Edgy Mama: Why choosing not to vaccinate your child is a bad idea

I’ve written about both sides of the childhood vaccination debate as objectively as possible over the years. I’ve chosen to vaccinate my kids, but until recently, I could, at least emotionally, understand why some of my friends and acquaintances chose otherwise. However, after researching the safety and efficacy of childhood vaccinations, talking extensively to doctors about the issue and learning about the recent outbreaks of deadly, but vaccine-preventable diseases like pertussis, I’ve realized I’m no longer objective.

I don’t blame the parents who choose not to vaccinate. I understand that fierce protective parental urge. But we can no longer blame vaccines. And we are potentially doing more harm than we understand when we choose not to immunize.

Here’s why. Most parents who haven’t vaccinated their kids have made that choice because of the fear that ingredients in the shots (such as Thimerosol—an organic mercury-containing compound) could cause autism or other developmental delays. Yet, the 1998 study that indicated a correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism has been firmly debunked. The study was based on a sample of only 12 children, and it has been renounced by 10 of its co-authors and by the medical magazine, Lancet, which published it.

Since then, there have been a number of studies that have found no correlation between autism or any other developmental delays and vaccinations.

“While I think parents are right to be cautious about their children, vaccines have been proven again and again to be safe,” says Dr. James Whitehouse, infectious disease specialist with Asheville Infectious Disease. “Parents are still reacting to that one article that has been retracted. The best we can do is continue working to re-educate parents about how safe and effective our vaccines are.”

Whitehouse also notes that there’s been a dramatic increase in autism levels despite the fact that Thimerosal has been removed from all vaccines except for a few multi-dose flu shots. And despite the decreases in the numbers of children being vaccinated.

“You get three times more mercury from eating a tuna fish sandwich than you do from a vaccine containing Thimerosal,” says Cynthia Yancey, Buncombe County medical health director.

So, there’s no connection between autism and vaccinations and the primary ingredient that spooked parents has been removed from most vaccines anyway.

Why do parents still choose not to vaccinate their children?

“Parents I talk to are concerned because of previous press,” Whitehouse says. “They’re also reacting to folklore — other people sharing stories they’ve ‘heard’ about children having bad reactions. Finally, people say things like, ‘I still got the flu even though I got the flu vaccine’. The truth is many things cause respiratory illness in winter. Flu’s just one of those things.”

There’s also the reality that, especially in this country, most people have never seen these vaccine-preventable diseases or known anyone who has contracted them, Whitehouse and Yancey both emphasize.

But that’s changing.

A lot of doctors are currently seeing pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough, a disease that’s preventable via the DTaP vaccine.

And children, American children, are dying from this disease and its complications.

At least ten children, most of them babies, died in 2010 in California from pertussis. Thousands of cases of the disease were reported last year — in fact, we had the largest outbreak of pertussis in this country since 1959.

California has one of the highest “exemption” rates in the country, which means that, even though children entering public school are required to be up-to-date on their vaccinations, parents can claim a “religious exemption” and get their unvaccinated children into schools.

Which is happening here as well, as has been for years. In fact, Buncombe County has the highest number of exemptions in the state, Yancey says. The percentage of religious exemptions in our schools this year is 4.63 — as compared to the state level of about half of one percent.

And there were 68-recorded cases of pertussis last year in Buncombe, which is more than the number of cases seen in several years combined, according to Yancey. Whitehouse adds that at least two babies were hospitalized at Mission Hospitals with the disease this year.

Hmmmm. According to the Centers for Disease Control, vaccination rates need to be at around 93 percent of the population for pertussis to stay away. Yancey says Buncombe County’s rates of vaccination against the disease are around 80 percent.

“Are we going to wait until we see a baby die of pertussis here to restart vaccinating our children?” asks Yancey.

I hope not.

Whitehouse suggests that parents looking for up-to-date vaccination data on visit the CDC’s web site at http://www.cdc.org and http://www.immunize.org.





