The vaccination diaries

vaccination for children - ZenParent

Why the debate?

We’ve all been there. The vaccines given to a newborn are fairly tame affairs when compared to the vaccination horrors of a 1 or 2-year-old. They are aware that it’s a shot, that it’s going to pain, that we’re holding them down, pulling their pants down, whatever. That look of mistrust as tears flood their tiny eyes, something every parent actively tries to avoid, is something that no one is in any hurry to forget. With time, with “painless” vaccines, and with numbing patches, the pain has seemingly lessened. But what about the side effects? What about the autism link? What about the vastly educated lot who were not just not vaccinating but were passionately advocating against it? We break it down for you.

vaccines for babies - ZenParent

What exactly are vaccines?

Vaccines are weakened forms of disease-causing agents that are deliberately injected into organisms to provoke the body to produce antigens against that very disease that renders them immune to an actual infection by it.

How effective are they?

Vaccines have successfully eradicated smallpox. Polio and diphtheria are on the verge of eradication. Measles, tetanus, whooping cough, mumps and hepatitis are being brought under control. With vast vaccination drives across the world, there is a good chance that eventually these diseases could be eradicated too. However, instances in the US, when some parents choose not to vaccinate, have been found to be linked to outbreaks of diseases that had virtually been erased from the country*. This stems from a breakdown of “herd immunity”. For a population to be protected against a disease, 80-90% of the population needs to have been vaccinated against it.

So what’s the big fear against vaccines?

vaccination for babies a debate - ZenParent

Beyond the basic, I-don’t-want-to-hurt-my-child population who aren’t convincing even to themselves, the answer to why no vaccination is one word – autism.

Says Meera Salgaonkar**, “My very verbal 18-month-old son virtually became mute after his MMR vaccine. I got so worried that he was regressing. I had to immediately put him in early intervention therapy. And now even after a year, he isn’t quite where he used to be. I’m certain it started from that shot.”

With kids getting nearly 20 shots leading up to their first birthday, a quantity that had more than doubled in the past couple of decades, the anti-vaccine camp believes that some mercury-based preservatives in these shots can lead to kids being on the autism spectrum – a diagnosis that has more than tripled in the past decade alone. The first scientific publication that pointed to this claim has even been retracted since, after 7 major scientific journals found no convincing link between vaccines and autism. But parents continue to be worried. And most of this stems from personal experiences or experiences from close friends and family.

Sahitya Subramanian is another in the anti-vaccine camp. She’d read about these links but she had never considered herself to be an anti-vaccine person. Till she actually witnessed what happened to her nephew. Again the MMR vaccine was the “culprit”.

Says Sahitya, “I actually saw what happened with my nephew. It changed our lives and our views forever. He was a bubbly, talkative young sport. And from the time that vaccine happened, his entire personality changed. He became moody, dull, non-verbal and it scared the shit out of me. Hence, I chose to selectively vaccinate my daughter. MMR is one vaccine I won’t be giving.”

Of course, the opposing camp is just as fierce.

Krithika Saikrishnan says “Mums who don’t vaccinate are just piggybacking on the rest of us who are responsible enough to vaccinate our kids. If enough of us stop vaccinating, herd immunity gets eradicated thereby bringing back a lot of diseases that were eliminated through the advent of vaccines.”

What’s scary in a country like India with ancient medicine is that unaware people have started likening homeopathy to anti-vaccination. And that puts so many of the dutifully vaccinated kids at risk. What’s also confusing is how personally people are taking it. Like calling vaccinating their children a “personal decision” while it’s actually a public health issue. Schools abroad expect vaccination records of the kids before giving admission. But to this, Sahitya, who lives in the UK says, “Yes they do. But they also accept kids who have been selectively vaccinated. Vaccination by default may not exactly be a choice. But choosing which vaccines you want to give, is.”

Says Abirami Rajendran, “I was so confused about the MMR-autism link. Finally, I read the congress testimonial statements and I was so ashamed of myself. I’m glad I vaccinated my child.”

The other thing that is noteworthy is that most autism risks have been linked to outstandingly more boys than girls. Dr.Ofit, co-creator of a rota-virus vaccine believes it’s impossible for something to so selectively affect only one gender of the population.

The middle ground

The debate is not just pitting parents against one another, but also against institutions like schools and paediatricians that mandate against anti-vaccinators. Most parents have never witnessed the effects of the diseases they’re vaccinating against. It isn’t real to them. Then, the doctors end up convincing them from personal experiences or saying that they do the exact same thing for their own kids. Fortunately, most parents decide to vaccinate in the end.

And that’s the case when parents overcome their fears like Abirami and vaccinate their kids. Or like Sriram Shenoy**, who brought his seven-year-old autistic daughter for a H1N1 flu shot.

“Just because she’s autistic, doesn’t mean I don’t want to protect her against other diseases. That’s just stupid.”

He doesn’t mince words. Neither should anyone when it comes to protecting one’s child against potentially life-threatening issues.

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