By Kim Norton-Jurgens
I breastfeed my children until they self-wean – openly in public. I baby wear and partially attachment parent. I aim for drug-free natural births.
And I vaccinate my children.
Some of my spare time is spent helping mothers with breastfeeding problems, and this community tends to attract many "natural living" people. Occasionally I find they assume I don’t vaccinate my own children because I do work in this community. I don't feel its fair that such assumptions should be made based on the views of a few people on the fringes of some very worthwhile endeavours, like trying to live a healthier life. To counter these assumptions about me, I'm vocal about the fact that I vaccinate my children. I talk about it on Twitter, I post informative articles on Facebook – and while nobody “likes” my posts or comments, I get personal messages from people thanking me for being brave enough to share what we know is correct.
Here in South Africa we have two vaccination schedules – a government one, which is free at state clinics, and a private schedule, which is fairly costly but includes the MMR vaccine rather than just the measles shot. I chose to use the private schedule. I know quite a few mothers who use the state schedule and then go to a private clinic for the MMR. Additionally, I’ve had my children vaccinated for hepatitis A and varicella (chicken pox), which aren’t on either of the schedules.
For us, here in South Africa, vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat. When I was a child, there was a boy in my class who had had polio and who wore callipers and used crutches. On the farm I grew up on, one of our employee’s children had had polio. I can remember friends having measles and my mother keeping us well away from their house. Here TB is not an abstract threat – we all know someone who has had TB contracted from someone or from drinking unpasteurised milk.
Unfortunately, if you’re a parent, you’re exposed to so much misinformation and emotional rhetoric about everything from the moment of conception onward that you do always have time to think carefully about the trustworthiness of the information you’re given. Ironically, the very questions that anti-vaxxers feel one should ask of the medical community are the precise questions they don’t ask of the “natural health” purveyors and anti-vaccine organizations from whom they get their information.
What upsets me a lot is that with the relentless misinformation campaign of anti-vaxxers, even the most ardent vaccinator still takes a deep breath before booking the appointment for the MMR. I know anti-vaxxers claim many other reasons for not vaccinating, but that false autism-MMR connection is the one that gets the most publicity. Each and every claim made anti-vaccine activists make is so easily debunked – over and over and over—that it is shameful that there are still people who just swallow this information and don’t ask questions.
What I do know is that I am doing the best I can to protect my children from preventable diseases. (I also know that both my son and my daughter will be getting the Gardasil vaccine.) I hope that by sharing this information, I can give courage to other parents who vaccinate to stand up and proudly say that they do, and to counter misinformation when they hear it. Because vaccination is not a personal choice.
Kim Norton Jurgens is a mother of two and a Human Resources Manager. She has a degree in business commerce and is married to a journalist. She lives in South Africa.
Editor's Note: Kim shared with us her favorite immunization sites: "My little arsenal of web sites for sharing reliable information with others includes Anti-Anti-Vax, What's the Harm, QuackWatch, Science-Based Medicine, and Voices for Vaccines."