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47 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Why choosing not to vaccinate your child is a bad idea

  1. helpingspecialkids

    A few facts left out of this article: 1. Vaccines have caused numerous cases of autism and brain injury as evidenced by cases settled in US Federal “Vaccine Court”; 2. Dr. Wakefield’s research has been replicated more than once; 3. Dr. Wakefield NEVER said vaccines cause autism. He was concerned and puzzled by the vaccine-strain measles virus found in the guts of children with autism (but not in kids without autism but with gut issues) and urged more research to figure out if there was a connection; 4. Many of the children with whooping cough have been fully immunized. Why should our government insist on vaccines that aren’t effective? 5. Our schedule of SO many vaccines has never been tested for safety-and likely won’t! Drug companies don’t test drugs in combinations and they don’t test for long periods of time. Also, if they are testing a vaccine, they may watch for side effects for a week but if your baby dies 2 weeks after that vaccine, they say it is unrelated and a coincidence! 6. As an RN, I do tell folks to go to the CDC website but when you get there, do a search for the Pink Book appendix pages entitled “Vaccine Excipient and Media Summary”. There you will see a list of ingredients for each vaccine and that they include neurotoxins, carcinogens, MSG, animal RNA, and ingredients that can trigger severe allergic reaction. In summary, today’s vaccines are full of crap and anyone who thinks they are safe and effective is very naive. I am NOT anti-vaccine but until vaccines are safe and effective, my family and I will decline!

  2. tony bateson

    For a medical specialist to say that parents are just reacting to one article is evidence of a serious lack of knowledge of vaccines and their potential side effects. Parents in both the USA and the UK in the nineteen seventies forsook vaccines in a very big way. Take-up fell to the low 30%s in both countries. This was more than twenty years before Wakefield and I suspect that these medics know this very well and simply retail industry propaganda to avoid rocking the boat. When medical specialists are both ill informed and partial,parents should start to worry.

    Tony Bateson, Oxford, UK

  3. JonathanBarnard

    Anne, from reading this post, I don’t conclude that you are “no longer objective.” Instead, I conclude that objective consideration of the evidence has convinced you that vaccinating is the correct choice.

  4. contentpersephone

    While I was never of the “camp” that proclaimed “vaccines cause autism” – my child had a *severe* reaction to his third DTaP shot. (several seizures within a 24 hour period after the shot).

    We stopped the vax schedule at that point, since the docs couldn’t tell us which of the shots (it’s a combo) he might have had that reaction to. While this reaction is considered “severe” – it is not all that uncommon. I think that the stats were right around 1 in 10K.

    We will probably try to get back on a vax schedule in another year or two….when, hopefully, his system will be more able to handle it. In the meantime, I try to avoid the subject with most folks.

  5. The Trolls Troll

    When I have children, I will have them vaccinated and I will feed them Smithfield hams.

  6. Nice editorial point, Jonathan.

    CP, I’m sure that was terrifying. Sheesh. Though statistically, 1 in 10K is pretty rare.

    Of course, anyone can have an adverse reaction to any drug at any time. I had an horrific reaction to morphine after surgery several years ago…

  7. contentpersephone

    Thanks, EM – it was really scary, but, fortunately, no long term negative effects.

    While 1 in 10K might seem fairly rare, it feels like too big a risk when *your* kid is that “one”.

    What currently drives me nuts is that the school system won’t accept a doctors note to explain the delayed vax schedule.

    Our beautiful State will accept a “religious” exemption, but not a “medical” one. Puts me in a tricky position.

  8. krystyn33

    “Objective” is not a word I’d use to describe your writing on this topic, and I’m thinking of your other pro-vaccine diatribes previously published here.

    It is great that you took the time to conduct research and made a choice for your family about which you feel highly confident. I respect that. I’ve done my own homework and I came to a different conclusion about what was best for my child. I’m not “spooked”; I don’t blame Thimerosol (though it remains present in some combination shots and most flu vaccines and childhood vaccines with this ingredient were not recalled so it may in fact have been present in injections given well after it was removed from manufacture). My concerns about the lack of adequate research into vaccine safety and a reasoned risk-analysis–not knee-jerk fear–factored into my decision. While you state that you “do not blame parents” who choose not to vaccinate and that you “understand” them, your tone and the general point of this article (and one from way back which read like an advertisement for the flu shot) suggests that us non-vaxers are reactionary, underinformed (or misled) and behind the times. I certainly do not hold any parent who chooses vaccination in this esteem. We’re all doing what we believe is best based on our experience, education and yes, intuition.

