Moving Beyond Fear: Decision Making Regarding Vaccines
Vaccinating children is a hot button issue, to say the least. When the topic comes up among parents, there is usually some pretty heated remarks, and when you throw a physician into the mix it can get downright dirty. I have heard a physician say to a parent “I see you wants to keep your child safe” in regards to the decision to vaccinate, which seems to insinuate that a unvaccinated child wants to live recklessly and dangerously. On the other side of the debate I have heard parents accuse others of pumping their children full of poisons and doing irreparable harm. The more parents I talk to on both sides of this issue, the more I realize that the decision making about vaccines is not based upon informed consent but on fear.
Fear seems to dominate the issue of vaccines. On one side it is a fear of contracting a disease that may possibly cause some long lasting side effect or even death. All of this depends on which disease is being considered. (For more on this, please refer to Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book). And on the other side of the debate there is a fear of what the ingredients may do to children. For some that fear may be about autism, or asthma, or other allergies, just to name a few. There are also concerns about using vaccines developed using tissue from aborted fetuses and the possible negative effects that injected human DNA may have on a child.
On either side, these should be considered legitimate concerns. Everyday parents must face decisions concerning their child’s safety and well being. And for the vast majority of these decisions, there are no domineering physicians and parents trying to force the parents hand. In an era where paternalism is supposedly dead, it continues to rear its ugly head in regards to vaccines. Time and again, both in my own experience as a parent and in working in health care, I see physicians attempting to force their views upon their patients in regards to vaccines. In all those cases it was pro-vaccine. What is a parent to do? Here is an individual who is supposed to know the facts and who is supposed to be caring for their child, who is talking about how the child might die if they do not receive the shots. And if the parent shows any resistance, then they are practically accused of child abuse! Please do not think I am exaggerating. For parents who choose not to vaccinate, this is par for the course. It is a rare treat to find a physician who is willing to let a parent refuse vaccinations without trying to intimidate them through fear. With this kind of pressure to vaccinate, plus a parent’s usual trust in their physician, is it any wonder that most parents simply vaccinate their child without a second thought? Filled with fear of what might happen without vaccines and pressured by the physician they are supposed to trust, it is the easiest road to take.
And yet, is this the best? Now I am not saying parents should not choose vaccines. What I do argue for is informed decisions by the parents. Parents choosing to vaccinate should know what vaccines the child is to receive and when. What the vaccines prevent against, and likewise what the dangers of those diseases are. And the parents should also be aware of any concerns about safety regarding particular vaccines. I place the same burden on the parents who refuse to vaccinate. I would challenge them to tell me what are their sources in regards to the dangers of vaccines? What is it that they are afraid of? Is there evidence for those fears? What is your current situation and the associate risks with not vaccinating?
Decisions in medicine are supposed to be based upon the available evidence, and the patient is supposed to be given the autonomy to make an informed decision. On both sides of this debate, the parents must move beyond making decisions based solely on fear and begin to make informed decisions for their children. Neither decision is necessarily wrong, but it must be made consciously and with knowledge. As parents, we know full well that it is impossible to protect our children from all danger and all risks and daily we must make decisions to limit these dangers as much as is reasonably possible. For those dangers we cannot prevent, we must be willing to shoulder that responsibility if something were to happen, and this holds true for the decision about vaccines. Rather than living in fear, we must make that informed decision and then face down the possible consequences and make the bold statement that we will not let fear rule our lives.