Dr. Mom, D.O. Adventures of Parenthood in Medical School
Speaking with love to the anti-vaccine crowd. A letter to anti-vaccine parents.
It is difficult to scroll through the internet without coming across articles about the horrors of vaccines.
They cause autism!
They contain dangerous chemicals!
We give too many too soon!
The list goes on and on, and I understand why…
I believe these articles are written by people whose hearts are in the right place. They don’t want to see children suffering and dying from diseases that have been eradicated, but they want what’s best for their children. If someone told you that a physician was going to do something harmful to your child, would you not want to advocate against that treatment?
As both a parent and a physician in training, I empathize with this mindset. But I write to you today not only as the individual in the white coat recommending treatment, but as a mother; a mother who has been up all night with a sick child, waiting hours in the emergency room and praying for the best outcome. I write to you as someone who has been that scared new mom, researching on the internet, worried that I am not making the best choices for my child. But I also write to you as a medical professional.
I write this letter as a medical professional who has witnessed children suffering due to illnesses that could have been prevented with a vaccine. I write to you as a medical student who is afraid that I will one day have to treat an illness not ever seen by my supervising senior physicians. I am writing to you from a place of love in hopes that we can work as a team to make the best decisions for your child based on sound science.
I hope that you will listen.
Internet Warnings vs. Vax Facts
Vaccines cause autism!
In the late 90’s, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the medical journal The Lancet that claimed to link the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) to autism. This study was later removed from the journal because it was found that Dr. Wakefield’s conclusions were not only incorrect, but that he had been paid by lawyers that were suing the people that made MMR vaccines. In the years since the publication was released there have been several studies which prove that Dr. Wakefield was wrong.
Vaccines contain dangerous chemicals and toxins!
Mercury. Formaldehyde. Thimerosal.
When people speak of toxins in vaccines, these are often the three key figures. Let’s take a closer look...
- Why is it used? This mercury-containing ingredient has been used as a preservative in vaccines since the 1930s. Today, it is only found in vaccines for influenza. Preservatives are necessary for preventing dangerous bacterial or fungal contamination, but thimerosal has since become a major source of vaccine safety concerns.
- Health concerns? While mercury is a naturally-occurring element found in soil, water, and food, large amounts of it can be harmful, especially for children. Back in 1997, children were receiving three vaccines that together contained more mercury than the EPA recommended limit (though not more than the FDA limit). This led to speculation that thimerosal in vaccines could be linked to autism or other conditions.
- Is it safe? Years of research have reduced concerns here. The type of mercury found in thimerosal, ethylmercury, differs from methylmercury, the type commonly found in fish and known to be harmful in large amounts. Ethylmercury is broken down and excreted from the body much more quickly than methylmercury, and no scientific study has found a link between ethylmercury and autism or any other harmful effects.
- Amount in vaccines? Nonetheless, several public health agencies and vaccine manufacturers agreed in 1999 to cease using thimerosal as a precautionary measure. Today, no vaccine contains Thimerosal except the influenza vaccine, and Thimerosal-free alternatives are available.
Remember: chemistry is important! Pure sodium explodes when you put it in water but sodium chloride is what regular table salt is made of!
- Why is it used? Formaldehyde has been used for decades in vaccines to inactivate viruses and detoxify bacterial toxins, ensuring they don’t result in sickness when injected.
- Health concerns? The U.S. EPA classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen, as does the International Agency for Cancer Research and the National Toxicology Program. Additionally, several studies have since linked strong, long-term formaldehyde exposure to certain types of cancer.
- Is it safe? The potential for harm depends on the amount. Formaldehyde is always present in the human body as part of our natural metabolic process, but long-term exposure to high amounts can overwhelm our system and be harmful. Fortunately, the amount of formaldehyde found in vaccines is very small, most of it being diluted down to residual amounts during the manufacturing process. In fact, the FDA reports there is 50 to 70 times more formaldehyde present in an average newborn’s body than in a single dose of vaccine. In brief, current science shows formaldehyde in vaccines to be harmless.
- Amount in vaccines? The highest amount of formaldehyde present in any vaccine is .02 mg per dose. An average two-month-old baby would have around 1.1 mg of formaldehyde circulating in their body, with higher naturally-occurring amounts for older children.
(Information via publichealth.org)
My unvaccinated child doesn’t pose a threat to your vaccinated child if vaccines really work!
One of the ways that vaccines work is by creating “herd-immunity.” No vaccine is 100% effective. If enough people are vaccinated, however, the disease will be less likely to occur, which helps to limit the chances of people who cannot be vaccinated getting the illness. Some children have problems with their immune system or are too young to get a vaccine. With these children sitting in the same clinic waiting rooms, at grocery stores, and parks, it is important not to be shedding measles or chicken pox virus.
We are giving way too many vaccines way too soon and it will overwhelm my child’s immune system.
Children are exposed to more immune challenges every day from the environment than from vaccines. In other words, a day at the park playground exposes your child’s immune systems to more challenges than a vaccine would.
The diseases that these vaccines prevent aren’t really that dangerous.
I sincerely hope for the best possible outcome should your child contract a disease that can be prevented with a vaccine or otherwise. I would never hope to see a child suffer just to say “I told you so” to a parent that disagreed with me. That would make me a horrible doctor and human being. With that said, we have these vaccines for a reason.
The diseases that they prevent can cause complications such as pneumonia (a lung infection), encephalitis (swelling of the brain), meningitis (an infection causing swelling of the brain and spinal cord covering), blindness, deafness, paralysis, and even death. I am not saying this to scare you into vaccinating your child, I am saying this because I want parents to really understand the risks of the choice that they are making and to make an informed decision.
As your child’s doctor, I will respect your beliefs and wishes for your child.
As a fellow parent, I will empathize entirely with your desire to do what is best for them.
I will also advocate tirelessly for their health and best interests. I ask, in return, for your trust. I ask that you have faith in my training and education. Understand that I would never do anything to intentionally harm your child. I went into medicine to help, not to hurt, and good doctor-patient-parent relationship depends on this trust and mutual respect for each other.
The advantage of being a parent and a physician is having the ability to say, “That is what I would do if it were my child.” However, in the event that you decide that you do not want your child vaccinated, I will wish you all the best, but will politely decline to see your child as my patient. Those infants and children in the waiting room – the ones who cannot get the gift of immunity from vaccines -- they are my patients as well, and I’ll advocate for their safety as much as I would for your child or my own.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 1st Year (OMS1)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences