Stevie has a bee in his bonnet, and I quite agree with him. As an immunologist, it’s difficult for me to find common ground with those who eschew science. However, I’ve always maintained that we cannot judge the well-meaning parents of children who suffer from autism or other disorders (wrongfully) attributed to vaccines. I cannot sit here on the Throne of Science and proclaim that I wouldn’t fall into the Data Set of Me if something awful befell my child. However, those feelings–given the political power of a movement of healthy, smart people– can be murderous.
You are a great person. You’re smart, you’re educated, healthy, and, if I may say, damn fine looking. Hell, you’re one of the best people I know.
But you, fabulous you, are not a data set.
“Who is this guy to tell me I am not a sufficient collection of statistically reliable information gathered by appropriate methods in order to reach or disprove a conclusion?”
Of course, to most of you, that sounds silly, right? (You are smart and good-looking, after all.) But there are people who make important decisions according to this very mindset: “It happened to me, therefore it must be so.” Examples? Sure.
“I got a flu vaccine and then I got the flu. Therefore flu vaccines are ineffective.”
“Some former Playboy model’s kid had a shot and now he has autism. Therefore, shots cause autism.”
“My daughter isn’t having sex, so she doesn’t need to worry about HPV or cervical cancer.”
“I believe in my God, my religion, and those rules. Therefore, yours are wrong.”
Of these, the one I actually find acceptable is the one about God. At least it’s an opinion. You have yours, I have mine: we’re cool… at least around these parts where we’re unlikely to kill each other about our differences.
What is worrying me–what is literally killing us– is the Data Set of Me. This is the mindset of the anti-vaccination crowd. Vaccines are not a faith, but a tool. Immunity is not a religion, but a biological reaction. Life-threatening infections cannot be staved off with kale. And the medical establishment is not willfully denying you alternative options to avoid whooping cough. And yet, the Hot New Fad for 2014 is the “Anti-Vaxxer” Movement. Quack science has found its ducklings.
Like many avid Internet users, I have grown apathetic to the sharing of misinformation by the misinformed with the misguided. Except this stupid sharing is really, really dangerous. And no oddball theories about GMOs or drug company profits or doctors who want to keep you sick (or endorsement of anti-vaccine chiropractors) are deemed too oddball to “post” and “like.”
We live in a generation that has never seen smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, or polio take the life of a child we know. There are hundreds of thousands of people alive right now because of the miracle of inoculations. Maybe that’s the power of fervent prayer, incredible quinoa consumption, and wild coincidence. Or, just possibly, vaccines prevent disease. The bee in my bonnet is that statistically-proven, medically sound information can be unintelligently debunked with blogposts from people who cite The Data Set of Me, and scare others into giving in to their basic fears of shots (they’re ouchy!) by suggesting the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits. When there is no, none, ziltch, zero, nada proof that this is so.
The Anti-vaxxers hurt more than our logical sensibilities. They’re killing our children. If your kid isn’t vaccinated, the “herd immunity” is compromised, and we’ll fall like cows at the hands of drunken high schoolers. Our family docs, our pediatricians, and our CDC are urging you to search for information that is true, and reminds us:
“Perhaps the greatest success story in public health is the reduction of infectious diseases resulting from the use of vaccines.”
Let’s consider that statement from the CDC with at least as much weight as Tammy’s Facebook post about not being anti-vaccine, per se, but pro-safety. (Those who deny their children shots consider the Anti-Vaxxer epithet derogatory). Recently, a Dutch group studied why Tammy is so insistent her kids don’t need shots. And because here at East Meets Breast, we aim for understanding, let’s find out what makes Tammy tick… so we can stop that clock.
The delightful Dutch, with real surveys and statistics, found that Tammy believes her healthy lifestyle is sufficient to prevent diseases. She delivers organic meals to breast-fed, hand-washing children and believes that these are adequate “preventive” measures. Tammy also is an amateur immunologist and worries the host defenses of her newborn will be incompetent to handle a barrage of antigens. Well, she’ll say it this way,
“A baby’s immune system has built up thanks to the mother, and it is not desirable in my eyes to give the child all kinds of substances that can disrupt the whole immune system.”