    Your piece here did not offer specifics with regard to the pertussis deaths in California. Did these children have access to quality medical care? Adequate nutrition? What other risk factors came into play? Were these infants vaccinated or not?

    Your supporting information comes solely from the mainstream medical establishment. Should you truly wish to write an unbiased piece, I recommend approaching outside sources with a more open mind.

  9. tony bateson

    One in 10K would be very rare indeed. Since it is said that one in sixty four male children are being diagnosed as ASD it cannot be right can it?
    Where do you guys get your facts from?

    Tony Bateson, Oxford, UK

  10. contentpersephone

    Whaa? I said that a *severe* reaction to the Dtap vax was, statistically about 1 in 10K according to our physician, …not that my son got ASD from the vax!

    I believe that it was our physician who gave me that statistic, when we reported the incident to the US “adverse reaction” database. I’m sure that I could find more sources, but I’m pressed for time right now.

  11. contentpersephone

    Ok, found a source – the US Health Department.

    The figure given there is that 1 in 14K children have an “uncommon” seizure reaction to the Dtap. Link: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-dtap.pdf

    The CDC also states that if your child has had such a reaction, further Dtap shots are to be avoided. Strange that the NC school system doesn’t seem aware of this advice…

    As far as the statistic from Mr. Bateson regarding one in 64 male children being diagnosed as ASD – that seems like a *very* high figure to me.

    Much as some folks want to come up with a “single bullet” theory for the rising cases of autism in this country, I think that all we can really say about it is that we don’t really know and the “causes” are quite complex. Vaccines *might* contribute in some cases, perhaps if there is an underlying condition….there is probably a genetic component…and many want to find out more about potential environmental causes.

  12. tony bateson

    One in sixty four vaccinated children being diagnosed with ASD is not only very high it is appalling but it may well also be true. Official estimates of the UK ASD population is put by the National Autistic Society at around 520,000. This may be disproportionately high compared to the USA which has five times our population.

    I note your blog has attracted Mr Yuck of the leftbrainrightbrain tendency. Whatever he says is likely to be seditious nonsense including their distorted renderings of my past comments. When I discover such places I avoid them in the future whilst noting they have never, ever been able to dispute my claim that there are no unvaccinated autistic people, despite this claim seeming to wind them up into a frenzy. They repeatedly ask me to prove the absence of something which any sensible person knows is not possible. On the other hand it is surely simple to prove the existence of just one unvaccinated autistic person if such exists. Not found yet.

    Tony Bateson, Oxford, UK.

  13. krystyn33,

    If you read what I wrote, you’ll see that I’m said I’m NOT objective. This is a column–an opinion piece, as I state clearly in the first paragraph.

    Not sure to which other diatribes you’re referring, other than a column I wrote a while back on the flu vaccine. I did cover both sides of the debate as a journalist, not a columnist, in the MX Kids Issue a couple of years ago.

  14. bill smith

    [i]Vaccines regularly kill and maim babies and children for life.[/i]

    Regularly? By what standard?

    Also, the diseases that vaccines protect against are also known to ‘kill and maim babies’ and adults alike.
    There is no perfect-world solution.

  15. krystyn33

    Edgy Mama, I was responding to your first sentence and thinking of the pro-flu shot column that I referenced later in my comment. Yes, these are opinion pieces, but since you are well-aware that our area has a significant population of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, your title seems deliberately provocative. You essentially accuse parents like myself of gross negligence: to our own children and immunologically vulnerable members of our community, and for no good reason.

    Thank you for the link to the NY Times article. An answer to my question about the access these families had to quality medical care can only be guessed.

    Had your goal been to inform or motivate rather than provoke the non-vaxing families of WNC, intimating that we are potential baby killers as you did in your final lines wasn’t a very diplomatic rhetorical strategy. I don’t see you opening or furthering a legitimate conversation here but asserting your choice as morally superior to those that disagree.

