Vaccinations: My Choice for My Children

Jana has a great post up over at Exponent about an experience she had with her son as a baby. At the end she asks these questions:

I am curious what experiences have contributed to your parenting styles/philosophies? Are there incidents that dramatically shaped your approach to nurturing or caregiving?

I wanted to answer these questions, but I didn’t really want to start a vaccine debate (which can get ugly) on someone else’s site, so I decided to post my response here.

The biggest thing that has contributed to and changed my parenting style and philosophies has been my oldest son’s autism. The biggest thing that it has taught me is to be aware of what is going on with my children and with their bodies. It has also taught me that things that are good for many kids are not necessarily good for my kids.

All of my kids have GI issues. They are myriad and long, so I’m going to summarize them, and the conclusions I’ve come to from them.

DS #1 has had various GI issues including persistent reflux for the first 10 months of his life. We finally started figuring out some of his problems and really trying to solve them when he was 2.5. He has autism and some possibly anaphylactic allergies.

DS #2’s GI problems include chronic diarrhea. We started figuring out his problems and trying to solve them when he was 17mo. He has no neurological problems but has multiple food intolerances and is very underweight.

DS #3’s GI problems included horrible gas and reflux that he was choking on. We identified and started intervening in his problems when he was 1mo. He is a happy baby who has no problems so far and is in the 90th percentile in height and 50th in weight.

We are currently diagnosing and treating all three of the kiddos. They are all getting better, and hopefully we’ll be able to figure out everything that’s going on with their little bodies so we can help them even more. But I am much more aware these days of everything that goes into those bodies, and am very observant of any reactions. I am grateful that I have gotten better about identifying reactions so I can keep my children healthier and happier.

Because of my kids’ GI and immune issues, and because of their reactions to many things (including vaccines), I am currently delaying vaccinations for my younger two children. This is not a rash decision; it is one I have considered, studied both sides of, and prayed about. Right now I feel like vaccinating my kiddos would do more harm than good. I don’t think vaccinations are bad. I am grateful for vaccinations and many other advances in medicine that give us the opportunity to make our children healthier.

On the other hand, just because something is good for most people, it is not necessarily good for everyone. Soy is generally considered a pretty healthy food, but it causes DS #2 to break out in blisters all over his legs and bottom. When you see a 6mo with over 100 blisters on the lower half of his little body, one of which has gotten a staph infection, you realize that soy is not at all healthy for him. And cashews — nuts are good for you, right? Except they have the potential to kill DS #1. We no longer have cashews in our house.

This principal holds true in other areas as well. Many parents teach their children to behave in sacrament meeting by not letting them play or do other fun things when they are taken out of the chapel. While it’s a good strategy, this will never work with our oldest. If he gets overstimulated in the chapel, we willingly take him out, and praise him for making it through however long he did. We try to take him back in, but if he can’t handle it we simply sit in the foyer (this happens every week — the only question is how long we make it before we end up in the foyer). There are many great parenting and disciplining strategies that simply won’t work with him because of his unique challenges. I have had to re-think and learn new techniques constantly as I struggle to raise him and our other two children.

I am grateful for my children and the many things they have taught me. I am grateful that I am a more experienced parent and am able to keep my kids happier and healthier all the time. I get upset when people react to my parenting decisions with “instant anger” or consider them “unethical.” I don’t presume to make parenting decisions for other people — I assume that they know their children, and that they have studied the issues and decided what is best for their family. I would simply appreciate the same consideration.

Please keep our comment policy in mind, and be civil to everyone whether or not you agree with them. Otherwise, you will be Bounced.


  1. I love the way you address this hot issue by saying that you take this on a kid-by-kid basis. It is definitely true that what is good for some is not good for others, and I think that’s an excellent way to approach vaccinations.
    I chose to have my daughter vaccinated (it was really difficult for me), but if she was very reaction-prone, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision.
    This is a great, level-headed post.

  2. It sounds like you are being thoughtful and intelligent about how you raise your children. Thank you also for the reminder that we can never judge another by appearances. As you stated, for some families, the foyer is a punishment. For your family, it is part of the weekly routine, and you have your system all worked out.

    Wouldn’t you agree that one of the most profound effects of parenthood is the amazing ways our minds are opened to new points of view? Especially to God’s point of view. He does view each of us as individuals, somehow tailoring our mortal experience to our unique strengths, weaknesses, needs, and wants. I don’t understand how it all fits together, but I have flashes of insight, just from interacting with my own children.

  3. Vada, I love to hear what a proactive parent you are in solving or managing your kids’ health difficulties. One big message I got out of the book How Doctors Think is that doctors, particularly specialists, can lose sight of the big picture of health problems, so it’s the people who are really assertive in managing things that get the best care. It’s good to see you modeling it, because I’ve sometimes felt I haven’t been assertive enough with doctors in getting my kids what they needed.

