Monday, 2 April 2012

Why I Am Choosing To Vaccinate Adam

Vaccinations are controversial.  There are many who believe they are entirely safe, that they prevent serious diseases which cause illness, disability and death and that every child should be vaccinated.  There are others who believe just as passionately that vaccinations are dangerous, that at best they have little to no effect on preventing disease and at worst, they cause serious reactions which can result in illness, disability and death and that no child should be vaccinated.  Faced with this entirely polarized opinion, how does a parent - any parent - decide what to do?  

Some parents take the route of least resistance: they don't do any research, dismiss those who have concerns and take their children for vaccinations because the health system tells them to do so. Others research the situation, decide the risks are greater than the benefits and choose not to vaccinate their children, accepting that they may face controversy and have to sign forms (particularly for schools) on a regular basis to confirm that their children are unvaccinated by reasoned choice.  Still other parents do their research and decide that despite the fact that there is controversy over the safety of vaccines, despite the fact that there are no easy answers, that they would prefer to vaccinate their children in an effort to prevent serious illnesses rather than take the risk their children may become infected or disabled as a result of the illness rather than because of the vaccine.

Prior to Adam's birth, I did a lot of research.  I read websites, books, leaflets, engaged with parents of both opinions in discussion groups online and I had serious concerns about the safety of vaccines.  I talked with my husband about it to express these concerns and we didn't see eye-to-eye.  He falls into the first group of parents who dismiss the concerns deciding that if the health system says vaccines are safe and beneficial then they are.  He also, in agreement with his first wife, vaccinated my stepson George who has not had any form of adverse reaction and also has not contracted any of the illnesses the vaccines are intended to prevent.  I asked him to research the situation himself to ensure that whatever decision we jointly came to in relation to our then unborn baby, that it would be an informed one.  He chose not to do this research and we argued about this.  Right up until the point of Adam's birth, I still did not know whether I would agree to vaccinate him or not but I had made the decision to withhold the routine Vitamin K injection given to all newborn babies in England.  I believed that if a baby's body does not include Vitamin K at birth nor for the first eight days of life, that as God is a pretty smart bloke, He had a reason for this.  I believed that if Adam was slightly jaundiced that this wasn't a life threatening condition and that it would resolve itself without injections.  I also believed that since Vitamin K injections are linked to childhood leukaemia in certain instances, that it was not worth the risk.  I know many people may disagree with me on this decision, but my point is that I thought about it, I researched it and I made what I believed was the best decision for my baby at the time.

But then, Adam happened and my whole world was turned upside down.  I very quickly realized that everything I thought I knew wasn't necessarily the whole truth and that I still had many things to learn - things the health system can teach me.  After Adam was born and became critically ill as a result of a GBS with Meningitis infection; he was taken to Neonatal Intensive Care.  My husband later told me that on admission to The Unit he was immediately given a Vitamin K injection because this is required in neonatal.  I could have taken issue with the fact that I had withheld consent for this injection and signed the NHS form declaring this.  I could have taken issue with the fact that an injection was given to my baby without consulting me.  But at that point, I was far more concerned with the fact that the doctors and nurses were battling to save Adam's life - he wasn't even breathing on his own, an injection was the least of my concerns.

While Adam was in hospital and I started learning about GBS, I realized how easily this infection can be prevented - with a simple swab test during pregnancy and antibiotics during labour.  I was shocked and horrified that even though many countries in the world (including Canada, the country of my birth) have introduced routine GBS testing as part of anti-natal care, that England and the NHS have chosen not to do so.  I was horrified that the NHS have adopted the "risk-based approach" of assuming that, as most children are immune to GBS, it doesn't matter than up to 2/3's of women carry the bacteria and that it is safer to under-medicate than to over-medicate.  I also learned that research is ongoing into the development of a vaccine to protect against GBS infections.  

And I realized something very important.  During those dark days when Adam lay in an incubator in a medically induced coma as his body and the doctors fought his GBS infection, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I had then been offered a vaccination to protect against GBS, I would have jumped at it.  I would have rolled up my sleeve instantly, without any hesitation whatsoever and without even asking whether or not it was safe, if there had been any hope of healing Adam and stopping the trauma we were going through.   

