Let’s get this out of the way right up front: I’m a big believer in herd immunity. Really big. Huge. A shout it from the mountaintops, hire a skywriter, put it on Broadway kind of believer.
I guess you could say I’m a fan.
That’s not to say I was an enthusiastic team player when we were all gathered in the exam room. Babies and toddlers are notoriously unhappy critters when stripped down to their diapers – mine were no exception. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth all around, but you do what you gotta do. My greatest issue came from the nurse asking me to hold their legs still. Ugh…I still cringe at those memories.
But we did it. Faithfully. On schedule. Not because I’m a spineless automaton but because I believe the research explaining how vaccines work and why they did not, as some parents proposed, cause autism.
Now, my kids received the bulk of their immunizations from 2005 to 2009 which was, coincidentally, when Jenny McCarthy’s crusade against vaccines reached fever pitch. I was rolling along, doing okay, but wouldn’t you know media coverage exploded just as T-man was old enough for his last MMR shot.
According to Jenny, this was the one. This was the shot they’d give my kid while I stood by and did nothing, and then one day – maybe in a week, maybe a month – T-man wouldn’t be there any more. He’d disappear into his own world. All because of me.
I considered myself a mature mama in my mid-thirties, someone not easily swayed by fads and celebrity noise. But you know who scared me? Jenny McCarthy. She scared the hell out of me with her talk of doomsday shots. I have never agonized so much over a pediatrician recommended procedure as I did over that MMR vaccine – T-man wasn’t the only one crying when I finally took him in.
So for all you new mamas out there – women in the midst of diapers and well visits out the wazoo – let me share my perspective with you. It’s a bit clearer now that I’m out of the weeds.
Round one is pretty straightforward: Disease is bad. There are a number of communicable diseases that have killed people over the centuries. Science is good. Scientists developed a way to help humans develop antibodies to fight off those diseases – an individualized self-defense system, so to speak – so illnesses that used to cause death no longer do. Vaccines = antibodies = warriors for health. (Check out these links to the World Health Organization and the CDC.)
Round two: Despite the crazy ass frenzy surrounding Jenny McCarthy’s allegations in the early 2000s (and some people’s insistence on repeating them today), a bevy of research has shown that autism is not, in fact, linked to vaccines. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a compilation of vaccination studies regarding general safety and any supposed links to autism. Even Autism Speaks, a group dedicated to advocating for autistic individuals, unequivocally states that “vaccines do not cause autism.” So. Vaccines = don’t cause autism = develop antibodies = improved immune system.
Round three: My last point is one that seems to be most controversial lately. It has to do with personal philosophies. If you believe you exist in a bubble, one in which your choices need only be based on your individual family, then certain factors aren’t relevant in your decision making. If, however, you believe you’re part of a larger community, one that is affected by your actions and inactions, then informed decisions require considering more than just your inner circle.
I fall into the latter category.
We’ve been blessed with healthy children. They can run and jump and play, and they don’t have to worry about lung conditions or long term health issues. They have no idea how lucky they are. But there are people who don’t have this freedom…people with restricted breathing or compromised immune systems. People who, for medical reasons, aren’t able to be vaccinated against illnesses that wouldn’t simply be inconvenient, they’d be life threatening.
So, summing up. Disease doesn’t honor age limits but let’s face it, kids are petri dishes. My healthy kids, who can get vaccinated, run around with other kids, who can’t get vaccinated, and germs bounce from one to the other. If my kid catches the chicken pox she misses a week of school and might end up with a few scars from scratching. If your kid catches it, he might end up hospitalized.
This is where herd immunity comes into play. I don’t really want my kid to get chicken pox (or mumps, polio, or measles) anyway, so I get them vaccinated. When they’re vaccinated, they’re less likely to contract the disease themselves or pass the illness to your more vulnerable child. And this is only the local scenario.
Human communities used to be far more isolated, so if a disease broke out it ended wherever geography limited the population’s travel. Now we’re a global community. We’re a people connected by transportation across land and sea, joining us all as “one vast, interactive human herd,” and no one stands alone. (UNC: NOVA) People in North Carolina are just as exposed to their neighbors as they are to folks in Nevada, Brazil, and Europe. The most vulnerable among us – among all of us – depend upon herd immunity for protection.
As far as I’m concerned, Jenny McCarthy can put that in her pipe and smoke it.