  4. I can appreciate your concern for your kids, and acknowledge the difficulties their health problems have caused. I did want to correct a point.

    Vaccinations are NOT an individual decision alone. Your decision to not vaccinate your children against Measles does not affect them alone. If this were the case, your tradeoff is reasonable based upon the above. The problem is that your decision to not vaccinate makes it that much more likely that someone in the community will catch the disease. Herd immunity.

    I am not saying that your decision will cause someone else to catch the disease. Your decision may or may not affect. The problem is that it is a communal thing. if 10-15% of children are not immunized against measles – we loose herd immunity. Thus the 15% who don’t immunitze are no longer protected by those who were.

    I would rather save this “exemption” from those who are severely sick, such as those who have an immune disorder or for organ transplant recipients. It is a personal decision, but it MUST be acknowledged that the decision to immunize does not ONLY affect the child.

  5. ola senor, you make a good point. One family’s decision to vaccinate their kids or not affects people around them. But don’t you think the same could be said for all the decisions parents make? If I raise my kids to use aggression to get what they want, that has a negative effect on everyone they interact with. On the other hand, if I raise them to value learning, maybe they’ll discover a way to make cars run on nitrogen, and everyone will benefit. I guess I think all our parenting decisions have effects that spill over outside of our families, and I wonder whether we don’t over-focus on how that process works for vaccination because it’s a straightforward and relatively easy to model process.

    All that being said, I agree that vaccinating kids should be the default choice. But individual circumstances like Vada’s can be reason to move away from that default.

  6. From a public health perspective I agree that vaccination is the default choice. As a parent I stay involved by researching and considering each of those vaccinations individually and by viewing each of my children as a separate choice.

  7. Thank you for adding your experiences to this discussion from The Exponent about vaccinations. There are many reasons why vaccinations need to be delayed and/or not given to certain children (for example, most children in cancer treatment cannot have vaccinations).

    What I would like to avoid is a blanket knee-jerk response that all vaccinations are either good or bad. Rather, I think we need to make the best decisions possible after weighing the individual circumstances of our children. In that vein, I am highly pro-vaccination because I almost lost my son to pertussis. But I don’t deny the rights of parents to make these choices for themselves.

  8. This is a great post. I’ve had all my kids vaccinated on the recommended schedule, but with my youngest baby I’ve noticed that doctors and nurses are no longer just assuming that that’s what I want. They will ask me at each appointment if I want her to receive the recommended vaccines, when in the past they would just tell me which vaccines she will be receiving that day.

  9. I was the one who used the word “unethical” in my comment on Jana’s piece, and ola senor pretty much gets to what I was aiming for. I wasn’t talking about those who delay and space out vaccinations (as you have said you are doing), but those who opt out of vaccinations altogether.

    I had a conversation with an opt-outer parent of a child in my oldest child’s kindergarten class, and they had chosen not to vaccinate not for any particular health-related or religious reason, but just to avoid the general (really really small, for most children) risk of vaccinations. She said they would get immunizations if they were going to travel to the developing world, but otherwise they would just rely on the herd immunity. The parents interviewed in the recent Oregonian article said basically the same thing. That’s what’s unethical–not participating in the risk, but reaping the benefits. If you have reason to believe that the risk to your children is considerably greater than normal (immune-compromised, etc.), that changes the calculus.

  10. That’s what’s unethical–not participating in the risk, but reaping the benefits.
    I see your point and agree that it would apply to some, but I’m not sure you can call everyone who opt-outs to avoid the risk unethical. While there is an undeniable public health benefit associated with vaccination, the vaccine industry was unethical in its handling of the mercury containing preservative thimerosal leading to a credibility problem for vaccines in general.

  11. I’m a health care provider and I run into a lot of parents who are concerned about immunizations these days. In addition to delaying immunizations as Vada has chosen to do, I did want to let parents out there know that you can have the vaccines broken down into the individual components– for example, you can get just the measles shot at a visit without the mumps and rubella added all at once. It is more expensive this way (more visits required) and not all clinics carry the separated vaccines, so it may take extra time and effort to find one that does. Anyway, just something to think about if you are worried about vaccinations.

  12. Vada,
    Like you, my oldest child with his many issues changed not only what treatments are wise for him, but what is deemed too risky for his little siblings. Vaccination decisions are one area where the ripples from his reactions and diagnoses are most measurably clear, and like you, I assume all parents are doing their best with the information they have for their individual children.

  13. I immunized my first child on schedule who then had severe side effects for several weeks. I delayed immunizations for him and my second child, and diligently studied all that I could after that. When he got his immunizations for his mission, he ended up in the hospital with the same kinds of side effects which lingered again for several weeks. I decided that I didn’t want to risk getting them for the last three children. I felt that I was doing what was best for my children.