  16. Jim Shura

    Dr. Bateson,

    I did not post that link to discredit you. I googled you, curiously, and found some links where you made your arguments.

    My son had seizures, 2 hours after a vaccination. Walnut-sized lump.

  17. Athena

    First, I think it is great that you had the courage to address this issue Anne. It is one I tend to avoid to keep my relationships civil.

    There is an interesting generalization that happens in discussions that makes it hard to have productive talks about serious issues such as this. For instance, although it is true that there are deaths linked to vaccines every year, and as a mother I know the number feels too big when thinking of your own child, how does this number compare to the number of children in other countries who die of the disease said vaccine was trying to prevent? I imagine it is almost always higher.

    The truth is some diseases such as small pox and polio HAD been virtually erased off the face of the planet, until people in developed countries stopped vaccinating. Now there are cases of these diseases in the US for the first time in decades.

    I don’t agree with many aspects of our medical system. I don’t agree with pharmaceutical companies having so much power in determining how to treat illness and maintain health. I don’t agree with the vaccine schedule or starting to introduce foreign bodies into infants the moment they are born. I also don’t like how doctor manipulate the facts to scare people into vaccinating their kids. It’s hard work sifting through all that out right bull crap to get down to the issue and make an informed intelligent decision that feels right for yourself and your family.

    It is important not to confuse the entirety of the system with the issue at hand. Despite all my mistrust of doctors, the FDA, etc., etc., if I am seriously injured or having a heart attack, I still want to go to the emergency room.

  18. Content parent

    I think that perhaps Krystyn33 is reading too much into Anne’s article and is probably used to being defensive about her parental decisions. I don’t really see where Anne is implying that her opinion is the high holy order of things, though her opinion has become more popular after the vaccine/autism link has been debunked. Personally, as a responsible parent, I choose to vaccinate because if the vaccine will prevent something more damaging from occuring, such as whooping cough, and also prevent it from spreading, I’ll take that risk. Or what if my son catches the flu and misses a week of school and that could have been prevented with a shot? It just seems it is easier to be proactive and take preventative steps before you land in the hospital because of an illness.

  19. When I have a child, I will get every vaccine. And I will do so without any feelings of guilt.

  20. orulz

    The problem I have with refusing vaccinations is this:

    Parents who choose to not have their children vaccinated are depending on the fact that most everybody else in the world IS vaccinated, so that their children are never exposed to the diseases to which they are not vaccinated against.

    Hardly seems fair to me.

    It is scientifically and statistically proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these vaccines drastically reduce the likelyhood of contracting the viruses.

    Of course vaccines have potential side effects. Everything has potential side effects. I would rather risk the 1 in 14000 chance that my child has a severe reaction to DTAP than risk whatever the chance is that she would die of any of the diseases that it protects against in a non-vaccinated world.

  21. contentpersephone

    This column is long, but well worth a read:


    The section on aluminum in vaccines is particularly scary. Brian’s point (above) about it not necessarily being any *one* vaccine ingredient (i.e. thimerisol) that is harming these children, but perhaps the combination and sheer volume of many, potentially very dangerous, ingredients (30 shots before age six?) injected into our most vulnerable citizens. A lot of these vaccines are made with “genetic material” from pigs and chickens – how long could they possibly been testing this methodology and its’ long-term effects? Something to think about.

    And some of the things that we are vaccinating against aren’t even usually too dangerous for the majority. Almost everyone in my age group suffered through the chicken pox as a child – now we have a “natural” immunity that, statistically, is quite superior to the records of those who’ve had the vax for it.

    When my son was *hours* old, the hospital tried to convince me to allow them to vax him for HepB. Clearly, this was not about his own safety, but rather for this “herd immunity” – I declined. and I don’t regret it a bit, especially now.

  22. tony_bateson

    Orulz suggests that most people in the world are vaccinated, this is just not so. In the UK it is perhaps 80%+ and being vaccinated against Measles is no guarantee that you won’t contract Measles because around 50% of Measles victims have been vaccinated. But notice this, we know this because doctors remarkably pay attention to which sufferers from Measles, Pertussis etc., were not vaccinated so that they can pillory the parents for not vaccinating their child and people like Dr Wakefield for encouraging this. They, however, pay no attention to which autistic kids were vaccinated or not because they could hardly fail to notice that all autistic people have been vaccinated and they would put themselves in the dock for this. Their professional indemnity insurers will start to notice this before long and they will identify a potential legal lacuna of vast proportions. Then dear medics look out to your premiums.

