On Vaccinations, And Living In Community

February 8th, 2015 - filed under: The Farm » Family

Last year, to celebrate his 4th birthday, Damian and I took Waits to Disneyland for the first time. It was basically the best day ever, and we decided then and there that this would become an annual tradition for us. Kid birthdays at Disneyland!

Well, Waits is turning 5 next month, and I’m sure by now you know where I’m going with this. Because California is smack in the middle of a big (and growing) measles outbreak. And apparently, Disneyland is ground zero.

So the big question: Are we going to go to Disneyland this year for Waits’s birthday?

And the answer is yes, yes we are. Because all of us are vaccinated.

first vaccine

Waits and I in the exam room, before he got his very first vaccine. He was 4 1/2 months old. (And oh my goodness, do you remember those epically widespread, always-surprised baby eyebrows?! Good lawd those eyebrows melted my heart …)


So vaccines. This is something that I’ve been meaning to write about – and that people have been begging me to write about – for a very long time. The issue is mostly that I’m ridiculously busy, and writing a post like this takes a lot of precision, and care, and emotional energy. It has to be just right, because it’s such a charged topic.

And there’s a lot of topics like those, so many things I want and plan to write about some day. But my lack of time means that I’m often operating with numerous major blog posts just bubbling away in the back of my brain, turning over and percolating until one day, unexpectedly, they decide it’s time to come out.

And that’s what happened today, in the shower actually, when this post just began to boil over and spill out of my brain all at once. So much so that I had to leap from the shower and stand, literally dripping wet in the middle of my bathroom, as I scrawled this entire miniature manifesto on pieces of coral-colored scratch paper. By the time I was done scribbling, I was dry.

And I guess I’m ready to share my thoughts on vaccination, now.


I remember back when I was pregnant with Waits, and I began to think about vaccinations. And living in Portland – nestled comfortably in the warm attachment-parenting, natural living, eco-friendly, vegan embrace of Portland Oregon parenting circles – I was definitely exposed to a lot of wariness surrounding vaccination.

And you all know that I am a hippie at heart. Raised a hippie, always a hippie. But then, I also have this strange sort of inborn duality. Because after my mother died when I was 9, I was raised by both my father, and my godparents. And my father is an herbalist, acupuncturist, and practitioner of Chinese Medicine. But my godfather is an MD, and relatively western-medicine-oriented.

So I grew up exposed to the inner-workings of both sides, and I feel like it’s given me a uniquely broadened lens with which I approach the issues of health, wellness, and medicine.

Like on the one hand, I make my own Oil Of Oregano to use during cold and flu season. Because hippie. But then on the other hand, I’m also, ya know, an actual scientist – in graduate school studying and teaching biology.

A little of this . . . a little of that.

But I digress. That’s just my background, and meant to illustrate how and why I approach these sorts of issues. Which is:

Open minded, and intellectually honest.

And I feel like those two qualities are so often missing from the vaccination conversation, which tends to be drawn in black-and-white terms, steeped in hyperbole and barbed with ad hominem. It’s not pretty. It’s not smart. And it’s certainly not helpful.

So when it came time to educate myself on vaccines, I tried to avoid the more hand-wringing, shrill sorts of voices – on both sides. And actually, I avoided the majority of voices all together, because I wasn’t after opinions. I was after evidence.

My most valuable source was the most neutral and trusted book I could find: The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears.

This book is simple, straightforward, and methodical. Dr. Sears simply presents each of the vaccine-preventable diseases: what they do and how they’re transmitted, the possible complications and outcomes associated with each one, and the statistical probabilities that each of these things could happen to your child. Straight data.

He also very clearly covers each accompanying vaccine: how it’s made, what poisons it contains, how it’s administered (separate or grouped, live versus inactivated, and including specific brand names), the potential mild and severe side effects, and the statistical probabilities that any of those side affects would happen to your child. It is very frank, and very honest. Which was very much appreciated.

As I read through the book, I compiled my findings – essentially creating a “Cliffs Notes” version – in a Word doc which I then passed along to Damian. Once he had gone over it, and done a bit of his own research, we sat down to form a game plan.

To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate.


I remember when I was 22 years old, and taking my very first college-level Political Science course (and loving every single second of it). I remember very clearly the day that we learned about John Locke, and his concept of the “Social Contract”.

