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Validating vaccine hesitancy

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Do you find yourself filled with anxiety heading into your child’s wellness visits because you have concerns over potential adverse effects of vaccine ingredients? Do you feel like when you bring up questions about these concerns, they’re minimized with responses like, “There’s no link between vaccines and autism,” or “The potential for side effects is ‘very rare’,” and you don’t actually get to have a conversation about the potential toxic effects of aluminum or other vaccine ingredients on the developing brain? And the reason you’re concerned about this is that you know an infant’s blood-brain barrier is more porous and susceptible to injury. Are you seeking unbiased information that will help guide your decision whether or not to vaccinate your child but being met with comments that you’re “putting everyone at risk” by questioning the status quo?

If providers were to share information about the risks and benefits of various choices with consistent language (e.g., statistics provided for each risk factor), then families will be able to make informed decisions with less fear and anxiety potentially influencing their judgement. If families felt listened to and respected instead of dismissed and minimized, they will be more able to trust their providers and the healthcare system at large. If research was truly unbiased, then people will be able to trust the conclusions and recommendations that are made based on its data.

I’ve had a number of families tell me that when they look for information on vaccine safety to guide their decisions regarding immunizing their children, the resources and responses come across as one-sided. They share that in the educational modules presented by the public health department, the risks associated with the illnesses are discussed with statistics (e.g., 1:1000 people who get measles will develop encephalitis) and the risks associated with the vaccines are presented with generalized phrases such as “very rare”. The question they have is “What is ‘very rare’?” and when they have gone to find additional information on those statistics, it’s either not available or not accessible. Even as a medical provider, I have run into this same problem and have had to put in hours and hours of time and energy to research the answers. I believe that a big reason that the issue of vaccination has become so divisive is due to a lack of transparency. Families in my practice have told me that because I have been forthcoming about these issues and have aimed to provide balanced discussions that address concerns with the information that is available to me, they now feel less alienated and disrespected and feel better equipped to make these choices. Ultimately, these families have the same goal as the public health officials and providers that are advocating for vaccination and that is to keep our children healthy and safe.

Three unbiased resources to get started:

  1. “The Vaccine-Friendly Plan” by Paul Thomas, MD. I know the title of this book implies a pro-vaccine stance, but the contents actually provide a well-balanced discussion of the different aspects that should be evaluated with each of the vaccines that appear on the CDC schedule. Dr. Thomas also discusses the outcomes, including prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders, in his patient population and the correlation with their vaccine statuses.

  2. This website provides a database that lists the ingredients (and amounts of those ingredients, when available) of each vaccine and the known health risks associated with each ingredient.

  3. Me. Post your questions in the comments or send them in a message. I’ll compile the questions & answers at the end of the week and post them the following week for everyone’s reference.

If we want to make any headway with this conflict, we need to start hearing and respecting each other. The shame game has got to end. Families: continue to challenge the status quo by asking questions. Medical community: start investigating answers to the questions that these families are asking. When we start acting like we’re on the same team, we’ll be able to do a much better job of protecting more children.

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