Tammy thinks that the risks associated with the vaccines (and she still supports discredited evidence linking them to autism) certainly outweigh the benefits because the diseases her healthy kids might contract could then be, quite easily, treated with antibiotics. Also, Tammy deems “natural” immunity superior to vaccinated immunity and would rather her child contract the (potentially fatal) disease and combat it with his own, uneducated battery of T- and B- cells than risk exposure to dangerous aluminum and mercury. More than one study has also shown that Tammy’s fears are supported by her community and usually at least one alternative care provider who disparages the use of vaccines.
To be fair, a certain proportion of the whooping cough cases from the Pacific Northwest in 2012 can be attributed to decreased efficacy of the vaccine. However, the dramatic increase in its incidence (and preventable deaths of children) has doctors pointing fingers at the Anti-Vaxxers. The anti-HPV crowd baffles me even more than people who can drink gallons of liquefied vegetables. Here is a vaccine that can prevent cancer. CANCER. Unfortunately, Tammy doesn’t believe that, either, and places her trust in cauliflower and the chiropractor.
Right now in California, where vaccination is falling out of favor more quickly than Duck Dynasty, people are dying from the H1N1 flu: 28 humans… dying. And across the world, vaccine-preventable outbreaks will astound you. To be reasonable, some of these can be chalked up to non-compliance or access rather than political Anti-Vaxxer beliefs. Also, recent media scares that (European) H1N1 vaccines may cause narcolepsy in young children (notably, so does contracting actual swine flu), give less thoughtful people an excuse to skip their appointment at CVS.
Ultimately, this plea is to champion science above fear, and to encourage a more thorough browsing of the Internet for medical information if your family doctor or pediatrician isn’t reassuring you with statistics backed by the keenest minds in medicine. There is simply no legitimacy to people spouting opinions that are anti-science. Prior to the vaccine, every year whooping cough was like having three 9/11’s. Worse, actually: three 9/11’s with children as the primary casualties. Can you even imagine the panic if that were to happen today? If something were killing thousands of our children yearly, what would you risk to stop it?
You are a fine person, and a reasonable one too. Engage Tammy in a dialogue apart from her kale-crunching crowd and acupuncturist. Spread good information.
Get the shots.
Stevie and I summarized all of the evidence for you…
A decade ago, when I was largely alone all day with tiny, parasitic Bernie clones, I might have written something like Mrs. Rowe’s fed-up-to-here, open letter to her husband. In the moment, those feelings seem funny/true, but when read with a decade of hindsight (and larger children who don’t need pooping assistance), rants like this make me… sad. I want the whole family to race past these brutal years that inspire a meant-to-be-funny, but still quite public flogging of The Husband. I might have greatly benefitted from some part time help (and meds) as a Stay At Home Mom in those early years. Swapping a beeper and a real, outside-the-house job for never-ending days with crying children and Dawson’s Creek reruns led to a social, emotional, and intellectual whiplash for which I was unprepared. Because texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, and all myriad outlets that keep us intimately tied to each other’s weird little worlds weren’t in existence, I did what you do when you’re at your wit’s end with small children and never-home husband. I called my big sister.
Boy, did I. None of my besties in the area had started breeding, and absolutely no one I knew in the medical field ever quit their life-saving jobs to stay home with non-verbal bundles of sleep-averse, ever-hungry pant-shitters in embroidered onesies. I was lonely, exhausted, and prone to unattractive moods swinging narrowly between irritated and glum. In that moment, my Big Sister–staunch defender of all of my wants, needs, and beliefs, champion of All Things Britt— the Catholic, opinionated, occasionally scary Zealot Sister… sided with Bernie. Gently, and really quite beautifully, Paige refused to sing my Battle Cry Against The Ineffectual Husband. Instead, she shared some excellent advice, recommended a book, and insisted I get some mommy friends.
