Sunday, April 22, 2012

One of the Easiest Parenting Decisions We've Made, is also One of the Most Important

I have come to the conclusion that most parenting decisions don't really matter in terms of the "Big Picture" despite how much we may antagonize over them at the time.

Breastfeeding versus formula feeding - doesn't really matter - just ensure that whatever form of feeding you choose is done safely and meets the nutritional needs of the child.

Crying it out versus night-time parenting - again doesn't really matter - as long as your sleep needs and those of your child are being met.

Daycare versus stay-at-home parenting - again doesn't really matter - as long as whoever is watching your child is providing for their needs - emotional, physical, financial and intellectual.

None of these decisions are ones that I or my husband are likely to have any remorse over - we chose what was best for our family at the time and our decision is unlikely to have any adverse impact on anybody else.

However, when deciding whether or not to immunize and whether or not to follow the recommended schedule - the decision was not one that was overly hard. Why? Because the most credible sources of information on this subject are overwhelmingly in favour of childhood immunization according to the vaccination schedule.

Vaccines are some of the safest medical products out there - there are decades of data on the safety and effectiveness of vaccination. Vaccinating my child is safer than driving her daycare. Vaccinating my child is safer than taking her to the park to play.

Vaccines are incredibly effective at preventing disease. The vast majority of immunized children will not catch the diseases for which they have been immunized.

There was no contra-indication to my child being vaccinated. She is not allergic to any of the components in vaccines. She does not have any condition for which vaccination would be ill-advised.

The possible complications and consequences of the diseases prevented by vaccines are potentially serious. Infants who catch whooping cough stand a better than even chance of being hospitalized with it, and one percent of them will die. Chicken pox and the measles cause a week or more of misery for the kid - and having chicken pox as a child means having a risk of shingles later in life. Mumps can result in deafness or sterility. For every disease that there's a vaccine, the risks of the disease far outweigh the risks of the vaccine - without exception, I found that the data was clear - denying my child the benefits of vaccination would be a parental failing in ensuring her health and well-being.

Furthermore, I discovered that this was a decision that actually mattered. It mattered because not everyone can be vaccinated - some people have medical reasons why they cannot be immunized and others find themselves susceptible to vaccine preventable diseases due to a compromised immune system. For some of these people, coming into contact with a vaccine preventable disease can be life-threatening. Think of those too young to be immunized. Think of pregnant women. Think of those battling cancer or HIV. Think of organ transplant recipients. Not everybody is a winner in the health lottery. Think of those for whom, for whatever reason the vaccine just doesn't work. All of these people rely on the vaccination decision of everyone else. This is because, widespread vaccination establishes 'herd-immunity' - simply put a high-level of vaccination prevents the disease from circulating in the community. Further, I learned that for many of these diseases people are contagious long before any symptoms emerge. As a result, a person could unknowingly spread these diseases. I simply wasn't willing to make my child a potential biological weapon of mass destruction. She'd probably fare all-right if she did catch one of the diseases that are prevented by vaccines - but would the newborn be all right? Would the cancer victim be all right? Would the pregnant woman and her unborn child be all right? It simply wasn't a risk I'd take.

As such, I am disturbed when I read about whooping cough emerging in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver and the recent diagnosis of a case in Sooke (note Sooke is a bedroom community of Victoria). I am disturbed to read that measles cases are at a 15 year high. I am disturbed because this suggests that vaccination rates have fallen to levels where herd immunity has been compromised and the diseases are able to circulate in the community.

As such, I'd ask parents to take a look at the evidence - the real evidence on the safety and effectiveness from Health Canada, from the Centres for Disease Control, from Dr. Offit and Dr. Albietz, from medical journals and experts in the field of immunology and public health. I'd ask them to look at the information on the diseases that are prevented by vaccination - not only for themselves but also for those with compromised immune systems - those who are in their community. I'd ask them to be critical and skeptical of the information they read. I'd ask them to ask themselves whether or not the claim made has been substantiated or debunked. I'd also ask them to ask themselves whether or not the person making the claim has a stake in the claim being made - are they trying to sell a nutritional supplement? Are they credible?

I've looked at the evidence - and to me its clear, to me it's clear that if you give a whoop about your child, or your community its important to vaccinate according to the schedule that has been recommended.

This is a parenting decision that matters - and luckily, it was one of the easiest ones I've made (the evidence is that clear).

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you 100% on the importance of vaccines! My family (that's me, my husband, and our 5 month old son) live in Vancouver, so this blog is of particular interest to me.

    I just wanted to add that if you're in contact with a baby regularly, you can get a whooping cough booster shot free of charge at any of the community health clinics. I think the vaccine loses effectiveness after a decade or so, so if you haven't gotten a booster since school, you're probably due!