Everyone who is listening has already heard or read that the lone research paper linking autism to vaccines has been disproved. It was wrong. Then why are so many parents hesitant to vaccinate their child? After all, it’s a near certainty that those very parents were vaccinated and they are fine. Yet still, some wonder why they should take that 1 in a million chance that a vaccine given to their child will cause harm? That’s a real number, by the way, 1 in 1,000,000 children vaccinated (in their lifetime, including all vaccinations) have a serious reaction. How many people get struck by lightening in a lifetime? 1 in 12,000.
If 29 children in a classroom are vaccinated against measles and 1 isn’t, what’s the harm? Probably none. However, the harm happens when it’s one in every classroom, or 5 in every classroom. Vaccines stop most cases of the disease that they are designed to fight, but not every case, so some children who are vaccinated and exposed to the germs will get the disease anyway. The more people who are vaccinated means that fewer of those disease germs are wandering through our playgrounds and schools. That’s the concept of herd immunity and it helps protect those few who aren’t vaccinated, or those few for whom the vaccine might not be effective, will be safe.
But if “no one” gets measles anymore (for example), can’t we stop giving the vaccine? No, or not yet. Because even if we are fortunate enough to eradicate it in this country, people travel to other countries and bring it back. Or visitors and immigrants bring exposure with them.
Tara Haelle speaks movingly and with authority about “vaccine hesitancy” — those parents who want to make the best decision they can for their children and deeply fear making the wrong decision. That fear can paralyze a parent, keeping them uncertain and delaying or stopping any decision. But not making a decision is an action itself.
Tara is a well-known health journalist who is also co-author of The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child’s First Four Years. And she’s the editor/writer of the newsletter for our sister organization, DES Action. We are thrilled to have her on our team, lending her evidence-based insights to challenging issues.
Please take 12 minutes to listen to Tara’s TedX talk Why Parents Fear Vaccines, and tell us below about your decisions on vaccinations. We want to hear what you have to say.