Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Scare Tactics"

Recently, a mother who immunizes her children tried to post on a blog called "Modern Alternative Mama" in response to a worried mother of a newborn. The new mother had chosen not to vaccinate her baby out of fear, but was living in a community in the midst of a pertussis outbreak. Her pediatrician had called to ask if she might reconsider immunizing her baby at this point. The mother seemed worried--she didn't want to vaccinate, but clearly she didn't want her infant to contract pertussis. After reading responses from other non-vaccinating mothers--telling her to hold strong, to rest assured that breast milk would somehow make her baby immune from pertussis, one of the most devastatingly contagious diseases on the planet--this mother-who-vaccinates felt moved to post a response. 

She asked the mother of the newborn to reconsider getting her child the Dtap, and linked to Everlee's pertussis story here on this blog as an example of how an infant handles pertussis. Not only was the comment not approved by the woman who runs Modern Alternative Mama, but the mother also received an e-mail saying that the blog didn't allow commenters to use "scare tactics" and so the comment would be censored. After reading the e-mail myself, I was somewhat surprised--until I went to the blog's Facebook page and saw the anti-vax posts from the blog author. Typical stuff I encounter on a daily basis from the underbelly of the mercifully sparsely populated anti-vax world, more banal than the truly bizarre "Moms Who Vax Make Up Their Stories" conspiracy theories floating around. 

Still, I found myself stewing over this one.

In many ways, I am not surprised that we live in a world where the true story of a vaccine-preventable disease can be considered a "scare tactic." After all, we are still burdened by climate science skeptics and Creationists who believe the earth is 6,000 years old and that we hung out with our dino friends. But coming as it did in the midst of preparing a story from another mother whose life was changed by a vaccine preventable disease, I found this appellation--"scare tactic"--used to describe Everlee's story particularly distasteful, even for the anti-vax crowd. While serious side effects from vaccines are exceptionally rare, I would never look a parent, whose child had had a bad reaction to a shot, in the eye and say: your story, and your child, are a scare tactic, and therefore you do not deserve to be heard. I'm not certain how you can respond to any parent who is suffering in such a dismissive way and remain human. It doesn't necessarily mean you agree with their theories as to why their child became ill, or that you acknowledge that such reactions are common, but it means you have a basic level of compassion. 

Illness and death from vaccine-preventable disease, which are far, far more common and, unfortunately, on the rise, are not scare tactics. They are the true stories of fellow human beings who want to be heard and, even more important, who want to save other families the heartache they've suffered. More, the science is on their side. The facts are on their side. And I, as a parent, am deeply grateful for the work they do by keeping their wounds wide open in order that they might save lives, something those who criticize them have no interest in doing. 

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