    Tony Bateson, Oxford, UK.

  23. cloudydeb

    My dad had polio, and still suffers with post-polio syndrome. I’m sure he would much rather have had the vaccine.

  24. Constance Lombardo

    Thank you! I believe that, unless your family has a known adverse reaction to vaccines, we definitely should vaccinate our children- for their sake and for the sake of all the children in our community. I’m alarmed by the number of Asheville kids w/o. My seven-year old received all of hers, and, yes, I did alot of research first.

  25. bill smith

    [i]They, however, pay no attention to which autistic kids were vaccinated or not because they could hardly fail to notice that all autistic people have been vaccinated and they would put themselves in the dock for this.[/i]

    As far as I know, the only study connecting vaccines to Autism was proven to be a hoax. Do you have some other data to back up your implications? Or do you generally promote half-truth-fueled hysteria?

  26. bobaloo

    They, however, pay no attention to which autistic kids were vaccinated or not because they could hardly fail to notice that all autistic people have been vaccinated and they would put themselves in the dock for this.

    Let’s try an experiment:

    They, however, pay no attention to which homosexual kids were vaccinated or not because they could hardly fail to notice that all homosexual people have been vaccinated and they
    would put themselves in the dock for this.

    They, however, pay no attention to which rude kids were vaccinated or not because they could hardly fail to notice that all rude people have been vaccinated and they would put themselves in the dock for this.

    They, however, pay no attention to which ugly kids were vaccinated or not because they could hardly fail to notice that all ugly people have been vaccinated and they would put themselves in the dock for this.

    They, however, pay no attention to which stupid kids were vaccinated or not because they could hardly fail to notice that all stupid people have been vaccinated and they would put themselves in the dock for this.


  27. tony_bateson

    So it is madness, is it according to Bobaloo (what did he/she say about stopping this madness?) to suggest that 100% vaccination rate in autistic kids is somehow irrelevant? He/she seems to be one of a small number who think this state of play is so unimportant that they never seek to challenge it, only to rubbish its significance. Please emerge from your trance and explain to me why there is such a disparity in the way medics view measles data compared to autism data. One in 64 male children becoming victim to a dreadful life-long condition is not a subject for careful study whilst medics find plenty of energy to coerce parents into vaccinating their kids. There’s the madness.

    Tony Bateson, Oxford, UK

  28. bill smith

    Please, Mr. Bateson, show me the evidence that autism is linked to vaccines. Oh, right, there is none. Just blind speculation.

  29. Daniel Withrow

    Tony, can you link to a peer-reviewed, non-debunked study in a journal of epidemiology or other relevant specialty to verify your claim that all autistic children have been vaccinated? I find this claim highly suspect. Two minutes’ Googling turns up this result:

    That is, the one study done so far is hugely flawed, was done by advocates of the pseudoscientific link between vaccines and autism, and to the extent that it shows anything, shows that 1% of unvaccinated kids are autistic, the same as vaccinated kids, but half as much as partially vaccinated kids.

    This page is also informative: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/1201/p2113.html

    Reading the stats, it appears that in a sample year–1941–nearly a million kids had measles, and of those, between 1 and 2 thousand died. Again, that’s per year.

    With vaccinations, our rate of catching measles has dropped a thousandfold. But for every 1% increase in the unvaccinated population, the danger of catching the disease anyway for the vaccinated population increases by 60%.

  30. bobaloo

    So it is madness, is it according to Bobaloo (what did he/she say about stopping this madness?) to suggest that 100% vaccination rate in autistic kids is somehow irrelevant?

    Because it doesn’t prove anything, nor does it even imply anything. You don’t even have the data to back up that statement.
    Even if your statement is accurate, a massive majority of people receive vaccinations, so saying “100% of people with autism received vaccinations” is EXACTLY the same as “100% of people with Down’s Syndrome received vaccinations” and “100% of people with mental retardation received vaccinations” and “100% of people with cancer received vaccinations”.

