Leelo got his MMR booster yesterday morning. Longtime readers will know what a huge deal this is. It took three of us to hold him down after I asked the nurse to be quick and she said "I'm always fast" -- as she held the syringe in front of Leelo's face.
It has been more than five years since his last dose of MMR.
Mali got her DTaP. This is only her second vaccination. She was sad, but perked up when I made her a "hand balloon" out of an exam glove purloined from the box on the wall. I tried getting her back on schedule earlier in the year, but she had some kind of runny nose or coughing ook for months. She is now better, and as Summer is the time when young children frolic barefoot and step on rusty nails, I figured the Tetanus-comprising DTaP was the way to go.
Snarks aside, the vaccination issue is still a very complicated one for me, still makes my stomach do flips. I have a child who is disabled for reasons no one can explain, and some professionals argue very strenuously that the MMR vaccination will exacerbate that disability.
Why would I believe those arguments? Five years ago the support for families of children with new autism diagnoses wasn't nearly as extensive as it is now. There was no Autism Speaks 100 Day kit. There were no local online support communities. There was only Google, and the Golden Gate Regional Center telling me that my son had autism, and they'd put him in group speech classes two times per week. Everything else, we found on our own.
So, five years ago I was doing the New Diagnosis Freakout and would have done practically anything to help my son. I believed a lot of people, some of whom I now think were earnestly misguided, and some of whom I believe were riding the autism gravy train.
Five years later I have read through landslides of scientific arguments rebutting the vaccine/autism link. I continue to see so many autistic children who look Just Like Leelo that I suspect my son was who he is from conception. I no longer feel some sort of environmental trigger caused his autism. And I try not to focus on why he is the way he is, but rather on helping him gain skills, feel loved, and deal with the world -- and making damn sure the world deals with him.
As for my public stance on vaccination, here is what I recently wrote to the local Mothers Club and its community of wide-eyed parents with children under five:
Short version: Unless your family has a history of neurological or immunological disorders, vaccination is a social obligation.
Long version: In order to be very clear about any effects vaccines may have on your child, try to vaccinate on a slower than standard schedule, with only one vaccination per visit, at least one month between vaccinations, and only when your children are absolutely healthy. Finding a pediatrician who will agree to a delayed/spaced schedule is not always easy, but I have found that many pediatricians at PAMF.org are flexible. (Also, it is possible that not all insurance companies will cover this approach, that it may lead to excessive co-pays, and that it may be truly unrealistic to those who pay out of pocket or depend upon clinics.)
Here are some reasonable vaccination guidelines mixed in with a bit of sensationalism: http://tinyurl.com/2lbqtu
(I found Stephanie Cave's book What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children's Vaccinations [cited] to be helpful and measured in its positions.)
Most people pondering whether or not to vaccinate worry about the risk of autism. This is a legitimate concern. Not so much about the mercury-based preservative Thimerosal, as it is no longer contained in most vaccines (flu shots excepted) and the link between Thimerosal and autism has been debunked (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080107181551.htm), but because no one yet knows what causes many forms of autism, and the vaccines themselves cannot be entirely ruled out:
"Does this mean that we can say without a doubt that vaccines do not cause autism in some children? The answer to this question is “no.” There is emerging evidence that some children are immunologically compromised and therefore may respond in an atypical way to vaccinations. We do not currently understand how atypical immune responses might influence the developing nervous system or how commonly such adverse effects occur."
-From the vaccine position statement of the MIND Institute, one of the leading research centers for autism and other neurological disorders: http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute/newsroom/vaccineposition.htmlYou may also have heard talk in the news about a legal ruling in favor of a girl who developed autistic-like symptoms after being immunized. What is not always clarified is that the girl had a rare mitochondrial disorder that may have been aggravated by the vaccine. She was not just a regular kid who regressed into autism after being vaccinated. Here is a link: http://tinyurl.com/2u332f
So, yes, vaccination carries a risk. But in my opinion is comparable to the risk of air travel. If your family does not have a history of autism, Aspergers, or immunological issues, then you should vaccinate your kids. Thoughtfully. And with the guidance of a pediatrician who is equally thoughtful.
And while I don't think anyone should swallow the vitriol proffered by either side in the vaccination wars, you should know what people are saying: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/03/antivaccinationists_flood_the_ajc_blog_c.php