Reflections on Growing Up Unvaccinated

Amy Parker was raised by what she calls in a Slate.com story “a health nut.” But she’s raising her three children differently, because the alternative approach to health and child care made her sick.

“I wasn’t vaccinated,” she writes. “I was brought up on an incredibly healthy diet: no sugar till I was 1, breastfed for over a year, organic homegrown vegetables, raw milk, no MSG, no additives, no aspartame. My mother used homeopathy, aromatherapy, osteopathy; we took daily supplements of vitamin C, echinacea, cod liver oil.”

Parker got lots of fresh air and exercise growing up next to a farm in England’s Lake District. She wasn’t allowed to drink soda, her family ate organic, local food and cooked everything from scratch.

Still, Parker got measles, mumps, rubella, viral meningitis, scarlet fever, whooping cough, yearly tonsillitis and chickenpox. When she was in her 20s, she got precancerous HPV (human papillomavirus), “and spent six months of my life wondering how I was going to tell my two children under the age of 7 that Mummy might have cancer before it was safely removed.”

So Parker isn’t a big fan of the anti-vaccine movement, of the all-natural, all the time lifestyle. “How could I,” she asks, “with my idyllic childhood and my amazing health food, get so freaking ill all the time?”

Yes, her family followed lots of good health habits: They didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. As Parker describes her mother, “She lived alternative health. And you know what? I’m glad she gave us such a great diet. I’m glad that she cared about us in that way.

“But it just didn’t stop me getting childhood illnesses.”

Parker is a different kind of mother. Although she makes sure her kids eat a healthful diet, they’ve also been vaccinated and are rarely ill.

According to a recent post on KevinMD.com, measles is among the most infectious of all known viruses; more than 90% of susceptible people – those who have not been vaccinated or who have not had the disease – will get it if they are exposed to it.

Before the measles vaccine in 1963, there were about 4 million cases annually in the U.S., but the vaccine has nearly eliminated them, except for the occasional outbreak, invariably due to someone who wasn’t vaccinated, and spreads it among other vulnerable people.

No wonder Parker wonders about claims that complications from childhood illnesses are extremely rare but that “vaccine injuries” are rampant. “If this is the case,” she writes, “I struggle to understand why I know far more people who have experienced complications from preventable childhood illnesses than I have ever met with complications from vaccines. I have friends who became deaf from measles. I have a partially sighted friend who contracted rubella in the womb. My ex got pneumonia from chickenpox. A friend’s brother died from meningitis.”

Of course, one person’s catalog of anecdotes does not build a scientific case. “But when facts and evidence-based science aren’t good enough to sway someone’s opinion about vaccinations, then this is where I come from,” says Parker. …[M]y personal experience prompts me to vaccinate my children and myself.”

“If you think your child’s immune system is strong enough to fight off vaccine-preventable diseases,” Parker says, “then it’s strong enough to fight off the tiny amounts of dead or weakened pathogens present in any of the vaccines.”

She also notes that “not everyone around you is that strong, not everyone has a choice, not everyone can fight those illnesses, and not everyone can be vaccinated. If you have a healthy child, then your healthy child can cope with vaccines and can care about those unhealthy children who can’t.”

If you or your children have avoided childhood illnesses without being vaccinated, then you are lucky. As Parker points out, you couldn’t do it without other people having been vaccinated.

To learn more, see our blogs, “Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective,” and “Adult Vaccinations: Overlooked and Underappreciated” and “HPV Vaccine Is a Clear Success.”

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