Are you a vaccine-skeptic parent?

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Sabrina Almeida

If you live in Ontario or New Brunswick where certain vaccines are mandatory for school-going children, then you don’t have an option. Both provinces require kids to be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, rubella, mumps, varicella (chicken pox) and meningococcal disease. Failure to comply will result in a warning letter from your school board. Ignore it and your child faces suspension till the vaccination is done. I have received such communication for both my sons and more than once. Not on account of my ignorance, neglect or refusal to comply but because their records were not updated. Yes, it happens!

The Meningococcal, Hepatitis B, and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines were introduced around the time as my older one was in Grade 7. Hep B was optional, but he had already taken them in India, so we didn’t bother, and the HPV didn’t apply to him. Four years later my younger son took the first two as mandated. However, I recall several friends not wanting their daughters to take the HPV.

I’ve never given much thought to vaccinations generally believing them to be necessary. My earliest memories go back to the small pox vaccine in India when family and neighbours all went to government clinics to take them. Yet I must confess that I avoid those that are optional, like the flu shot. Perhaps that makes me a vaccine-skeptic of sorts.

Having said that, I will be taking the shingles vaccine. With so many friends going through the excruciating experience, I’m not taking any chances. This probably gives weight to all the arguments in favour of immunization. Perhaps the anti-vaxxers should be given a first-hand experience of what could happen when you ignore the warnings. I don’t mean that they should personally suffer the consequences but at least be taken to see the unfortunate ones that do.

Opposing groups like Vaccine Choice Canada believe that the risks associated with immunization far outweigh the benefits I suppose. While I do not doubt aggrieved parents strongly believe vaccinations like MMR to be the cause of their child’s debilitating condition, medical research says otherwise. They would probably write this off as bowing to the pressure of the pharma lobby. Yet the answer (or evidence if you prefer) must lie in the numbers and solid scientific proof.

Misgivings about vaccinations are not new though not everyone expresses their apprehension by refusing to comply. Having come from India where allergies are not as common as in the West, many from here are of the opinion that they are the body’s reaction to the many vaccines and sterile environment here. While I agree that extreme sterility can impact immunity, the allergy theory doesn’t make sense to me. But I can understand why they might think this way. After all, we weren’t immunized against measles and chickenpox. The vaccines didn’t exist at the time. Most Indians of my generation will remember being quarantined at home during both illnesses and the bath with neem leaves when it was done. Some even had the dreaded mumps. They were all considered a normal part of childhood and more of an inconvenience (because of the strict oil-free, vegetarian diet!!!) rather than a serious illness.

A friend and her two siblings, also from India, never took any of the vaccinations (not even polio) as the family couldn’t afford it. Since they escaped the consequences, their mother is not a supporter of immunizations either. I think that we were all just lucky.

Yet even those who have expressed some skepticism still immunize their children. After all vaccinations were not mandatory in India, at least till 1999 when I was there.
This brings us to the critical question of whether we should put our kids’ lives at risk by not immunizing them at all.

According to medical research the link between autism and childhood vaccines is an unsupported one. A homeopathic doctor I interviewed a couple of years ago about autism wouldn’t agree with me though. However, a recent study of Danish kids born between 1999 to 2010 shows yet again that there is no casual connection between MMR and autism. On the flip side, measles is seen as one of the great killers of children.

With the anti-vaxxers getting louder, the contradictory information (however mythical and unscientific) being presented can be confusing for parents. However, the global conspiracy that they are alleging seems a bit over the top. To say that diseases like small pox would disappear without immunization is also being unrealistic.

While in Ontario, there is no option, I would urge parents to clarify any doubts with their family physician rather than form opinions based on social media posts. It’s a huge relief to hear that Facebook plans to minimize the presence of groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations. Now other social media should do the same. -CINEWS

Comments: 1

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  1. Vaccines are not mandatory in Ontario and New Brunswick. Parents can sign an exemption form in both provinces.
    According to Health Canada 1996 vaccination cannot be made mandatory in Canada because of our Constitution. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically.