The Great Vaccine Debate

Louisa Leontiades Complicated Roots, Parenting-General

Decisions about whether to choose ketchup or mustard with your hot dog are not difficult (those who know me, also know my response would be ~ why choose?  Have both!). Decisions about whether to sacrifice time for money are more difficult. But the decision about whether to put your children through pain in order to save your lover from a potentially life threatening illness, sends my emotions into a tailspin.

The great vaccine debate is part of our current social fabric. I live on an alternative-minded island where a significant proportion of the population is virulently critical of western medicine. But even they, when they hear about how my boyfriend is walking around, vigorously stretching 2 weeks after having someone else’s liver inserted in his body, will concede that western medicine ‘has its uses’. Start them off about vaccines though and it’s a different matter. I’ve had some of my best friends begging me, pleading with tears running down their faces, not to have the MMR vaccine. It is ~ for them ~ akin to murder. And I am ~ in their eyes ~ a murderer.

It takes a steel heart to stand up to that amount of pressure from people you care about, even if you believe in vaccines. People tell you to go with your instinct as a mother and I hate vaccines. And yet despite the harsh judgments I do them anyway. Why?

I’m not against vaccines intellectually. I think it’s astounding how far our medical know-how has come and what we can do to protect our community. I have issues with vaccine timing in the UK because I believe that it’s scheduled in order to get children into day care and mothers back to work as quickly as possible. It is one of the reasons, I am so happy with the maternity system in Sweden. But vaccines are sooner or later, a necessary decision for all parents in the western world. I take the advice of the professionals not friends, because I am not a doctor (and neither are they). And yet…

Chicken Pox isn’t a big deal. But to someone who has undergone a liver transplant, as my lover has, the consequences and complications of chicken pox can be severe. Definitely to be avoided. Maybe fatal. And as we both attended the post-op classes of how to protect him against infectious diseases, chills ran down my spine and sweat pooled in my hairline. My children, who have complained incessantly of his absence would never be allowed to see him again… unless they were vaccinated against Chicken Pox. An itty bitty pin prick, so what?

Forcefully holding your child down while strange white coated officials pierce their bodies with foreign bodies when they aren’t sick, listening to their screams of distress ripping out your innards and watching their little faces filled with shock, betrayal and utter terror goes totally against every fabric of my being. I don’t know the doctors. I trust them as much as I trust anyone with the lives of my children. Not much. And whilst I see with my own eyes how they saved the life of my lover, I also see with my own eyes that they have never done anything yet but hurt my children with large needles. I make this vaccination investment in their childhood amid a plethora of information and misinformation, I enforce this trauma, in the hope that I am perhaps safeguarding them and the world against a fatal threat.  I take a leap of faith. But it hurts.

Polio. Diphtheria. Whooping cough. Tetanus et al. Sorry anti-vaxxers – I’m still for them. But chicken pox. It’s an opt-in vaccine. Which means that even western medicine agrees it isn’t vital to our herd protection even if it is vital to protect my lover.

So I did it. I caused my children pain with a non-vital vaccine, because I have been selfish enough to fall in love. Does it mean I care more about him than about them? My conscience is tormenting me. I know that tomorrow when I see them happily gambolling in the wild flowers and rocks of our island, when they’ve forgotten the pain of this morning, it won’t be a big deal. But today as I see them moping, miserable and mistrustful of me, it is.