We have discovered that, at least in Minnesota, the public health authorities and medical establishment is starting to pick up on the fact that parent-to-parent communication is an effective tool for increasing immunization rates. I recently participated in a panel discussion in front of local media to mark National Infant Immunization Week. On that panel were three eminent pediatricians (including the Head of Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic), as well as noted public health authorities, me, and the amazing Shannon Duffy, whose daughter died of a vaccine-preventable disease, and not because she was choosing not to vaccine. Take a look at the link for her story. Shannon's story is so profoundly moving and devastating, and it is an effective way to get the message across to new and expecting parents.
After that media event, I stood with these brilliant doctors and talked about vaccine-resistance. They said all the right things, talked about explaining the lack of a link between vaccines and autism, about continuing to press the message in appointment after appointment, but at a certain point, I said: "You know what would have helped make the decision easier for me? If the word 'death' had been used in my discussions with my pediatrician. She allowed me to delay my son's MMR (by 3 months) without fighting me on it at all. Telling me that measles can cause death would have kept me up at night." The doctors looked at one another, but Shannon nodded vigorously. Doctors have become afraid of using the D word, even when warranted. We are warned time and time again of the risk of death from anesthesia, rare as it is. Why do we not hear this, even in passing, in the pediatrician's office? Is it too harsh? I got the feeling from the doctors that it was. But it's all in the delivery, I reminded them. You don't get the James Mason God-voice and boom "Death!" You say, gently, that you are ethically obligated to let them know that the risk of not vaccinating includes serious disability or death. 'Nuff said.
Since the NIIW panel, the Minnesota Department of Health has asked me to be part of two more panels, including one on vaccine resistance. I also noticed that at my son's pediatrician's office, they are looking for volunteers to act as liaisons between the medical community and parents, not just for vaccine issues, but including them. I plan on volunteering for this and would urge anyone in the Twin Cities to volunteer as well. If you don't live in Minnesota, consider offering this service to your pediatrician. It's a given these days that nearly every practice will have some unvaccinated children. It is in our children's best interest to get these kids vaccinated, because an infant in the waiting room is incredibly vulnerable to a sick unvaccinated child. Whooping cough and measles have both recently been spread in this manner. Consider approaching your pediatrician with a proposal to run a few casual gatherings with new parents. Have a doctor present, of course, but as a parent, your experience has much more weight in so many cases (as sad as this is).
In Minnesota, we are looking to close the loophole that allows conscientious objectors to vaccines to face no obstacles in getting their children admitted to school. We do not know where to begin. If any of the Moms (or Dads) who vax out there have advice, connections, pointers, etc., for us, we'd be grateful. We are targeting our state legislature, and think we may have a representative who will present the bill, if we can only get this thing started. Several of our Minnesota Moms Who Vax feel the anti-vax movement in Minnesota is ramping up again. There is even a new "political party" based on vaccine rejectionism, called the Canary Party. We are looking for advice from knowledgeable folks about how to build this grassroots movement of vaccinating parents, to help vaccinating parents to shake off the complacency and become more active in this fight. Please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any tips or would like to help.
Finally, I just wanted to share this heartening story from our Mom Who Vaxs, Carly. Her cousin comes from a family of non-vaccinators; their father is a chiropractor who has taught his kids that vaccines cause all sorts of horrible things. This person's sister is not vaccinating her new baby because "a friend of mine's child developed Down's Syndrome after being vaccinated." Knowing this as background, Carly's story may brighten your day.
I had to share a small piece of good news on the immunization front. My cousin John's baby arrived a few days ago. I went to visit them yesterday at the hospital, and they ARE vaccinating the baby! Their son got the Hep A vaccine at the hospital. John said he spoke to a pediatrician that was willing to sit down and explain everything to him, which he appreciated, and his wife is vaccinated herself and in favor of it. John is also getting himself vaccinated and the doctor started him out with the whooping cough vaccine.
So in this case, a pediatrician taking a hard line and refusing to discuss the immunizations would have turned my cousin off. The soft approach worked better in reaching this "middle of the road" parent.