On Friday morning, the Australian website Mamamia republished an article originally written for the parent-led non-profit Voices for Vaccines by Amy Parker, an English woman who was raised in the 1970s by a mother who thought she was giving her daughter the most healthy lifestyle possible. She was wrong.
Parker describes her mother as "crunchy," a woman who fed her organic food, wouldn't let her eat sugar, encouraged time outdoors and staunchly refused to vaccinate her. As a result, Parker got a host of terrible diseases:
As healthy as my lifestyle seemed, I contracted measles, mumps, rubella, a type of viral meningitis, scarlatina, whooping cough, yearly tonsillitis, and chickenpox, some of which are vaccine preventable. In my twenties I got precancerous HPV and spent 6 months of my life wondering how I was going to tell my two children under the age of 7 that mummy might have cancer before it was safely removed.
Parker's republished article has clearly hit a nerve: it has over 80,000 Facebook likes and dozens of comments from people who also suffered from illnesses after not being vaccinated. That's probably because Parker's is a story that's rarely heard. While the internet is full of anti-vaxxers who speak about the harm vaccines have done to their children, the stories of the people who have been harmed by not being vaccinated are far fewer.
That's because developed nations exist in a bubble where, until recently, the standard of behavior was to be vaccinated. Those who argue against it, as Parker explains, are taking advantage of their good fortune that the majority of people around them are vaccinated. It's ultimately incredibly selfish to not vaccinate your child, if you are lucky enough to live in a country where you even have the opportunity to do so. "If you have a healthy child, then your healthy child can cope with vaccines and can care about those unhealthy children who can't," Parker writes, essentially making the argument that vaccinations are a class issue as much as a health issue.
There should be a real fear of the anti-vaxxer movement. According to a thorough article on the fad in The Verge, 18 states in the U.S. allow parents to sign a "personal belief exemption" or PBE that allows their child to enroll in kindergarten without getting the required vaccines, while 22 states allow the same thing based on held religious beliefs.
That same article discusses the changing tides of "herd immunity." Herd immunity has, for many years, prompted most people to vaccinate, resulting in low levels of people in the U.S. developing once life-threatening illnesses. But now, it's turned around on itself, encouraging new generations of parents to believe their children will be safe even though they're not vaccinated. Author Lessley Anderson spoke to one doctor who pointed out that it's often the same parents who encourage "green" activities (biking, recycling, etc.) that are focused on considering the world outside yourself that also believe in the anti-vaccine lifestyle, which is entirely centered on an individual's personal health.
Certain communities, like in several counties in Northern California, have some the highest rates of people choosing not to vaccinate their children in the country. As an article from KQED demonstrates, over 50 schools in the state have kindergarten classes where half of the grade has a PBE on file. According to KQED, a new law goes into effect this month in California will require parents who want a PBE to talk to a doctor about vaccines before receiving an opt-out. A similar law passed in Washington dropped the opt-out rate about 25%.
As Parker explains in her piece, this actual data is the stuff people should be paying attention to. But if she has to, she'll use her own anecdotal story to get attention to the cause in the same way anti-vaxxers do:
Anecdotal evidence is nothing to base decisions on. But when facts and evidence-based science aren't good enough to sway someone's opinion, then this is where I come from. After all, anecdotes are the anti-vaccine supporter's way. Well, this is my personal experience. And my personal experience prompts me to vaccinate my children and myself.
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