With two children under the age of 4, I’m no stranger to making those numerous visits to the doctor to get immunization shots. It is always a challenge; the children end up with fever, lose their already non-existent appetite, and are irritable for the next two days.
With the internet making information so easily accessible, I read up on immunization, hoping to find out more about which vaccines might be avoidable, and was surprised by how far from reality that question even is. The importance of vaccines cannot be stressed enough, if anything. I was even more horrified to learn that despite the undeniable need for them, many people still decide to not vaccinate their children.
All parents want the best for their children — that fact is undeniable. We all know about the absolute necessity for car seats, baby gates, and other items to keep them safe. We stress about cleanliness, and sterilising everything before the baby touches it. What I’ve learned is how parents still remain conflicted about the benefits and risks of childhood vaccination.
A contributing factor may be that an entire generation of women back in the early 80s began an anti-vaccination movement, making bogus claims about how immunization causes more harm than good to the children receiving them. Television talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey also played a big role in giving credence to the anti-vaccination campaign; saying that immunization could cause autism — an opinion without any scientific backing.
Another dominant reason for the anti-vaccination movement were the personal, religious views of some. For example, Pakistan is one of the three remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. Those with limited access to education in these countries believe that polio drops contain elements which are forbidden for consumption by religion, and refuse to let polio teams administer polio drops to their children. There is no cure for polio, and it can only be prevented by immunization.
Assisted by the World Health Organization, Pakistan, is currently hosting one of the largest Polio eradication drives in the world. Not only are there camps set up nationwide, but vaccinations drives are being held in schools, and volunteers are risking their lives every day to go to the remotest areas of the country to ensure that our country becomes Polio free.
I faced a certain situation recently, where the school my daughter goes to had set up a vaccination camp authorised by the WHO. I had a choice between giving her a needle injection in school, a place that is her safe space and could possibly have left her traumatized, or I could have gotten it done privately by one of the most trusted hospitals in the city. I wasn’t the only mother confused – almost everyone I met did not trust the free vaccine camps being set up all over the city. Why though? Because when our children are concerned, our first instinct is to always protect — which often means mistrusting external bodies.
Access to medical information online has further changed the dynamics of the healthcare industry and patient-doctor interactions. Medical knowledge that was previously held primarily by medical professionals, is now accessible to the layman, which has shifted the power from doctors to the patients themselves. This has led to the recent establishment of shared decision making between patients and healthcare physicians. While this is beneficial in some ways, the availability of misleading information online can also lead to negative consequences, such as parents not consenting to having their children vaccinated.
This is an issue world over, make no mistake. It can only be solved when people learn that immunization protects children from serious, potentially life threatening impediments. These are vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and whooping cough, which could all be taken care of. Depending on the severity, these diseases can lead to the amputation of an arm or leg, paralysis of limbs, hearing loss, convulsions, brain damage, and in some cases, death. Because of advances in medical science, these kinds of diseases that previously have killed thousands of children, have been eliminated entirely due to safe and effective vaccines.
Of course, vaccines might not be options for everyone despite wanting to have them administered. Some babies are too young to be protected by vaccination, and others might not be able to receive certain vaccinations due to personal allergies. Others might be unable to because they have weakened immune systems from conditions like leukaemia. These children remain exposed to certain strains of illness, and threaten other children around them by becoming carriers. To protect our children from viruses, it is important that the children who are able to get vaccinated, do get fully immunized.
I strongly believe the choice to breastfeed or not breastfeed is a personal one. Deciding when and where your child goes to school is a personal choice. Deciding to be vegan, even, is the perfect example of a personal choice. Vaccination should not be considered a personal choice. A personal choice does not affect entire communities. I’m all for vaccinations. I, for one, don’t want diseases that were wiped out once thanks to medical innovation, to come back as even bigger epidemics. Babies that are too young to make a decision about vaccination depend on adults like us to make the right choice for them — we have to vaccinate our own children.