Unfortunately, that offer was never made because a vaccination against GBS does not currently exist; and of course by the time Adam had contracted the infection, a vaccination would have been pointless anyway.  But here's the thing:  I cannot and never will argue with those parents who have experienced horrific reactions to vaccinations and have watched "the lights go out" as their children descend into autism or even die.  I cannot explain this and I will not even attempt to try because there are incredibly strong and emotive opinions on both sides of the argument.  But I also cannot argue with those parents (one of whom I watched on the evening news just a couple of months ago) who chose to withhold the MMR vaccination, only for their children to contract measles and nearly die.  I do not ultimately know who is right. 

But there is one thing I do know.  I have been through the trauma of helplessly watching my baby fight a horrific infection.  I have sat beside his incubator and not known whether he would live or die.  I already live each day with the knowledge that he is categorized as disabled as a direct result of his fight for life.  I already live with the knowledge that he may be disabled in other ways that will only present themselves with time.  And I also know that if there is anything at all I can do to try to prevent Adam from contracting another killer infection then I will do this because ultimately doing something - anything - is better than sitting helplessly in a hospital second-guessing yourself and wondering:  What would have happened if I had known about GBS?  What would have happened if, while doing all that research into vaccinations and options surrounding natural childbirth, I had stumbled across the website of Group B Strep Support and learned that private tests are easily and affordably available?  What if Chris and I had decided to settle in Canada after our marriage, instead of England, where GBS testing is a routine part of pre-natal care for pregnant women?  All of these questions form part of the great "what if" game that is ultimately pointless because I didn't know about GBS so I wasn't tested for it, we do live happily in England and nothing will change what has already happened to us.  

There is something else I know.  Currently, there is a huge measles outbreak in England.  It was believed this disease had been eradicated because of the vaccination programme.  Measles, Mumps and Rubella used to be common sights, a common part of childhood.  Many thousands of parents endured the trauma of watching their children fight - or die from - these infections.  Yet today, they are not commonly seen and while I know not everyone will agree with me, I choose to believe this is in general because of the widespread effort to vaccinate generations of children against these diseases.  Now, when outbreaks such as the current one are being seen, many people are surprised because the diseases are no longer a common part of childhood.  I am told the reason this outbreak is spreading so rapidly is because we no longer have natural immunity because the disease had nearly been eradicated.  I also know that Measles can cause Meningitis and can kill children.  And I know that one bought of Meningitis and near death in our family has been more than enough.  

So for these reasons, I am choosing to vaccinate Adam.  I am not doing so lightly and I will freely confess that each time he has a vaccination appointment, I am terrified.  Each time, I spend the evening before the appointment in tears, expressing my fears over the safety of vaccinations to Chris.  Last week, I received the appointment slip in the post for Adam's third set of vaccinations and this one includes his first MMR injection.  When I read that piece of paper, my heart sank and I was scared.  I have spent more than one evening talking to Chris about my fears and I have also spoken to my Health Visitor, Wendy, about those fears.  I even begged her to promise me the jab was safe and that Adam would not have a reaction to it.  She very wisely told me she cannot make this promise.  She has given me all of the information in her possession and she believes that vaccinations are both safe and essential protection against life-threatening illness, but she cannot promise he will not have a reaction.  She has however promised to come with me to Adam's appointment on Thursday, to hold my hand and even, if I ask her to do so, to hold Adam while he has his injection.  I'm certain she will be mopping up my tears at the same time.

I hope and pray that Adam will not have a reaction.  He has not had a reaction to any of the vaccinations he has already received.  I hope and pray he will be safe.  I understand I am taking a risk in vaccinating him and I pray it is not a risk I come to regret.  But I also know that I would be taking an equally big risk to withhold his vaccinations and I know I am not prepared to do this.  We have been through too much already to live with the uncertainty of wondering if he will contract another killer disease and so, I choose to vaccinate my son.  Please pray for me on Thursday, that no matter whether or not you agree or disagree with my decision, that Adam will be safe.

So what do you think?  If you have children, would you (or have you) chosen to vaccinate them?  Why or why not?  Can you accept the decisions of other parents even if you disagree with them or do you believe there is genuinely a right answer to this question?  Please feel free to comment below.


