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December 07, 2007

Book Club: The Vaccine Book

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Join us today as we discuss The Vaccine Book by Robert W. Sears. This is the second time that contributors of Silicon Valley Moms Blog, Chicago Moms Blog, DC Metro Moms Blog and NYC Moms Blog (along with the rest our friends throughout the blogsphere) will be discussing, reviewing and critiquing a book, together. Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts.  If you have written a post about this book on your personal site, please make sure to leave that link in the comment section!

My son was 10 months old. His fever hit 104, and we panicked.

He had no other symptoms except a two-day high fever. We threw him in the car and raced to the ER. To make matters worse, we were living in a second-world country with a language barrier. Doctors checked him and told us his ears were clear, a nurse administered another dose of Ibuprofen. His fever wouldn’t drop so the nurses gave him a sponge bath and drew some blood. The blood work came back positive for a what-we-thought-to-be blood infection and immediately they began IV antibiotics.

The concern all along was meningitis. We were scared. Meningitis is a scary word to hear about your 10-month-old little boy.  I sat watching my only child being poked and prodded during the two-hour IV treatment, and he cried the whole time. The good news was our chances of meningitis developing were

low because he had been up-to-date on all his vaccines. I never thought I would have to learn about the diseases my kids were vaccinated against, or worse, come face to face with one. Seeing my baby lying there sick, made me thankful for the Pneumococcal and HIB vaccine which helps prevent meningitis. I don’t want to see my kids go through such a serious disease and if there is a vaccine to help prevent any such disease, sign me up.

Since then, every vaccine my children received got attention from me. I wanted to know what the vaccine was and the disease it helped prevent. Not because I want to debate its merits, but because I think a parent should be informed about what doctors put into our children.

My kids are now past the 28-recommended vaccines for children up to age two. (Good grief!) They received them all, though not necessarily at the recommended time. They endured the needles and whatever minor side effects came with the shots. With each vaccine, I did the research, talked to other moms and doctors. I felt educated about the decisions that I made. Were my doctors helpful in making my final decision? No.

Now, after finishing Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book I feel like I made the right decisions for my children and understand better why our pediatricians were not helpful to me in making those decisions.

We chose to space out the kids’ injections, only doing up to three at a time. However, now that I've read about Sears’ research and recommendations, I see a few things I would have changed along the way. I would also have taken the opportunity to educate my own pediatrician. I hope this book becomes recommended reading for doctors; it might make them less inclined to argue with parents, as some did with me, about delaying certain shots.

Parents who don’t ask questions and follow the appropriate AAP vaccination schedule without hesitation or questions, well, this book may not be for you. But I know there are many moms who wonder about schedules for shots and weigh the pros and cons of getting certain vaccines. Sears provides a wealth of information on each vaccine and everything from details on the disease, how serious, treatable and prevalent each one is. He gives thorough detail on what is actually in each injection (ewww, I’m so glad I didn’t know what went into these), discusses side effects, and gives his opinion on that vaccine.

This book provided an objective view of the vaccines, albeit from a doctor’s standpoint. I know there are similar books out there intended to convince people not to vaccinate for this reason or that. If you’re going to go that route, it’s a personal decision you make for your family. But before deciding to skip a particular vaccine or all of them, parents should know as much as they can about what they are passing up and be willing to accept the risks. My kids aren’t vaccinated for the flu each year for certain personal reasons and I take on the responsibility of dealing with any flu consequences.

You can't have a complete discussion of vaccines without considering social responsibility. The Vaccine Book only touched on this topic toward the end, and, for the most part, leaves parents to draw their own conclusions. Do I think it’s my social responsibility to get my kids vaccinated? The answer is yes and no. There are horrible diseases out there we vaccinate for and I have no problem jumping on the bandwagon to do away with Polio, Meningitis, and Hepatitis. I don’t think Chickenpox, Measles, and Mumps are life threatening enough to get vaccinated against. I think it’s great these shots are available for people if they want them, but I also don’t think the risk factor of potential side effects is worth it if a parent has doubt. Be aware, you can get a lot of grief from doctors on passing up a vaccine. My children did get some much later than recommended, and I probably would have requested giving them separated vaccines instead of the combined MMR vaccine. When it comes down to it, I think that if a parent is educated about the impact of passing up a vaccine and has good reason to do so, doctors can state their opinions, but in the end it’s really up to the parent.

I found something perhaps more interesting than the detailed information about the vaccines in the Preface to the book:

"Doctors learn a lot about diseases in medical school, but we learn very little about vaccines, other than the fact that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies do extensive research on vaccines to make sure they are safe and effective. We don't review the research ourselves. We never learn what goes into making vaccines or how safety is studied. We trust and take for granted that the proper researchers are doing their jobs. So, when patients want a little more information about shots, all we can really say as doctors is that the diseases are bad and the shots are good. But we don't know enough to answer all your questions about vaccines."

This was my gut feeling all along. Every time I asked my pediatrician about a vaccine, I was handed the piece of paper. We all know which one that is—the one from the CDC with all the bad stuff about the vaccine as a way to CYA. In fact, I received the same piece of paper in three different countries. There were only a few nurses along the way who took the time to educate me on the diseases AND the vaccines so I could make a decision.

It’s frustrating when our pediatricians can’t educate us on something like this and now I see why . . .most of them just don’t know. Sometimes it makes me wonder what else our doctors tell us to do (or not) just because they have to. Giving up bottles at one year? Taking away a pacifier too early?

I'd certainly include this book among the other parenting books recommended for new moms,—not to add confusion about one more decision to make, but so parents have all the information about this decision at their fingertips.

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