I work as Web Manager for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). All of the opinions in this blog are entirely mine.
Vaccination tells more about us than we think. My children look at my skin on the upper arm, and they see a strange mark – the scar from my smallpox shot, which dates me back to early 1970s, when this vaccine was still routinely administered.
With three small children, living across two countries – immunisation of children has become a regular topic in our family.
First, I approached the topic with blissful ignorance. My first child got it all according to the calendar, including the one for hepatitis B as well as BCG for tuberculosis, routinely administered in the country of his birth. He had no bad reactions after the shots, and I never hesitated or wondered – it was a thing of routine, almost like a personal hygiene, at times a bit of a nuisance (such as the paper-based immunisation passport that always lost), but generally doable. My only regret was the unavailability of rotavirus vaccine at the time – the week he spent in hospital at the age of 8 months was horrible.
With the second child, doctors kept delaying and delaying his further vaccination due to the cough he developed in the first couple of months of his life. Combined with a cold, his coughing led to a series of bronchitis, which led to children’s asthma diagnosis, which led to numerous blood and allergy tests. After almost half a year of visits to various doctors with diverse and contradictory guidance, we settled on a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, and planned out a customised vaccination schedule.
With the third child, I am mixing and matching the approaches of vaccination calendars and advice from family doctors of two countries. I spend time checking the effectiveness and purposefulness of vaccines and their combinations. I postpone vaccines that I dare to consider less urgent, and I will not hesitate with those that I consider absolutely essential, taking into account our frequent travels.
With the contradictory guidance and opinions flying around, decisions around vaccination are increasingly difficult for families to make. There is no other solution for this but more research and more information. It still remains the discretion and responsibility of parents to make vaccination decisions, but they should be well-informed decisions. I am absolutely horrified when I hear mothers refusing to vaccinate their children based on somebody else’s opinion in an Internet discussion forum.
Yes, as long as a sufficient number of people vaccinate their kids, you can somewhat safely believe that you’ll be the lucky one who will manage to avoid both any risk of vaccination side effects as well as the disease itself. However, one should keep in mind that a sufficient number of such free riders in a community leads to a “new equilibrium” - the point of epidemics breaking out.
Yes, as long as your kids are reasonably healthy, you can think that, should they catch the disease (which you of course believe is unlikely due to the free rider effect just described), they will successfully and fully recover and will develop natural immunity. First, think tetanus, polio and the like. Second, think all of the weaker individuals in the community who can catch the disease from your healthy kids and have a much worse outcome – old people, kids and grownups with other, often chronic diseases. Essentially, vaccination is a voluntary tax that you pay for the wellbeing of your kids as well as for the whole society.
It is just like with so many things in life, where you do not have complete information and cannot have a 100% guarantee of anything, and you make decisions based on your best knowledge of what is right and wrong.
As a colleague recently explained, the entire carpet of wood anemones on a hill is one single plant, connected underground. From a distance, it almost gives an impression of snow covering entire hills in the woods with an abundance of flowers. The older I become, the more I’m convinced that the smallpox scar on my arm is something that connects me invisibly, with people living and people underground.
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