This week the Australian government announced the proposal of the “No Jab No Pay” law that would withhold child benefits from families who fail to immunize their children. The law is expected to pass without objection.
While I strongly support vaccinating your children, my immediate reaction to this is to defend basic human rights. These still exist, no? Surprisingly to me, 97% of Australians vaccinate, but with the rise in anti-vaccinators in that country, there are more than 27,000 children whose parents refuse the scheduled vaccines. They are being told they no longer have the choice, or they sacrifice benefits to help support their families.
I am no stranger to the immunization debate. My son is autistic. He is nonverbal. And he struggles every day to be accepted. I have been thwarted with accusations that perhaps it’s MY fault because I chose to have him immunized. Did you know that at least seven large studies in major medical journals have now found no association between vaccinations and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? I do. Because I do what any parent should do: I research.
The number one reason that the debate even exists is that anti-vaccinators believe that because children now get twice as many vaccines as they did in 1980, they are to blame for the rise in kids with ASD. It’s a valid point, but an uneducated one in my opinion. Autism is on the rise because of medical breakthroughs in the last 50 years. Doctors now have the ability to recognize more and more spectrum behaviors and more children and being provided the help that they need. Children that generations before were labelled ‘retarded’ or mentally handicapped.
In 1998, the Lancet published a study by former Doctor Andre Wakefield that linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism. The original study was retracted in February of 2011 because of significant errors and misinformation, but the suspicion still remains.
One year later, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a warning about thimerosal, the mercury-containing preservative that was found in most vaccines. Though it only suggested that the use of vaccines with thimerosal could push an infant’s total exposure of mercury above safe limits, and it recommended that the preservative be removed from shots, it still instilled fear in parents that there was a connection to autism
And while the debate was already publicly mainstream when actress Jenny McCarthy went public with her belief that vaccines caused her son’s autism, the vaccine-autism hypothesis was debunked by several demographic analyses that found that autism rates continued to rise even after thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines.
Because I feel so strongly about there being no link between autism and vaccinations, I also feel very strongly for those parents who fear there is one. The research available is cumbersome and saturated and despite my own strong beliefs, even I can see the case supported by anti-vaccinators.
As parents, our gut feelings and our own experiences are what lead us to make decisions for our children. And while I’ve done my own research and come to my own conclusions based on that research, who am I to assume that they haven’t?
I am fiercely protective, insanely biased, and 100% an over-reactor when it comes to my children and their personal safety. I refuse to allow them around other sick children and I Purell every time we come home from the playground. I spend countless hours on Google looking for new programs for my autistic son that will provide him a safe learning environment; and I make no apologies when I glare at mothers who allow their own children to run amok and harm other children. I’m normal. This doesn’t make me special.
For me, scientifically, there’s no debate. In combination with clean water and sanitation, vaccines are one of the most effective public health measures ever introduced, saving millions of lives every year. For me, I am doing MY due diligence to protect my children. For me, my son’s autism is related strictly to a neurological disorder he formed in-utero.
I believe that choosing to not vaccinate your child is an unsafe decision. I believe the pros outweigh the cons and I fear for any child whose parents have made that decision for them. I believe they’ve made a mistake, but I’m certainly not going to judge them on a soapbox for it.
Personally, emotionally, and culturally, I do understand why there is a debate though.
The opinions and conversations are wide-spread and vast, but the one truth remains the same to me: As human beings we should be given the right to make the decision ourselves without fear of judgement, ridicule, or punishment. And Australia is taking that right away from their citizens. As a mother who relies on her child benefits every month, I can’t imagine being refused that funding because I chose to do what I felt was best for my own children.
We do the best we can with whatever the world has given us. Time and time again obstacles are placed before us that challenge even the strongest minds, opinions, and beliefs. I am a firm believer in the freedom to make your own decisions for yourself and your family, regardless of who agrees or disagrees with you.
Sure, I’ll preach my pro-vaccination to whomever will listen. But I will never condemn anyone for choosing differently.
That should be your right.