Peering Down the End of the Needle: The Battle Over Childhood Immunizations
by Dr. Lainna Callentine
Healthy, godly dialogue seems to elude us in this emotionally charged world. Information is readily available at our fingertips, but confusion seems to abound. The internet is a place where agendas are interwoven with every fact. These agendas are driven by individuals who want to make their opinion known without regard to listening to any conflicting viewpoint. Medical professionals, activists, parents and the schools hold a variety of beliefs about the ethics, safety, timing and frequency of vaccinations.
Before we dive into a lively conversation about vaccines, I need to offer some background. I am a doctor who has trained at an allopathic medical school who has chosen to vaccinate her own children. I am struck by the fear expressed by parents who vocalize concerns about vaccines but feel impotent to have a healthy dialogue when talking to their health care provider, someone who many times has a differing view, and conversation is stifled. This saddens me. I see my role as a physician to offer information and partner with my patients/family to optimize their healthcare decisions. In this country, parents are generally afforded the right to guide the upbringing of their children and have the freedom to make decisions regarding their child’s education, healthcare and religion.
Why vaccines anyway? Isn’t catching the disease the best immunity?
When a foreign invader, a pathogen, enters the body, your immune system goes on alert. It stimulates antibodies to try to fight and kill the invaders. Depending on the strength and the readiness of your immune system against that particular pathogen, it will either fight it off or you will get sick. Vaccines are made from a killed, weakened or part of a pathogen. It tends not to be as strong or as numerous compared to what you would be submitted to due to a full fledge attack by active pathogens. The result equals immunity from that illness without becoming very ill.
When we talk about immunity from illness, there are two types in which to look. Immunity achieved from having an illness vs vaccine-acquired immunity. There is no doubt if you contract an infection and your body fights it off that the immunity gained from this process can be long lasting. However, there are risks to contracting an infectious disease.
According to the Centers of Disease Control, about one child out of every 1000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions, deafness, intellectual disability or death. No one knows who that unfortunate individual will be. The use of vaccines provides another option for bulking up the body’s immune system, which in many circumstances can offer a greater benefit and less risk.
It is always important as a parent to educate yourself on the risks and benefits for immunizing your child as well as not immunizing. A parent should have the right to decide on behalf of their child. Most states allow parents to decline immunizations on behalf of their child due to religious or philosophical reasons. It is hard to find reliable information that is without bias or spun in either direction. One resource that I have found helpful is on the website www.procon.org. It takes controversial issues and attempts to present each side. It provides the CDC guidelines, history of vaccines and much more. One interesting document on the site gives information on the ingredients, how the vaccines are processed and manufacturers of the vaccines.
Why so many shots? Won’t it overwhelm my child’s immune system?
The vaccine schedule is designed around important priorities. Vaccines are given for those diseases that are most likely to be dangerous early on. Pertussis vaccine is given at 7 to 8 weeks (DTaP) because babies are most at risk for serious illness and complications for that illness. Most deaths due to pertussis occur in infants younger than 6 months of age. The peak of meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) due to H.Flu type b is about 9 months of age. In attempts to protect the fragile young, the timing of each vaccine is designed and evaluated to best protect them.
You as a parent may still feel very uncomfortable with the CDC’s recommendation on the schedule of immunizations and have many questions. It is important as you select the healthcare provider for your child to engage in an open conversation with them. Interview the doctor and make sure you can partner with them in the healthcare delivery for your child. I do not know of any doctor who will not be frank or open on their position on vaccines on behalf of their patients.
Questions to ask your medical provider:
What are your thoughts on vaccinations?
Why do you think that?
How does the provider respond when you ask for an alternative or delayed schedule?
Do they dismiss patients out of their practices for not following the exact immunization schedule as prescribed?
Are they open to listening to your concerns about vaccines?
As a pediatrician, my role is to educate and to empower parents to make healthy decisions on behalf of their children. But I have to respect that ultimately a parent has a right to make that decision. It is not my personal right on their behalf. There is a problem when physicians do not allow healthy dialogue and questions. If you find this to be the case, then move on and find another provider.
Let’s face it. It is hard being a parent. What an incredible responsibility! So many of our decisions that we make on behalf of our children have elements of fear. Am I doing the right thing? Am I going to mess up my child for the rest of his life? According to the Bible, there is nothing wrong with realistically acknowledging and trying to deal with the identifiable problems or decisions of life. There are risks everywhere. But we must not be immobilized by fear. Let us walk boldly as parents, seeking information and good counsel.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Dr. Lainna Callentine has a great love for teaching. She is an author, speaker, pediatrician, homeschool mother and has taught all levels from doctors, post graduate, medical students, college and high school to elementary. She holds a master’s degree in education and received her B.A. from Northwestern University where she studied in the School of Education, majoring in Human Development and Social Policy while competing on a full athletic scholarship in basketball. She completed her M.D. at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and trained at Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, IL. Dr. Callentine continues to have wonderment for the beauty of God’s creation in the human body. She left formal medicine in the E.R. to stay home and homeschool her children. She volunteers time as a missionary doctor at Bolingbrook Christian Health Center which serves the uninsured and is a member of the Christian Medical Dental Association. She is the author of a new series called God’s Wondrous Machine with Master Books. It is a hands-on curriculum for children, showcasing the human body. Dr. Callentine is passionate about the biological sciences, children, education, families and the God who created all things. Check out Dr. Callentine at www.sciexperience.com
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