Locke believed that humans would intrinsically form communities in order to protect and abet one another, and that when they did, they sort of . . . “involuntarily volunteered” . . . to operate under a set of natural laws that would guide and govern them. Essentially, he argued that we do not exist solely as individuals, independent from the people around us. Instead, we are part of a larger social system, where our civil rights are granted to us when we resolve to respect and defend the civil rights of our fellow humans. It was basically an overly-complicated, “Age Of Enlightenment”-y version of “We’re all in this together, man.”

And it resonated deeply with me.

Because HIPPIE, right?! But seriously, when I learned about Locke and how his ideas had helped to animate the foundation of our country, had informed our very Declaration Of Independence, I was nothing short of inspired. Because these are my beliefs as well.

I am a godless heathen with no spiritualism to guide me. But I do believe in goodness. I believe in our humanity. And I believe in community.


And this is what Damian and I kept returning to, as we talked and talked and talked our way around the vaccine debate. And boy howdy, did we talk! For weeks, maybe months, and from every angle. We examined and uncovered, sifted and sleuthed. We adopted new perspectives just to try them on for size – to see how the words felt falling from our lips. We’d be hot one day, and cold another. It was hard and it was confusing.

But it helped.

And now I’m going to say something that might make me unpopular:

It seems to me that when it comes down to it, those who choose not to vaccinate their children are only able to exercise this privilege because the vast majority of people are providing herd immunity. Period. End of story. (And yes, I have read all the “Herd Immunity Is A Myth” literature out there, and I don’t buy it. Not for one. single second. Because I may be a hippie, but gosh, I’m also a scientist. And there’s just no question. Heard Immunity is real.)

That said, we do know that there are serious risks associated with vaccines, and I’m not talking about friggin’ autism here. I mean seizures, Guillain-Barre syndrome, intussusception (where the intestine ‘telescopes’ in on itself), nerve dysfunction, etc, are all noted on the vaccine inserts, which are written by the manufacturers themselves. This is not hysteria or conspiracy theory. This is coming straight from the pharmaceutical companies that make the vaccines.

So to be clear – getting a vaccine DOES carry a very real – albeit small – risk.

However. People who choose not to vaccinate are, in no uncertain terms, choosing to allow everyone around them to shoulder that risk, and banking on the herd immunity to protect them while they opt out of taking the same risk. And as a parent, I get that. It’s your job to minimize your own child’s risk in whatever way possible.

But then . . . I got to thinking. As a parent.

And I thought about the Social Contract, and what I wanted to teach my child about what it means to belong to a community of fellow humans. To belong to his humanity.

And I thought about how, as a parent, I’m not *just* responsible for protecting my child’s physical safety. No, I’m also responsible for molding him into the man that he will some day become, and thus the way that he will move through the world forevermore. And so I asked myself, what kind of man do I want to teach him to become?

Do I want to teach him, “Me! Me! Me, at the expense of those around me!”

Or do I want to teach him, I am in community. I am part of something that is bigger than myself, and I have a responsibility to respect and protect my fellow beings.”

And that, ultimately, is how I made my decision. I chose to walk my talk. I chose community.


So we vaccinate Waits. We delayed some of the vaccines, and we keep an alternative schedule, but we do vaccinate our son. There are undeniable risks associated with vaccines, and that’s why I prefer to space them out, and to save as many as we can for when he’s older (most of the risks, especially seizures, are higher in younger children). Anyway, he doesn’t need to be vaccinated for sexually transmitted diseases when he’s 4 years old. But the ones that affect him and the people around him – the highly contagious communicable diseases – well, he’s all caught up on those.*

And as I wrap this up, I’d like to emphasize that this is not meant to be a prescriptive post. I am not telling you what to do or think, and I’m certainly not talking in terms of law or public policy. I wrote this post because I wanted to share my thoughts on a very confusing topic. I wanted to express empathy for the parents who are scared and confused. I wanted to provide space to acknowledge that this issue isn’t as black and white as either side tries to paint it.

But it is important, and that’s why I decided (unexpectedly! in the shower!) to share my own process, and my ultimate decision.

And now, just one last thing before I go: please be nice. Please weigh in below in the comments. Please share your own thoughts and ideas. Please speak honestly and from the heart. You don’t have to agree with me or with each other, but please, please be nice. I have only ever deleted one or two comments in the entire 6-year history of this blog. So please, let’s keep it that way.

