Vaccination: Today's Dirty Word
By Elizabeth.Hawksworth on November 21, 2012
It seems that these days, in some circles, vaccination is a dirty word. I’ve been reading parenting forums for just about as long as I’ve been a nanny, and the accusations that fly back and forth are almost sickening. You apparently can’t be a good parent if you vaccinate. You can’t be one if you don’t vaccinate. There are never any excuses not to vaccinate. There are never any excuses to vaccinate. It goes on and on, and honestly, it leaves me scratching my head. How did a public health initiative that saved millions of lives turn into this?
Maybe it’s because we’ve forgotten what horrible, incurable diseases look like. None of us have probably ever seen a diphtheria victim up close. None of us have seen anyone die from the measles. And maybe that’s what causes people to think that herd immunity is completely invincible. After all, everyone ELSE vaccinates, so why should my child have to be vaccinated?
I’m pretty pro-vaccination, and I am fully up-to-date on all of my vaccines, including flu. My mother is a public health nurse. I come from a long line of nurses and there are several medical professionals scattered throughout my cousins and friends as well. I’ve grown up on reading medical textbooks and learning the names of childhood diseases. (My mother finds this weird, especially since I’ve never had any desire to go into the medical profession, but I was able to start diagnosing common childhood illnesses in my teens! I diagnosed my own scarlet fever, which was then confirmed by my doctor. Perhaps I missed my calling?)
Anyway, what I’m saying is, I’m pretty pro-vax. I can’t see a non-medical reason why anyone would choose not to vaccinate. I don’t understand philosophical and religious exceptions to this. I don’t think any god or belief would want you to watch your children die of a preventable disease.
And that carries over to nannying. I am uncomfortable caring for children who have not been fully vaccinated. My caregiving style includes a lot of going outside, playing with other children, and attending Early Years Centres. I don’t want to worry that your kid might pick up whooping cough (which strikes even the vaccinated – my sister had it last year) or measles. I don’t want to worry about your kid contracting the flu and it being my fault, because I took him outside. I can’t stop you from not vaccinating, but it makes me uncomfortable. In the past, I’ve either turned a blind eye and been more careful about handwashing, or everyone’s been vaccinated. I’m not really sure it would cause me to quit a job, but it’s definitely against my personal convictions and it’s hard for me to look at it from the other side.
Before anyone wonders why I would even know about my nanny charges’ vaccinations, well, why wouldn’t I? The parents discuss all sorts of health-related topics with me about their children. I know when babies are due for their next well-child appointments. I know about allergies, and I know when they’re due for their vaccinations, because I’m told to watch out for reactions or fevers. When vaccination does come up in that guise, I know if parents believe in vaccinating or not.
Toronto is experiencing more of a disease boom than before. We’ve had babies dying of whooping cough and measles outbreaks. The flu is running rampant. I find myself infuriated at parents who choose not to vaccinate for reasons I don’t understand. Why would anyone do this to their children? But then – they probably thought it would never happen to them. I can’t convince them that this decision is problematic, and I think that’s even more frustrating.
Because I do know someone who had polio. I watched my great-aunt hobble around her kitchen on a leg that must have constantly been stiff and sore. She died recently, and it’s suspected that she died partly of complications of her disease. She was never healthy after she had polio, and that makes me even more convinced that people who are anti-vax are not looking at the bigger picture. It’s not just about your child. It’s about the health of society.
Herd immunity only works when the majority of the population is vaccinated. And now, you can’t rely on other people to take up the slack for you. Many people are choosing not to vaccinate, whether it’s because of the false autism link that was debunked a few years ago or because they’re afraid of chemicals or whatever reason. Now, the people that cannot vaccinate – those who have allergies, medical issues or severe reactions – are at risk. That’s not fair to them. That’s not their choice, whereas vaccination for healthy folks IS.
Anyway. I could go on, but I think I’ve made my points. I’m really concerned at the amount of people who are refusing to vaccinate, and I’m worried for the people I’m in charge of the most – young babies and children who don’t have a choice to receive vaccinations or not. I can’t change anyone’s minds, but I hope this trend reverses, because I think it would literally kill me to watch one of the little ones I look after get so sick.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch someone die of a preventable disease. And I hope no one else has to, either.