As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I have given thousands of vaccines to children. But most people don’t know something very important about me. I have a history with vaccinations that I have kept quiet for a long time.
I was a part of the anti-vaccination movement.
I am the first born of four children to wonderful parents. My mom and dad would go to the moon and back for any of us kids, and many of their selfless actions still continue to amaze me today. My mom is an educator, and a very good one at that. She can make a research topic out of anything. I remember while planning my wedding, my mom researched for days the exact style and order of every single word on my wedding invitations, even finding historical invitations from different time periods to serve as guides. So, in 1992, when I was born, it’s not surprising that she did her homework when it came to vaccinating me. After researching, she decided to vaccinate me based off of what she found and her pediatrician’s recommendations. Then she vaccinated my little sister. After all, my parents both still have a small scar on their arm from the smallpox vaccination they received as a children, serving as a reminder of the fight against the disease that ravaged mankind for a millennium. Even as recently as the decade they were born in the 1960’s, smallpox killed as many as 2 million a year. But as these life-threatening diseases began to slowly fade away, the accusations started flowing out of the media. Immunizations cause Autism. Immunizations aren’t effective. They contain mercury that could ruin your child’s brain. Maybe children will be allergic to them. They will overload the immune system. Isn’t natural immunity better than vaccine immunity anyway? The vaccination schedule is a get-rich-fast scheme for physicians and pharmaceutical companies. I have heard them all.
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With the growing voice of the anti-vaccination movement, my mom, with her master’s degree in education, heard them too. The allegations against vaccinations could make any parent cautious. As a result, the third daughter in our family received very few vaccinations and by the time my brother was born, he received almost none at all. As likeminded people tend to congregate, we were surrounded by friends and family that chose not to vaccinate as well. These parents, like my own, would have died for their kids in a minute they loved them so much. With the rising vaccine accusations, they absolutely believed they were doing the safest thing for their children. Fast forward to my college days when I decided to become a nurse practitioner, and a pediatric nurse practitioner at that. I remember discussing with my mom that the only down-side to my specialty would be giving vaccinations to children. She told me that I would figure that out later though, and just to let parents pick out the vaccines that they wanted. Something like that. In coming up with topics for my thesis, I wanted to study the adverse effects of vaccinations and all the children suffering from them. I wanted to study the link between immunizations and Autism; look into all the shattered immune systems from combination vaccines. I wanted to learn about what I had heard from my community for so long, and represent their opinions in the scientific community.
And that’s when I started to change my mind.
There was nothing to finish a thesis on. The evidence just wasn’t there.
Maybe vaccinations weren’t so bad after all.
Over the course of my education, I went on to care for a 1 month old fighting for her life against pertussis who was too young to be vaccinated. Her horrific cough and her helpless parents will stay with me forever. I learned from a case study of a child born in my county who later died because her mom developed chickenpox a few days before delivery. I was alerted by the health department when measles was found in my area. My own great uncle is in a wheel chair to this day from a childhood case of polio. I studied a child whose legs and arms were amputated after meningitis nearly cost him his life. I watched a toddler almost die from dehydration due to rotavirus. I’ve cared for many children with cancer and immunodeficiencies who I worry about due to daily declining herd immunity.
But most of all, I learned that this suffering is preventable.
So I graduated, and now I give vaccines. I started with my siblings, my family, and my friends. Over time, I have given thousands and thousands of vaccines, and I think it is one of the best accomplishments of my career. I can scientifically rebut the arguments against vaccinations that I heard as a child, and I do so on a daily basis. In fact, I can’t wait to provide and discuss the science behind vaccines in more depth here on my blog. But at the end of the day, I don’t try to convince parents of the anti-vaccination movement to vaccinate because I am raking in money or because I am a public health nazi, as I have been accused of. Rather, I work to convince them because I truly care. I have walked in their shoes, read their articles, and even believed their philosophies for a portion of my life. I worry for the anti-vaccination community that I grew up in. With most of these highly contagious diseases infecting 80-90% of the unvaccinated children and adults who come in contact with them, epidemics are not far away. In fact, California declared a pertussis epidemic last month. These diseases are lurking in our neighborhoods, and I have to speak out. I love what Jeffrey Kluger wrote in TIME magazine, “Vaccines save lives; fear endangers them.” I want my friends in the anti-vaccination community to not be afraid, and as someone who knows them best, I want to continue sharing my story, my personal experiences, and the science to help eliminate vaccination fear and protect their children.
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What do you think about vaccinations? Leave me a comment!
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