Vaccines and Feminism

I think the vaccine debate is often a hidden misogyny. Saying things like “2 seconds on Google” or calling those who don't vax “anti-vax truthers” implies that non-vaxers are stupid, alarmist, and selfish.

I love and respect science which I worked in for a decade. But, believing in science doesn't mean I have to ignore non-science. Science can't explain why acupuncture works but it does. Science says vitamin E doesn't reduce pre-menstural breast tenderness but I have 20 years of experience that says otherwise. That's fine. If the science isn't there then the medical profession should steer clear but we – individual people – don't have to steer clear. It is the same with vaccines.

Like the story of a mother whose daughter got a vaccine on Friday and by monday morning had pulled all of her hair out. She is a statistical anomaly and therefore her mother is just being hysterical. That's misogyny. We have no respect for motherhood, mothers, or the choices women make for their families.

While worrying about measles I think we should also worry about how we treat women and women's choices in the process.

I don't consider myself anit-vax. To be anti-vax would mean I want to end the practice of vaccination. I don't. The science is clear that vaccines produce the intended effect (reduction of childhood illness and loss of work productivity of parents due to illness) at an acceptable societal risk. If I were a government policy maker I would look at the science and recommend vaccination.

However, I would also respect a person's right to choose. I would never want to live in a country that mandated medication. Would you?

The fact is that Dr. Offit (an infamous pro-vaccine expert) and I agree on many things:

* vaccines produce antibodies

* vaccines reduce the occurrence of clinical illness

* vaccines reduce work absences

* vaccines are effective in the majority of those who take them

* vaccines don't work in 5-35% of people who take them – even after boosters.

* a small percentage of people will have a vaccine reaction that is moderate to severe.

A minute on the last one: Yes, vaccine proponents know and admit that sometimes vaccines harm – even kill. An infant that dies after the HepB vaccine because of a yeast allergy is an example of a person for whom a vaccine was NOT the best choice for health. No one disputes this.

And yet Mr. Offit and I disagree on a few points.

* the risk is negligible.

* the risk/benefit is not needed on a per-patient basis – a one-size-fits-all plan is sufficient

* the small number of adverse reactions is an acceptable risk for the wealth of good vaccines do.

I'm a conscientious parent. I don't do anything on a one-size-fits all plan for my three kids. I weigh the specific information about my child with the risk/benefit of a treatment. As with childbirth, education, nutrition, etc. I've done extensive research from good old medical journals and the CDC's own website. I never once consulted Jenny McCarthy (/eyeroll). My choice is that the benefits of vaccination did not outweigh the risk which was elevated in my case due to a family history of adverse vaccine reactions.

This is a right that should be respected. Respected because this is a free country where we can make our own decisions about our bodies. Respected because I should be respected as a woman and a mother as capable of making decisions for myself and my kids

Of course, some then say that I'm being “selfish” and putting others in harm's way. This is a difficult one because my obligation to society is very important to me. I would never take lightly the idea that my actions effect others. I don't “hide in the herd” and hope other people keep vaccinating.

The fact is I don't believe that non-vaccinated kids are anymore dangerous to can't-be-vaxed people than vaccinated children. There is plenty of science that agrees with me.

“Herd immunity” – a term stolen from natural disease vectors and used in vaccination despite no experimental verification of it working the same in induced immunity – is very debatable. But, let's say we believe whole-heartedly in herd immunity. There are still other ways in which vaccinated children also pose a threat to the non-vaccinated. For example, serotype replacement with HiB, carrier status with whooping cough, and vaccine shedding with live viruses like flumist and chicken pox.

These are agreed upon cases where a vaccine actually harms the herd. The decision that Dr. Offit makes is that this is an acceptable harm. That's fine. I don't make the same decision.

My children are a harm to an immunocompromised person when they are sick or carrying illness. I meet my obligation to the community by keeping my kids healthy and then keeping them home when they are ill. Vaccinated children are a harm to an immunocompromised person when they are sick or carrying illness. They are less likely to be sick (with vaccine available diseases) but just as likely to be carrying illness.

So here are some things that are terribly misogynystic to say to a mother (sarcasm in parenthesis):

* you just don't remember the death and destruction before vaccines (because, yes, I'm incapable of using history to make decisions and if I can't see it it doesn't exist)

* you don't understand the science (let's talk about the immune system and see who knows more)

* you just follow Jenny McCarthy (yes, I'm a vapid celebrity devotee because I'm a girl and girls are like, totally superficial)

* you are harming your children (OMG, this parenting thing is sooo hard! When will they feed themselves?)

* you are harming your community (whatever that's their problem I don't want a stinky chemical in my precious and pure children)

* you are just a conspiracy theorist or “truther” and thus anti-science (I'm a girl, math is so hard!)

I know an awful lot of non-vaxing moms and none of them are alarmist or uneducated on vaccines. None of them are shitty moms that don't care about their kids. They are smart, compassionate, wonderful mothers who have made a decision for their families that should be respected even if you disagree with it.

I'm all about common ground. I know that vaccines are a heated issue. I don't expect pro-vax people to completely understand my viewpoint. I do expect that we can both respect the humanity in each of us.



I'd love to hear your comments or questions!

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