  14. I believe in the communal health benefits of maintaining immunizations for children and adults. I also am glad my kids have been able to be immunized without any negative side effects. I hope my choice for my children also benefits other children who can’t have immunizations due to health problems or risks. I have issues with parents opting out for no reasons, but have no problems with parents who want to space out immunizations or go with one shot at a time.
    My doctor suggested my last tetanus shot be one with pertussis included due to adults often being the carrier and giving it to young children who are not yet immunized. My kids are old enough to be immunized, but I knew at church and in my neighborhood I would be around lots of infants and wanted to do my part to protect them.

  15. I am of the view that with so many illegal immigrants in my state its somewhat (the degree of which I am not sure off) unsafe to allow your c hildren to un-vaccinated. We have illegals all over our schools, playgrounds, and other public places. Diseases that have been literally unheard of for many years in the US are now making a comeback due to high levels of illegal immigration from south of the border.

  16. First, I want to thank everyone for being so civil. I’ve seen many vaccination conversations online, and this is the nicest I’ve seen by far.

    I think that it’s best not to have a knee-jerk reaction to vaccinations one way or the other (really, that’s true about most things). Every parent should do the research and decide what’s best for their children. If other parents I talk to have a concern about vaccinations, I generally recommend following a delayed schedule (Dr. Sears has a good one). I am definitely an advocate of giving only one shot at a time (and for only one disease at a time, as e suggested), and waiting a few weeks in between shots. But this, too, is based on my own parental experience — my kids react to so many things, so now try to only introduce one new thing at a time and observe them carefully, so I can know how that particular thing is affecting them. If others feel comfortable with the current vaccination schedule, I certainly have no problem with them following it.

    I feel the need to clarify my own practices, too. While I am an advocate for delayed and spaced out vaccinations, that’s not what I’m currently doing. I doubt my oldest will ever get another vaccination. My second has had one round of a couple of vaccinations, but he has enough undiagnosed problems at this point that he won’t be getting any vaccinations at least for the foreseeable future. The youngest will not get any vaccinations until he is at least 2 — we’ll see how healthy he is at that point. While I agree that herd immunity is a wonderful thing, I can’t justify putting my children at what I believe is serious risk (for them) just so others will have slightly less risk.

    Miles, thanks so much for your comment. One of the arguments in the vaccination debates that makes me most upset is that we need our children to be vaccinated to keep from spreading the disease to all the adults whose vaccinations have probably worn off. In my opinion, adult bodies are much more equipped to handle these diseases (even in their more inert forms), and anyone who doesn’t want to catch them should go and update their own vaccinations rather than yelling about my children’s vaccinations (or lack of them). So thank you for being a responsible adult and doing what you can to protect the children around you (rather than the other way around). I urge any healthy adult to do the same. (I do know the reason it’s often the other way around is that vaccinations for children are free, and for adults, they aren’t. I think it’s sad.)

    Thanks again for a great conversation!

  17. This is a great discussion, and I think the heart of the issue is that of being engaged, informed, attentive parents. While community health is important, that’s a difficult, nearly impossible argument to make to a parent caring for one, fragile or immuno-compromised child. And I love how sweetly you talk about taking care of your children’s needs, Vada.

    I did also want to bring up the fact that the US schedule is not universally comparable to that of other first-world countries with similar disease-exposure probabilities.

    The fact that in the US, drug manufacturers contribute to the FDA/CDC recommended schedule is something I find deeply problematic. While the US has approximately 58-70 recommended/scheduled vaccines (for girls, including annual flu from 18 months, HPV and the disputed varicella vaccine – which means 55-67 for boys) in a child’s lifetime before they are 18, other countries (Finland*) have as few as 8 for a child under 18 (*pentavalent/tetravalent doses, but still…).

    So (free math) that’s a possible 50-62 MORE vaccines in the US. I can’t be the only parent for whom this seems…well, troubling. And excessive.

  18. I appreciated your post.

    My wife and I decided against vaccination for both our boys after long and intense studies on the science and evidence behind the theory. We are currently in the process of adopting a little girl and since she is a ward of the court, we have to follow the court-appointed pediatricians’ recommendations. This has not been the best experience, but so far, she has had no severe reactions to any of the shots. It is interesting how the pediatrician seems to always comment on how healthy our boys look, even commenting on their “strong immune system”. May be not having vaccinated them has nothing to do with that, but the conversation is always a sore one when we talk about it with the pediatrician.

    I stumbled across this article tonight just a couple minutes before seeing your blog post, I thought I would put it up for all interested parties here to look over. It talks about steps taken that will make vaccine manufactures immune from litigation if the vaccines harm anyone.


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