It's time for me to weigh in to the vaccination debate
I've avoided saying anything about vaccines and autism for a long, long time. And I'm not actually going to say anything about the scientific basis for vaccines or studies showing or not showing links to autism. It's not my area of expertise at all.
What I want to talk about is the conversations around the vaccine debate and how it operates, because that's almost as important as the science itself.
I'll be up front. I have dogs in this fight. But on both sides. I grew up seeing the terrible effects of rampant diseases on third world populations. I've helped vaccinate children against polio in outlying Pakistani villages. I've had copious vaccinations myself. I've also had measles (age 5). And mumps (age 9). And chickenpox (age 14). Chickenpox was definitely the worst. I've vaccinated my children, the first two eagerly and enthusiastically, the second two in tears and with fear down my spine. And I have a child with autism.
I can't tell you if my son's autism came about because of vaccinations. I don't have a story like this one, where my son clearly and devastatingly got 'lost' in autism after a vaccination. I simply don't know what happened, or where it came from or why autism spectrum disorders are increasing .
What I do know is there's an argument going on in the world right now that goes like this:
Pro-vax: "Vaccinations are awesome. Look, no more small pox!"
Anti-vax: "Yes, but there's a problem."
Pro-vax: "Can't you see the good vaccinations are doing? Don't be selfish and stupid."
Anti-vax: "Yes, but there's a problem. See my child? He got hurt."
Pro-vax: "There's no problem."
Anti-vax: "I'm telling you. My child got hurt. Can we work out another way to do this?"
Pro-vax: "You don't deserve to open your mouth. You are evil and stupid and want to kill children. There is no problem."
Anti-vax: "Don't tell me there's no problem. I'm telling you there is a problem, you big-pharma-brainwashed, government mouthpiece sheep. Autism."
Pro-vax: "There's no problem. And even if there is a problem, as you would have us believe, you neglectful anti-vaxxing parent, autism isn't a problem."
Anti-vax: "Get stuffed."
Pro-vax: "You get stuffed."
And there we have it. Zero dialogue. Zero communication.
I'm not a scientist. Maybe vaccinations are perfectly safe. I'd love to hope they are. For the majority of kids, it seems they are. For parents of these kids, it's easy to share a pro-vaxx infographic on facebook or take someone to task for having a different opinion. Hey, I survived vaccinations. And I had a lot of them.
I am a parent, though, and a parent of a child with autism, albeit 'mild' and I know the trauma and distress it's brought all of our family. And when I read stories of children who were okay before the vaccination and not okay afterwards, I have terrible, terrible pity in my heart for all of them. Maybe there is a problem with vaccinations, I think. But if there is, it doesn't seem like anyone's listening.
I'm guessing that most anti-vaxxers don't want a bunch of children to die. Who would? But their reality is that they believe vaccinations hurt their child and that no one is listening. And we all know that we will go in to battle for our children if we see them getting hurt and unable to help themselves. We have to listen to people's stories, especially when they are birthed out of heartache, trauma and pain. We have to honour what they feel and what they think. We have to listen.
Look, you stand where you stand on the vaccination debate. Me? I'm off the fence, but I'm standing close to it so I can listen to the other side as well. And that's what I'd wish for all of us. To read a little and hear a little of the other side, whatever side that is. We all want to keep our children safe, from death and disability. It's going to take compassion and listening and the sort of communication that's more than just throwing infographics and accusations around.