Zack was a happy, normal one-year-old. His bright blue eyes would shine as he waved and said “Hi” to everyone we passed. He met all his milestones at his one-year well-check with the pediatrician, and of course he cried bloody murder when he got his four vaccines.
Very soon after that, though, I noticed Zack was no longer talking. At all. He made noises and grunts, but nothing intelligible. He would roll his light-up toy truck back and forth on the table for long periods of time, over and over, every day. He threw massive tantrums when he couldn’t express himself. I didn’t know it at the time, but my baby had developed autism, seemingly overnight.
As I later learned, a large community of parents refuses to vaccinate their kids based on fears that vaccines cause autism. The theory stemmed from a flawed and later debunked study, but the panic remains.
The science is clear on exactly one element of the debate: vaccines prevent serious illnesses – some of which killed or maimed tens of thousands of people in years gone by. Because of vaccines over the last hundred years, many of those illnesses were all but eradicated.
What is less clear, however, is the extent to which vaccines cause harm. There are certainly documented cases of vaccine injuries, just as there are documented cases of many types of medications causing adverse reactions. Our government even set up a fund to compensate people injured by vaccines. Still, severe vaccine injuries are extremely rare.
Based solely on fear of autism, though, anti-vaxxers have been debating pro-vaxxers over the merits of vaccinating their children. The arguments on both sides are flawed.
You see, we don’t know what causes autism. But more importantly, we don’t know what doesn’t cause autism. Scientific research indicates a mix of genetic and environmental factors may cause the malady. That makes sense to me.
It especially upsets me that people would rather risk the physical health of their and other children by rejecting immunizations because they fear their child will develop autism. It demeans my son when they suggest they would rather their child die than end up like him.
We now have four sons and we have fully immunized all of them. I reconciled the speculation in both directions by having them vaccinated, but at a slower rate. My children have received one vaccination per office visit. To me, the cost of the extra co-pays outweighs the risk of a negative reaction.
I love my autistic son as much today as I did when he was telling everyone “Hi” 16 years ago. Some things are much harder for him than for his brothers and for other kids his age, but autism has also given him gifts – such as math ability and easy memorization of detailed facts. I love the young man Zack has become, but I’d be lying to the world and myself if I said I didn’t wish I could have prevented the changes to his brain. Autistic brains are different, not lesser, but the challenges autistic people face are undeniable. If we can make sure vaccines never alter children’s brains, we should.
Vaccines contain toxins that work against the body, forcing it to build up defenses to fight back. Perhaps some kids cannot metabolize and rid themselves of the toxins as efficiently as others. If we didn’t bombard children’s immune systems with as many as four or five strains at once, maybe their bodies could adapt more easily. Further, a modified and more conservative vaccine schedule may allay some of the fears of anti-vaxxers.
Everyone who is able should be vaccinated in order to prevent potential widespread illness and death from preventable diseases. Doctors should embrace modified vaccine schedules, rather than attempt to make Moms like me question our convictions. I’m a military spouse raising four boys and I’ve been bullied by medical professionals from coast to coast of the United States as well as at posts around the world (in English, Spanish and Mandarin!) for wanting to spread out the vaccination schedule. But I’m a Mama Bear protecting my cubs.
The current, complicated schedule is set with science in mind, but it can be modified to be more conservative and just as effective. The CDC should change its recommended timetable so our children get fully immunized but in a more cautious manner.
Oh, and while I was writing this essay, Zack stopped by and asked what I was working on. He told me to visit a Web site called “How do vaccines cause autism?“. I did, and at that point, I knew I was doing something right.
Erin Rovak Henderschedt is a freelance writer, teacher, and anti-Tiger Mom currently living in East Asia. She can be reached at CINChomefront@gmail.com.