Alright my dears, now it’s your turn. Thoughts?

*Except flu. I don’t get the flu vaccine and neither does Waits. This post is about the standard series of childhood vaccinations, not the ever-changing annual flu vaccine. Just wanted to clarify that!

  • Momster

    My son had whooping cough and it was anything but benign. 6 weeks in a coma and on a ventilator, doctors told us the outlook was not good. He spent a total of 3 months in the hospital, picking up nosocomial diseases along the way. He was 2 months old at the time. He was one of the lucky ones to pull through, for a lot of infants it’s fatal.

  • Rachel
  • Rachel

    I’m afraid you’ve completely misunderstood the science of vaccine shedding, which is completely different to transmission of an actual disease. Here’s how it actually works (using flu as an example):


  • Rachel

    There are two Dr Sears, the pro-vax Sears who wrote the book Sayward referenced, and his son Bob Sears who is anti-vax. You need to do more research in this area :)

    Vaccine shedding does not cause transmission, please research this properly before spreading myths..

  • Rachel

    That’s because the risks are small compared with other things, eg driving puts your child at a higher risk of death or injury.. Look up the statistics and see for yourself.

  • veronika

    there is no comparison in figures. The rates in Africa were cited to stress the point that populations that are still being affected by preventable childhood diseases are those that actively choose to immunize and take advantage of the scientific progress we’ve made in the past 50 years.

  • http://www.pinterest.com/magicandmayhem/ magicandmayhem

    Sigh. I have been such a big fan of yours and have suggested your blog to so many. I started out as a blindly vaccinating parent and many events (too much to go into here) led me farther and farther into my own research instead of that blind trust I gave the government/medical establishment when my first babies were born — hundreds of hours spent reading medical journals, books, CDC pages, news reports from other countries about vaccine injuries (other countries are much more open about vaccine risks, deaths and injuries than the U.S.) and so on (here are many to start if anybody is interested https://www.pinterest.com/magicandmayhem/vaccine-research/). I am glad for you if you and your children are not vaccine injured or not yet showing signs of injury, but I can’t hang around any more blogs that express these sentiments. I wish you and your beautiful family the best.

  • Leslie

    Omg, I hope the other hospitals doctors were reprimanded, utter insanity!

  • Anna

    Beautiful post, as always. What’s the reasoning for the flu vaccine caveat?

  • Vienta76

    The only “DUTY” I have is to myself and my family. Period. It would serve everyone well to remember that sentiment as well. I have no duty to any single one of you. Nope, I surely don’t.

  • Betty

    Cara, I think you need to educate yourself more. Not vaccinating is dangerous. You always can find a quack that supports your nonsense, reality is, every child that is NOT vaccinated is a ticking time bomb. People who undergo chemo, have no immune system for a while, pregnant women, children with cancer and many others you would consciously jeopardize, including your own kids. There is no excuse – absolutely no excuse to NOT vaccinate. It’s always the ignorant, non-medical people who think to know it all. I never had chicken pox and it can become extremely painful and dangerous for adults – the minute a vaccine was available, I stood in line to get it. Same with my kid. I would never forgive myself if my kid had pertussis or any other disease based on my negligence to not vaccinate. That’s what it boils down to: gross negligence!!

  • http://www.growforagecookferment.com/ Colleen @ Grow Forage Cook Fer

    Thank you so much for posting this, I really appreciate your thoughts on the subject. I don’t have any children as of yet and I go back and forth on weather I will vaccinate or not. I do think that we give “too many too soon” and I imagine that I will do some vaccines, but not others. I was born in the late 70′s and did not get the chicken pox vaccination – no one did back then – and we all turned out fine as far as I know. I also never got the Hepatitis A & B until before I went to Ecuador in college, where it is much more prevalent. On the other hand, I have a friend who was vaccinated against Pertussis (whooping cough) as a kid but got it anyways. So yeah, it’s a lot to think about!


  • Melissa Guffey

    I’m aware of the statistics. I was just glad to see that she mentioned concerns other than autism. I wasn’t worried about vaccines causing autism, and neither are a lot of other people who decide to postpone or opt out all together.

