Friday, November 6, 2009

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question.

Everywhere you turn these days H1N1 and the vaccination campaign are in the news.  More than almost any other medical treatment, vaccines bring with them a great deal of controversy. If you're looking for an answer the question posed in this blogs title - sorry to dissapoint.  I certainly don't have the answer.
I'm not really interested in discussing here the facts and arguments for or against vaccination in general or against H1N1 in particular, but in the phenomenon of the controversy.

When I was a bit younger I was very much involved in the alternative health movement.  I was newly married, had a baby, and was getting into courses to become a Homeopathic Doctor.  I was reading books like The Medical Mafia and How to raise a Healthy Child in Spite of your Doctor, and other books critical of the medical establishment and of vaccines in particular.  Then I attended a seminar by famed Dr. Vera Schreibner who was (maybe still is?) one of the leading opponents of vaccination.  Anyway.  In a nutshell, I was solidly in the anti-vaccine camp.  I chose not vaccinate my kids, I told other new parents not to vaccinate their kids, I spoke to everyone who would listen about what I felt was a very serious issue. And to be very honest, I felt a little superior to those parents who chose to vaccinate.  It went that way for a few years.
Then gradually, I had less and less attachment to the alternative health scene.  I work as a life insurance underwriter, so I have a significant amount of medical background (in addition to all the med school courses I took during Homeopathy training), and every day I'm in contact with MDs and reading medical reports etc.  None of it has anything directly to do with vaccines or even alternative versus "allopathic" medicine, but I just fond that being away from the controversy and not having certain arguments and points of view constantly reinforced gave me room to think for myself and become less opinionated and biased about the issue and more open to considering both sides and trying to take a realistic look at the evidence.

Actually, I've found that in my experience, this is an essential component of how opinions and beliefs of all sorts are developed and maintained - religious, political, scientific, etc. We may have some leanings towards a particular stance, maybe we do a bit a research etc.  But what really allows an opinion or belief to take hold and become strong is reinforcement and feedback plus opposition.  When "everyone" around us seems to say the same thing, we start to believe it, and strongly.  And then there's opposition.  We hear dissenting opinions that may cause us some doubt or anger or whatever, so we learn arguments and find information to back up our beliefs, which makes them stronger.  I think subconsciously most of us start with a conclusion and wok our way backwards instead of starting with a question and working our way towards a conclusion.

On the H1N1 issue specifically I think people tend to find themselves in one of a few categories.  On the one hand there are those who are staunchly anti-vaccine.  I'm willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases, the people advocating not getting vaccinated for H1N1 were already against vaccinations.  When this issue came up, they went and found information that reinforced already held opinions about vaccines.  They were already inclined to be skeptical of pro-vaccine information and open to anti-vaccine information.
On the other hand, there are those who are already pro-vaccine, and go along with the new vaccine without too many questions.  They are already inclined to believe what health officials are saying and to view alternative opinions with skepticism.
Then there are the poor people who've never really had to think about this before and find themselves with some friends telling them the vaccine is a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical companies and that if you get vaccinated you'll develop some serious neurological problems or whatever, and if you vaccinate your kids and they end up autistic you'll never forgive yourself.  Other friends say if you don' get your kids vaccinated and they die of H1N1 you'll never be able to forgive yourself.
  Damned if you do, damned if you don't.  It's scary.  Fear clouds our judgment and our decision ends up based on which scenario we fear the most. On top of that, we have to fear he impact the decision will have o our relationships.

Pretty messy and divisive stuff, isn't it?  I think the real shame is that everyone wants the same thing - to do what's best for everyone.  But in the process we often find ourselves dealing with very much unfriendly judgments.  The issue becomes overly emotional because it's about our health and our children's health, about making the right choice, and about feeling we've made the correct responsible choice so we can avoid feelings of guilt.  It's an emotional mine field!
In my opinion, like so many things, there are valid arguments on both sides and the issue is not cut and dry. There are risks to be weighed, and ultimately everyone must their own informed decision and everyone deserves to have their decision respected and not be made to feel guilty or stupid or ignorant by those who disagree.


  1. Good writ. I said writ. That's a word, right?

  2. Hi honey, I gave your blog an award (sort of, I cheated and made it 9 instead of 7 ;) ) go to my blog to read what you must do next - if you want to.


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