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Vaccinating Children Is a Social Responsibility We Can Not Afford To Shirk


Written by Martha Kempner forRH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post. So, I am that mom on the playground, the one who—while happy to play with my kids— craves adult interaction and looks for opportunities to strike up conversations with other parents.  It’s actually pretty easy (presumably because other mothers find pushing a toddler on a swing as mind-numbingly dull as I often do). I comment on similarities between our kids, something mine is doing, or something hers just said and nine times out of ten we are deep in discussion about our lives and experiences with motherhood within five minutes.  We trade stories and advice about sleep training, breast feeding, potty training, discipline techniques, daycare, and pediatricians. Of course, I always try to be careful not to be too opinionated during these conversations.  In my liberal New Jersey town, I can be almost certain that the random playground mom agrees with my politics but parenting issues are so much trickier.  I never know who is going to agree with my stance on sleep training (just turn the monitor off, the kid will stop crying eventually) and who will think I’m barbaric; who will agree with me that jarred food is really just as good as pureeing it yourself and who will think I’m lazy; or who will view the sleep fairy (the one who gave my daughter a present every morning that she slept in her own bed the year she was three) as a cute invention by a desperate mother and who will think I was just too wimpy to get bedtime right.  And, yes, before you say anything, the reason I fear the judgment of other parents is clearly because behind the smiling and nodding I’m judging them as well. Still, in nearly all of these conversations—even if our parenting styles are radically different—we can find a common ground on which to bond and commiserate. There is one topic, however, that I just try to avoid—vaccines. A friend once described it as the third rail of parenthood.  Just don’t touch it. While vaccines were once widely regarded as the medical miracles they are, today there is a large contingent of parents who distrust them and choose not to get their children vaccinated at all or pick and choose which vaccines they’re going to get and when.  Opposition to vaccinations began when British researcher Andrew Wakefield published a study in theLancet suggesting a link between vaccines and autism. Over the next decade or so, study after study failed to replicate this link but distrust of vaccines grew anyway and celebrities like Jenny McCarthy publicly blamed vaccines for their children’s autism.  Unfortunately, this trend does not seem to have stopped even after information was released last year which showed that Wakefield fabricated his data. It’s hard to predict where a parent is going to stand on this issue.  Smart people with whom I tend to agree on most issues of politics and parenting completely disregard the science, express a generalized distrust for medicine, and refuse to vaccinate their children.  I know that a large and growing proportion of parents in my progressive community are using the school system’s broad “religious exemption” to send their unvaccinated children to school. If this subject were to come up as we watched our children come headfirst down a slide, I might just smile, nod, and walk away but it would be painful. Because what I really want to say is “wow, that’s not just stupid, it’s selfish.” There, I said it. Choosing not to vaccinate your child is selfish and the only reason you can afford to do it without the likelihood that your child will get a life-threatening illness is because I vaccinated my child. Continue reading....