Midwives are often asked about vaccinations – do we recommend them?
I know many care providers who posture that they don’t want to sway a client one way or another, that their own choices do not reflect what the woman herself might choose, but with minimal pressure will tell all they know about “baby shots.”
I tried this “It doesn’t matter what I did” tactic for about a minute or two and then decided to just answer the questions asked.
I selectively vaccinated (I will not call them immunizations because they do not immunize) after my second child had a serious reaction to her first DPT (this was in 1984). The pediatrician who saw her in the emergency room and her own pediatrician later said to never give her the pertussis vaccine again. She screamed for twelve hours and had a fever of 104 degrees for three days. It was horrible!
I was just learning about vaccinations when I birthed my second at home. When we went to the Newborn Nursery to have her checked out and weighed, one snotty nurse said, “Are you going to vaccinate this child?” I replied with an “Of course!” Little did I know how my attitude would change over time.
Lest you think what is coming is a tirade about vaccinations, you would be wrong. I have extremely mixed thoughts and feelings about these injections. I thought it would be good to get it down and hear what others had to say regarding the challenges to this topic I want to offer.
Instead of not vaccinating at all, we chose to alter the schedule of shots and to eliminate those we didn’t want or need. When my kids were babies, they didn’t get but about 20 shots by the time they were six years old. Today, that number is upwards of thirty.
I find that those who want to selectively vaccinate do what I did with my own kids. The first alteration is waiting to give even the first shot. I know less than a handful of families that allow the Hepatitis B shot, even if the baby was born in the hospital. I encourage the series if someone in the family has Hepatitis or HIV and to consider it if the baby will be in childcare anytime under the first year of life (one never knows what care providers are carrying around).
I get the HepB vaccine myself because I work in a high risk job. Body fluids abound and I rarely have anyone's entire story. It's important to note, though, that every three years or so, my immunity wanes and I have to have a booster. Come to find out, it isn't just the HepB that does this! Many, if not all, of the vaccines lose their umph over time and people need to be re-vaccinated to boost the properties once originally thought to last a lifetime.
If it took all these years to learn boosters were needed in adults, how many other "uh-oh's" are we going to learn over time?
When we did vaccinate, we started once the kids were eating solid foods. We felt that as long as they were nursing exclusively, they were protected.
When they began getting shots, we separated them, taking the bundles apart and not overwhelming their bodies with so much of an assault. We also spaced them apart by 3-6 months. And we NEVER got them vaccinated even if they had so much as a sniffle. The recommendations now say “moderate or severe” illness; I think that isn’t enough of a warning.
The largest discussion is that of mercury/thimerosal and the industry seems to be taking care of it by removing thimerosal from the vaccinations. What has been implied by some pediatricians, however, is there is a five-year backlog of thimerosal-laden vaccines, so be sure your doctor does not acquire his/her medications from old stock.
No discussion of vaccinations would be complete without mentioning Chicken Pox Parties. In all the hundreds of children I have known with chicken pox, I've never known one to be more than chicken pox-ill. Apparently, children can get very ill (and even die) from chicken pox. Who knew? If I were needing to make the decision about whether to vaccinate for varicella or not, I would probably choose not to. When any neighborhood kid got chicken pox, all of a sudden it was indoor crayon marathons to try to get any who hadn't had the disease infected. I wonder what pediatricians think about Chicken Pox Parties being held to this day.
It's also important to note that I have strong feelings about rubella shots being given to girls and mumps vaccines for the boys(that they SHOULD be given). Knowing a child damaged by her mother's rubella during pregnancy was the first time I thought, "Maybe I was wrong... or at least have something more to learn." One reason we test rubella titers in pregnancy is because the disease can be so devastating to a fetus. I pray I never see the damage again.
Four anecdotes highlight my own confusion about vaccinations:
1. A former client, a pediatric home health nurse who tended to kids released from the hospital because insurance wouldn’t pay anymore, made the off-handed comment that the sickest kids she saw were those that had had their vaccinations.
2. A non-vaxing friend who poo poo'd the idea that vaccinations even did anything was preparing for a trip to South Africa. She began scheduling her vaccinations and I looked at her, puzzled by her behavior. Why would she vaccinate herself but not her children (who were remaining home)? Why would the vaccinations be effective for her when she was in Africa, but not for her kids in the United States? I’m not sure she’d thought of that argument herself. I’ve since asked this question of others who travel out of the country and have been told much of the issue is the vulnerability of babies – to which I reply, “Exactly!”
3. I have heard the argument that their babies aren’t in daycare/traveling abroad/formula fed/around strangers/etc., yet our babies are surrounded by those that are in daycare/travel abroad/formula fed/around strangers/etc. Some of our kids are all of those variables!
4. I never saw pertussis in a baby or child until I moved to Southern California and worked in holistic healthcare. Suddenly, all these babies who had not been vaccinated were getting ill. I’ve now seen at least twelve cases of pertussis in the last five years.
It’s easy to see I am as confused with anecdotes and information as the next person. I believe each person needs to research and do the best thing for their own family. There are few decisions as final as giving vaccinations, but even if you give one (or ten) doesn’t mean you have to give the rest. But, as some would tell you, just one was enough to change their lives forever.