I was fabulously bad at the mommy friend thing. I scouted out the local playground and attempted to make nice with the ladies who corralled their strollers by the benches. I never got past a few awkward exchanges before I realized they were all wearing long skirts and head scarves and maybe the Orthodox Jewish Mommy Group wasn’t keen to take on a blonde shiska with the whiff of friendless desperation. I tried another park.
Lonely Mom with a small girl who insisted on wrong-footed shoes seemed like a good option. Surely, this was a pick-your-battles kind of mommy who also cozied to the idea of mid-afternoon wine? As it turned out, Lonely Mom picked absolutely no battles and was still breast-feeding her Dorito-munching toddler tyrant while defending the values of the Family Bed. She made me sadder than
her husbandI already was.
What I did have, however, was A-Ma. Bernie’s mom raced up to Boston on the Fung Wah any time I called. Honestly, any time. One particularly brutal day, I told her I couldn’t shower without hearing both boys wailing on the baby monitor, that my dreams were exclusively about the sounds of wailing on the baby monitor, that I hadn’t eaten anything but Blow Pops and Hot Pockets for a week, and that I didn’t know if the stains on my clothes were pre- or post-intestinal foods. She arrived that afternoon. A-Ma remembered the unholy, not-cute-at-all daily grind; and with only one foot in the door she’d say, “Go! Go to take nap!” I promised then and there to be that kind of grandma some day. She saved my life (and improved my marriage) more than once.
Perhaps what the author of Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children really needs is a nap and A-Ma. In fact, the first comment after her light-hearted rant against her husband was from the author’s mother:
I quite agreed with her, recalling the advice Paige recommended to me 10 years ago, when I was exasperated with the man I love the most. First, she reminded me that Bernie was no mind reader and that stewing silently and acting the martyr would lead more quickly to marital strife than to any sort of enjoyable co-parenting. She annoyingly insisted I plant myself in his loafers, and made me read The Bastard on the Couch—a fantastic collection of essays written by dads (and written in playful retaliation against The Bitch in the House, which largely described what I was becoming). Where Momma Rowe gets angry that her husband is allowed to poo behind closed doors apart from the toddler audience with demands, I’m now more apt to think, hey, why share the pain? Go ahead and lock the door. Lucky you! This stay-at-home blogger also, with great humor and exaggeration, suggests sex is off the table until the children are big enough to sit at it.
This is where Paige’s big sisterly advice might have sounded supportive:
However, she didn’t offer this as a scatological slam on bathroom door-locking spouses; no, she meant it quite literally. (She also never, ever said this. Well, she said this, but not like this… because she’s classier than I am.) She waxed Catholic: the vows and sacraments and quaint ideas about contracts and promises and vaguely about the baser biological needs of boys in general… and she said all of this without making me throw feminist arguments at her, or throw up in general. In the end, she was really just suggesting that I act with greater kindness and love, and that I find some mommy friends who would understand why sometimes that seemed impossible.
GrandMomma Rowe is adorably protective of her son-in-law… much like Paige was for Bernie back in my days of Days (of Our Lives). Long hours with demanding children and soap operas will make anyone a little nutty. But without an Internet forum for irritated moms to publicly berate their constipated, celibate husbands, we had Big Sisters and A-Mas. The Big Sisters and A-Mas understand you, listen to you, and then tell you to take a nap and to shower and to quit it. They’ll keep reminding you that there is an end to it all, will never (ever!) tell you to “cherish” days of sleepless, messy torture, and they’ll make you feel warm, and loved, and heard.
Then again, having 100 strangers offer thumbs up, preach-it-sister encouragement probably works, too… as long as The Husband is in on the meant-to-be-funny part.
This was ridiculously useful to me… and reminded me why I love boys in general, and my own in particular.