    The point is it’s a completely dishonest reason to attribute autism to vaccinations.

    And if I’m in a trance, you’re in a coma.

  31. Daniel Withrow

    I don’t think we should discuss whether that statement is relevant, because it’s untrue. I could claim that autism was caused by an insufficient parental understanding of basic logic, but unless I can prove that the statement is true, and especially if someone links to a study showing that it’s false, why even entertain the idea? Falsehoods have no business in a constructive discourse.

  32. Daniel Withrow

    Oddly, Tony Bateson appears to have made weaker versions of this claim elsewhere on the Internet: http://www.autismobserved.net/Danczak2.htm . This link shows a series of letter exchanges between him and a physician in the UK. Tony claims in these exchanges that there are only a few unvaccinated autistic people he’s heard of (a weaker claim than his claim above that there is a 100% vaccination rate among autistic people), and the doctor verifies that he serves a population that includes unvaccinated autistic children.

    This exchange was over seven years ago, though, so maybe Tony just forgot. You’re welcome in advance for the reminder, Tony!

  33. normanplombe

    check out stats on deaths caused by medical mistakes. these are the medical pros we should trust? they’re killing 200,000 of us a year with their experimentation!

  34. bill smith

    You know, all people with Autism have noses. Clearly there is a link. Also, breast milk.

  35. Daniel Withrow

    Norman, I took your advice, and happened on this article: http://www.acponline.org/clinical_information/journals_publications/ecp/novdec00/sox.htm . It mentions an upper limit of 98,000 people who die every year due to preventable medical errors. It then goes on to say that this statistic is derived through mighty fishy means, and that deriving an actual statistic is difficult, if not impossible, to do. Do you have a different credible source for your number, and for your rather hyperbolic claim that the deaths are due to experimentation?

  36. boredfelipe

    I wish that Asheville nurses would stop spreading this anti-vaccine nonsense. Shame on you.

  37. bewilderness

    My husband developed diabetes after his last round of childhood shots, which proved very lucrative for big pharma, since it made him a life-long customer. Whether you want to believe the two are related or not (and I’m by no means the first person to see a link there) my bigger issue with vaccines is that some would like to force them on everyone. we should be free to choose what we put in our bodies. I don’t like to put unnatural things in my body. You want to, have at it, but don’t make my decisions for me.

  38. Daniel Withrow

    Bewilderness, when I get to choose whether to put live measles viruses in my body from your diseased cough, I’ll be a lot more sanguine about your free choice whether to put a vaccine in your body. There are plenty of natural things I don’t want in my body, and a lot of them are deadly bacteria and viruses.

    Unfortunately, the world we live in necessarily involves your actions curtailing my choices, and vice versa. Your choice not to vaccinate has a documented impact on my health. This isn’t just an issue of whether there should be freedom in health or not: if you take the freedom you want, it’ll have a negative effect on my health prognosis.

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc is the fallacy that applies to your anecdote about your husband. I’m sorry for his illness, but unless you can document a causal (not merely correlative) link, all you have is the same sort of spurious link as the one between increases in preacher salaries and sales of whiskey.

  39. bill smith

    [i]I don’t like to put unnatural things in my body. You want to, have at it, but don’t make my decisions for me.[/i]

    You decision to live inside the protection of a vaccinated culture while not being willing to take the vaccines yourself appears as nothing but selfish, ignorant, and entitled to those of us who don’t blame every sneeze on our childhood vaccines.

    Don’t want to get vaccinated? Go live in a cave. Don’t put EVERYONE else at risk because you have come to some very un-informed conclusions about vaccines.

  40. Wtfd

    Question for the pro vaccinators: if you have been vaccinated for everything known to man (a bit of sarcasm), then why are you worried about those who are not? Obviously vaccines work in most cases so why worry about the 20 percent non vax hanging out with you or your kids, grandma, etc…? I am sitting on the fence about this issue personally, but I have noticed a similar defensive by those who are for vax. If your kid is vaccinated and there is an outbreak of whatever, you have nothing to worry about…right?

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