How We Talk About Measles and Vaccines

Surely I cannot be the only one profoundly saddened by the blaming, shaming, name-calling, ridicule, anger, fear-mongering and outright aggression being shared recently on blogs, in news articles and especially in the comments, by both sides of the debate surrounding measles in particular and vaccines in general? Tell me I am not alone!

People seem so quick to think that the right choice for them should be the right choice for everyone else. It’s baffling to me, and disappointing to witness. So few and far between are the voices that call for people to converse in a respectful way. To engage in discussion with an open mind, to try to see things from a different perspective. To agree to disagree. Do those angry and aggressive writers and commenters believe that by calling others “ignorant” or using condescending tones and sarcasm that they will create the change in behavior or beliefs they wish to see? Do they think those make for a convincing argument? What do they hope to gain by passing such harsh judgments on people based on just one aspect of parenting?

I have to keep reminding myself that this vitriol comes from just a small vocal minority, on both sides of the issue, and that most people, if you were to speak with them in person, would be quite capable of sharing their views without ad hominem attacks or extremist views that call for parents to be sued, excluded or even jailed for their choices.

I know this because when I look around my community and note the parents who have chosen not to vaccinate a child for whatever reason, I see a fire fighter, a college teacher, a software engineer, a home builder, a chiropractor, a business consultant, a radio personality, an architect, a cancer survivor. A mother. A father. I see intelligent people. I see good people who made what they truly believe is the best choice for their family.

I know this because when I look around my community and note the parents who have chosen to vaccinate a child for whatever reason, I see a business owner, a veterinarian, a real estate agent, an artist, a teacher, an accountant, an athlete, a photographer, a sales rep. A mother. A father. I see intelligent people. I see good people who made what they truly believe is the best choice for their family.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me whether you decide to vaccinate your child or not. What matters to me is that you know what your options are and that you have a care provider who will discuss your options and respect your choices. What matters to me is that your rights as parents are respected and your freedom to make that decision for your family is not threatened. Maybe you want to delay some vaccines, maybe you do some and skip others, maybe you want to vaccinate for everything under the sun, or for nothing at all.

Maybe, just maybe, you make different decisions for different kids. You know, because they’re different. And they have different needs or challenges. Maybe your circumstances have changed. Maybe your children have different medical situations, maybe your family travels the world, maybe your job exposes you to sick people every day. Maybe your life journey has brought you in touch with people whose stories and experiences have influenced you one way or another. Maybe you read an article or study that really resonated with you. Maybe you simply followed your instinct.

I cannot know because I do not walk in your shoes. But I can and will continue to support whatever decision you make because that is your right. Even if I do not agree.

When it comes to vaccines, it seems “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. Some will think you are crazy and irresponsible and placing your child at unnecessary risk, and some will applaud your decision and think you’re doing the right thing, whether you vaccinate or you don’t. So you cannot base your decision on what others may think or say. You cannot predict if your child will have an adverse reaction to a vaccine or face complications from a disease. Chances of both are pretty small, yet they both undeniably exist. It’s a concern for every parent and we alone have to live with the consequences of these decisions for our children. That’s a huge responsibility.

So can we come together and talk about this? Through all the negativity, I have learned some interesting things. For example, even though my own mother has undergone chemotherapy, I did not know chemo wipes out the immune system to the extent that any immunity that may have been left from all previously administered vaccines is likely (but not necessarily) eradicated. Imagine how much we could all learn if we listened more and showed a little empathy and respect?


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