  1. This is long... I apologize for that, but I have been both of the parents mentioned above, one whom blindly vaccinated my kids without even researching it before, and now with my last, one whom has chosen not to vaccinate. After my fourth was born, the scare when we so nearly lost him was enough for me as well, so like with my other kids, I decided to vaccinate him.
    He did wind up having an unexpected, and although mild, frightening to me, reaction. It was then I decided to really look into vaccinations and after doing so, I decided against them from that day on for all of my kids. I have plenty of friends whom have not vaccinated their kids, and plenty whom have with no issues. So I have a bit of support from both sides of the fence.

    Caitlyn has had no vaccinations (except the vitamin K you mentioned), and I am forced to rethink this decision with each disease outbreak story I hear, each trip to the emergency room when she is hit real hard with chest colds and the Drs look down their noses at me, and every friend/family member who doesnt agree with my decision. But I have had a confirmation that I am making the decision out of belief its the best for my kids, as well as for my own conscience this past year when my oldest was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. Its a form of Autism, which has been linked to vaccinations.
    He had all of his vaccinations, and it wasnt until after his first vaccination filled year that he stopped reaching milestones on time. Being a first time parent I didnt worry about it, I figured he would reach them when he was ready. But when he started kindergarten and the testing/special education for him began, I had no clue autism and vaccines were put together in the same sentence. Anyway, its still a tough decision for me to not vaccinate my kids despite the disease fears, but my heart is still filled with guilt from the reaction on one of my sons, and the possible link between my other sons Aspergers syndrome and his vaccinations.

    I respect decisions all parents make regarding vaccinations. It is one of the toughest we are forced to make.

  2. I'd not be alive today if I'd not had a measles jab...measles nearly killed me and I had the jab....without it, well. Needless to say my son has had every jab going.

  3. I think Momto5, you hit the nail on the head when you said it is one of the toughest decisions we are parents make. No matter what decision we come to, someone will disagree with our choice and yet we have to face and live with the consequences of those choices. I'm so sorry your eldest son has autism and glad that your other children are healthy.

    Colin: I'm equally glad your life was saved! You say measles nearly killed you and you had the jab. Does that mean you had the jab and it didn't work to protect you or did you have the jab after your illness to protect against a future infection? I too hope the vaccinations protect your son!

  4. As Adam's grandmother it is hard to comment. The reason is that my nurses training was in infectious disease and I have seen children die from not having vaccinations. This was especially so in the polio epidemic of the early 60's.

    A lovely 12 year old girl came into my ward one Sunday and had developed the early signs of Poliomylitis. Her parents did not believe in immunizing their children. By Thursday she was dead and those parents very sorrowfully immunized their other children.

    Also a colleague who was nursing a patient with Tetanus died as she had not had been vaccinated. I know these are extreme cases, but still I chose to immunize and vaccinate all my four children. There was no MMR in those days and I witnessed young children dying of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) and Red Measles complications, usually Encephalitis.

    My first and third daughters had Red Measles and my second had Rubella (German Measles).

  5. Its such a difficult decission and I really struggled with it .I read a lot and spent many hours soul searching and decided that I had to vaccinate my girls .

  6. It is indeed such a hard decision...

  7. There are no right or wrong answers to this Charlotte, you just end up doing what you believe is the right thing at the time. Your research has been balanced and informative and you have come to your conclusion rationally. Some parents don't even bother, they just have their children vaccinated because its the next thing to do on the never ending list. I had both of my children vaccinated 33 and nearly 32 years ago. I struggled with the decision then for all of the same reasons that you are now but in the end decided that it had to be a risk worth taking. Fortunately neither had a strong reaction other than being a bit grizzly for a day or so! Childhood diseases can be killers or can leave children damaged and I wasn't prepared to take the risk with my children - they are just too precious. I know that you and Chris would NEVER take any unnecessary risks with Adam so even though you are feeling nervous about it be reassured that you are doing the right thing and that it is your choice for him.

  8. As parents we have to do what we feel is right for our child. If you know the consequences and you have done your research and you feel it is what is best then so be it. We have to live with the consequences of our choices. If we vax and our child is injured. Can I live with that knowing I know what I know. If I don't vax and my child contracts a disease and lives I will be glad I did NOT vax as true immunity has been acquired. IF my child is one of the rare that die will I then still feel I made the right choice? I pray I NEVER know. Right now.... I feel I would still make the choice I am making. That way it is natural selection and not by a government mandated synthetic toxic agent that I believe is created to kill off some of the population. But that is just me.

