If you want to start a heated debate amongst a group of new moms all you have to do is say immunization. It’s a guaranteed firestarter, at least amongst the baby groups and Mother Goose classes I have been a part of. Yet I have chosen to address it here. After much thought and deliberation, I am going to use this column to share my view on one of the most controversial issues – childhood vaccination.
New parents have a lot going on. In addition to learning how to care for another helpless human being they have important decisions to make. Bottle or breast, cloth or disposable, RESP or savings account etc. Add vaccination into the mix and it’s almost enough to make any new parent rip their hair out.
For me, vaccination is a no-brainer. I received the H1N1 jab while pregnant despite the hype that it wasn’t safe. As a new parent, I dutifully brought my new baby for her scheduled vaccinations, and still do. As an infant I contracted whopping cough and became critically ill, spending weeks in an ICU. Thankfully, the chances of my daughter contracting it are slim, because she has been vaccinated.
Like many new moms, I turned to the internet for information about my baby, and still do. I have learned that it can be a scary world out there in cyberspace. There is so much information and for a sleep-deprived new parent, it can be overwhelming. All one has to do is google vaccination and enough reading to last two years is at your fingertips.
I subscribe to the “whatever is best for your family” approach when drawn into discussions surrounding potentially controversial ‘new mom’ topics. Every child is different and every family is different. Parents have to do what is best for their child and their family. That being said, I find it a little disconcerting that many parents are not vaccinating their children. What is more disconcerting is that many parents are basing their decision not to vaccinate on false and misleading information.
Vaccination is one of the most important health advances. In 1980, one of the most devastating diseases to humankind, smallpox, was declared eradicated because of successful world-wide vaccination. I often wonder if these non-vaccinators would opt out of the small pox vaccination if the disease were still a threat. Perhaps we are too far removed from the devastation a disease like this can cause to recognize how important vaccination is. Susan Bowles, Associate Professor Medicine and Pharmacy atDalhousieUniversityand Vice-Chair of the Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion says, “Vaccination programs are a victim of their own success. People are less focused on the disease and more on the perceived side effects.”
The anti-vaccination movement is not a new phenomenon, but for my generation it really kicked into high gear when the infamous study linking autism to the measles, mumps rubella vaccine was published in the Lancet (1998).
The study has since been renounced by the Lancet, disproven by several studies and the lead investigator has lost his medical license (it has been revealed that he was being compensated by a lawyer suing vaccine manufacturers), yet I hear new moms talking about it all the time. Several new moms I have spoken to opted out of the MMR vaccine because they believe it causes autism. In light of the new evidence, it’s faulty logic. Frankly, it’s dangerous logic.
That’s where you – the trusted health-care professional comes in. Whether or not you realize it, you can play a major role in a family’s decision to vaccinate or not. There is an abundance of misinformation about vaccinations and parents are often too busy to investigate the credibility of its source. So they show up at their doctor or hospital and they have questions. Too often their questions are brushed off because there is no time and they leave without having these concerns addressed.
Bowles believes that health-care professionals need to be armed with accurate information to address parents’ concerns and thinks professional education programs should include immunization. She says, “We need to teach future health-care professionals how to talk to parents about the importance of immunization.”
In the meantime, there are several online resources for health professionals and parents: www.immunize.ca and www.immunizebc.ca There is also a guide to vaccination available entitled, “Your Childs Best Shot” which can be useful for parents and professionals. It can be ordered at cps.ca
Vaccination is important for everyone if we are to avoid future outbreaks of preventable disease. When a parent comes to you with concerns about the safety of a vaccine, Bowles says to keep in mind, “It’s not just what you say its how you say it. You could give someone all the correct information but your body language is important. Don’t get into debate, acknowledge their concerns and enter into a discussion with accurate info. Give them a positive, consistent message.”