Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Posted by Hilda
My families are a bunch of trivia heads, both the one I was born into and the one I am now a parent in. I think asking us trivia questions incessantly and providing interesting trivia continuously was a way for my father to instill deep curiosity about everything in us.
When I was little, I don't think there was even a shadow of a doubt that I was going to be vaccinated. In fact, I can't recall there being any issues with vaccination during my lifetime except within the last five to ten years. In that time, the rise in instances of autism in young children has led factions of people to believe that vaccines and vaccinations in general are a direct cause of the condition.
So, to vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question.
As the mother of a nearly six month-old baby, I'm going to be honest and begin this discussion by saying that my little girl has had her prescribed shots; at two months, three months, four months and has just had a BCG shot which is recommended before the age of one in Europe. The vaccines that she has received so far are meant to protect her from Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough, Polio, and Pneumococcal(lung) and Meningococcal(brain) strains of influenza. The BCG is a vaccine against Tuberculosis. Further shots when she'll be thirteen months old should protect her from Measles, Mumps and Rubella. So it's obvious which side of this equation I fall under, but I'll break it down and see if it makes sense to you too.
The most persistent rumor in the anti-vaccination campaign has been that mercury found in a chemical known as thimerosal, which was used as a preservative in some vaccines, is the cause of higher rates of autism. However, upon doing extensive reviews of such a possibility, it was found that the quantity of mercury in thimerosal, measured in nano grams per milliliter in children after vaccination, is well below the acceptable level as defined by EPA standards. I trusted the reports I read because I was trained as an environmental engineer in college so I know about measurements like nano grams per milliliter (ηg/ml) up the wazoo as I had to study air, water, and soil pollution (did you know that if you work in the United States, the air in your workplace has to be recycled 5.4 times per hour? Yes, I'm so scarred I remember OSHA standards by heart twelve years after the fact). To be specific, the amount of thimerosal measured in children after vaccination was less than half of the acceptable amount. Unfortunately, in this day and age of electronic communication, coming on the heels of the claims about MMR, the fuse had already been lit and spread in part by the New York Times and Rolling Stone and the thimerosal rumor grew to enormous proportions.
Moreover, autism, in severe cases, is often diagnosed in young children as early as one year old. This is right in the middle of the standard vaccination timeline and I, as a new mother, can attest that I would consider it odd if my perfectly normal-seeming child suddenly started displaying autistic behavior shortly after being vaccinated and might want to think of that as the possible cause for her sudden change in behavior. I completely understand the urge to find a concrete cause for something like this happening to one's child as the more concrete the cause, the more possible a specific treatment and/or cure might be. However, it should be considered that the urge to blame vaccination comes partly from the fact that when children are this young, vaccination is one of the only things that we as their parents can control completely since they cannot fully communicate with us yet and we have little or no control over a number of other factors in their environment such as pollution or allergens and, for that matter, many other things which surround us daily but which we've come to accept as the natural state of the 20th and 21st century life. It's important to remember that while we can control the administration of vaccines to our young children, unless we are doctors or biochemists ourselves, we don't fully understand them either, and understanding something only partially may be worse than not at all in some cases like this.
I have to note the following: All children are, of course, individuals and it is important to take family history with allergies and adverse reactions into account when deciding whether or not to vaccinate a child.
I can't remember now what other answers I've given my father when it comes to the third most important discovery for mankind, but now that I have a child who is being vaccinated, I don't think I'll ever forget that that is probably the best third answer I can come up with. Perhaps that has been the point of his asking me repeatedly over the years, to see if I would come to this realization when I had children of my own. Thanks Dad.
This post was written by Hilda
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