  9. Thank you 'Mrs Godmummy', I really appreciate your thoughts and knowing you struggled with the decision as well. It does of course help that I know how beautifully healthy your children are!!! Mom, your comment too - I think today because *in general* (though clearly not always), children only get minor illnesses or diseases, it's very easy to forget just how horrific the diseases we try to vaccinate against can be. I know you've told me some of the things you saw all those years ago while training on the wards and I think it's important that we remember why those have virtually disappeared - and it's not just because we bathe more often, eat healthily and have clean water...even though all of those help.

    Kimberly, thank you for your thoughts. The thing I take from your comment is that we have to live with the consequences of our choices - which is absolutely true, we all do. Ultimately, if Adam is injured by the vaccine then I will have to live with the horrific guilt of that, but equally, if he contracted measles from the outbreak happening here in England because I had chosen not to vaccinate him, then I would have to live with that guilt as well.

    When I was in tears last night, once again questioning the wisdom of my decision to accept vaccinations, my wise and incredibly patient husband made a good point, even though it is blunt and chilling - ultimately autism is a horrible condition, no one denies that, but it's not fatal. Measles and Meningitis is very often fatal. If it comes to a straight choice then on that basis, there can't be much doubt.

    All of that said Kimberly, I do believe the end of your comment was unfortunate, because even though all of us do our research and make our choices, I really don't think any government in the western world - which I would point out that we elect - is actively trying to kill off the population. Sorry to be blunt, but that's a bit mental to put it mildly. This idea also dismisses the hard work that doctors and nurses around the world do who I believe are genuinely *trying* to protect and heal those who are ill. They may not always succeed but I believe the criminal element who are trying to kill are a minuscule percentage that barely registers on the radar against the vast majority who are in the profession to "first do no harm".

    Despite all of this, I am emotional today and I am worried, I freely confess it, because today is vaccination day. But despite my fears, I still stand by my choice believing it's the one I have to make...but I'm still glad Wendy will be there to hold my hand.

  10. Hi. Nice post :-) I fully support and understand your decision to go ahead and vaccinate Adam, yet I respect the fact that you've investigated vaccines and haven't just taken the government advice as a given. I chose not to vaccinate my eleven year old when the MMR was first introduced because it was quite controversial and I was quite heavily influenced by some non conformist friends.(it had nothing to do with making an educated and informed decision ) oh the shame!
    Any way, imagine my regret when eleven years later smidge was born at 25 weeks and there was a measles outbreak in the alternative school up the road.Yes there were over 20 confirmed cases and this was under a year ago. It was big regrets all round and it prompted a radical re think. of course both kids got vaccinated. It was really hard when the time came to vaccinate my preemie as some silly woman put up a facebook post the day before Smidge's MMR showing a vaccine injured child. I just thought it was such an irresponsible thing to do! Once the vaccine is out the way, its so much easier to relax knowing your child is safe and protected. Id rather spend a few hours/ days worrying about a reaction then the next ten years fearing measles, which im sure you know, can be a very damaging virus. xx

  11. oh sorry but i just read kimberly's comment and wanted to offer a little food for thought on the evolutionary front, A fascinating topic...
    Darwin's concept of 'natural selection' also incorporated the theory of sexual selection. the two were considered intertwined.He proposed that both natural and sexual selection were dependant on members of the male species seeking out females with good nurturing abilities. Perhaps modern day nurturing involves giving vaccinations? Darwin also emphasised the role of the changing environment in shaping human development and selection processes, which would account for technological changes and changes in modern medicine. Of course everyone is entitled to their view and must do as they see fit,but I just wanted to offer another perspective.x

  12. Hi Premmy Mum: I'm so sorry to hear of the worry you went through with your older child but glad they didn't end up contracting the illness - hopefully the vaccination will now protect your family! Your perspective on Darwin was interesting although I'm not sure I'd go quite so far as to say those who refuse vaccinations are falling prey to natural selection. Still, it's always a good debate to ask what nurturing is in our modern society and how it's shaped. I think one thing I would ultimately agree with you on is that I'd rather spend a few hours/days worrying about a vaccine reaction than a decade fearing measles!


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