Barre-- "you'd know if you ever had it."
posted by The White Hat at 6:13 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is probably the worst time in the world to be a new parent because, due to the joys of the internet, you are always going to be able to hear about the friend of a friend of a friend whose baby died or someone who had an allergic reaction to a vaccine. Even supporters of rare diseases are often stunned that they are so many of them on the internet, but that is also *because* of the internet, they are able to find each other where before they might have felt they were the only one.

This is always difficult for me to admit: I used to be one of those anti-vaxxers. I dragged in books and print-outs to my pediatrician, who didn't do much to soothe my fears other than give me a withering look and say, "oh, you're one of those people who READS stuff." To be honest, if she had just sat me down calmly and perhaps given me some books that weren't sponsored by Tylenol or Pfizer, I could have probably been persuaded or at least persuaded to the point where I wasn't convinced that Big Pharma wanted to kill my baby. But already my pediatrician had her hackles up and it turned into a big adversarial relationship that didn't help anyone.

My child is autistic. He also wasn't thrilled about all of those catch-up shots he had to get through years 4-7 and it took a long, long time to get caught up. But here's what I realized; my child isn't autistic because of vaccines or the lack thereof. And here's the even more depressing part... I can't take part in local autism support groups here or awareness events because the majority of those parents are anti-vax. I got bitched out by the head of the group for letting my kid eat gluten. It's an extremely unwelcoming place.

So, long story short, this is my recommendation: read the essays at The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. Talk to your pediatrician about your thoughts and fears. Learn infant/child CPR. Be the most well-prepared parent that you can be and use the resources of people who are qualified to talk about vaccines. Your worries are normal. Please feel free to memail me if you would like more links. All the best to you.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 7:32 AM on February 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

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