  • islandmama

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. Although I have to admit it was disappointing for me to read your views on vaccination, it doesn’t change how much I respect you and appreciate this blog as a source of information and inspiration. I too have spent months pouring over books, articles, inserts, blog posts, sources, research, studies, etc. I came to a different conclusion and have chosen not to vaccinate my children at this time (my son had a couple his first year while I was still on the fence). Having that choice taken away is what scares me most. Vaccination views aside, I hope the majority of us can agree that what we put into our bodies (and our children’s) should remain our choice and not the governments. Instead of putting all this energy and resources into finger-pointing and mandates, why not focus on forming a more convincing argument and safer vaccines? How about broader studies funded by something other than pharmaceutical companies?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you, for being willing to disagree AND stick around. =D I’m so glad to have you.

    And I am soooo with you 100% on wishing we could all band together and put our energy to better use. I am so distrustful of pharmaceutical companies. More oversight, safer vaccines (there has to be a better way!), more transparency, third-party verification of claims and of possible side effects, YES YES YES.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you so much Alex! That means a lot to me. I hope you’ll continue to be a part of this space, and that if you disagree, I hope you’ll always feel comfortable enough to speak up. I’m sure we all have a lot to learn from one another, as long as we can keep our hearts open. Thank you for being a part of that. ♥

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Mike, I’m sorry, I’m trying to understand your post. You seem to be arguing FOR vaccination, but your tone and set-up (you’re a 15-year scientist and I’m just a grad student) make it seem as if you’re arguing AGAINST me. Which doesn’t make sense since I am FOR vaccination.

    Am I reading your tone wrong? Did I miss something? I feel like I’m not understanding what it is you’re trying to express, and I’m also feeling like you maybe didn’t read my whole post, and for some reason think I’m anti-vax?

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Oh my god this is horrible. I am SO sorry this happened to you, I cannot even imagine the pain. Good for you for doing something so dangerous and brave to save your baby’s life.

    2 weeks ago we had a newborn die of pertussis here in Santa Barbara. I know very much that these diseases are in NO way “no big deal”

  • JP

    Thank you for sharing! I’ve come to the same decision for my kids, although I’ll admit I didn’t do as much research. It just seemed like the right thing to do for my kids and the thought of them dying from a preventable disease scared me more than any side effects.
    I really like your thoughts about being a part of the community and that getting vaccinated helps keeps those around us healthy. I’ve never thought of it that way.
    Thank again for sharing, hopefully you don’t get any hate mail over this and people remember that, like all things parenting, everyone has to make decisions that are right for them and their families.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    So you are willing to throw away pretty pictures and yummy recipes, natural living hacks and real community connection, which you say you love and even shared with others, all because I make a personal choice that’s different from your personal choice? Wow. I’m sorry. For you.

    I am a scientist and an atheist. One of Waits’s best friends, a girl he has frequent play dates with, comes from a STRONGLY christian family. Like, giant bible out and open in an ornate holder right there on the breakfast bar. Religious iconography throughout the house, and god talk and god songs are a big part of this little girl’s life. All of this makes me feel personally uncomfortable and at times even knee-jerkly defiant. I don’t like it.

    But I would *never* dream of ending our relationship with this family. They are sweet and caring and generous. We trade child care and vegan snacks. Waits adores their daughter. They are good people, and I am happy to know good people who see the world through such a different lens than I do, who I can still find connection with because we are all good, open-hearted people.

    I’m sorry for you that you feel like you can’t do that. Peace to you.

  • Linda Mae Reeb

    I really wish the mainstream system would do a better job of explaining how vaccines work. Comments suggesting actually experiencing the disease gives “true immunity” and ” is good for the immune system ” suggests vaccination doesn’t. But it does. Please learn the science before making emotive but ultimately ignorant statements. I very much support critical analysis of all medical interventions. It is only because of persistent public pressure that mercury is not linger an ingredient in all routine childhood vaccines. But let’s not chuck the baby out with the bath water.

    People are anxious. And with good reason.

    The incidence of conditions which science knows are connected to immune system function are exploding out of control.

    Vague memories of a report linking vaccines and autism are a,natural response in the absence of any other meaningful information or ability to stop the avalanche of allergies, add, asburgers, and the like.

    We feel like the well-being of our children is out of our control and that is a terrifying place for a parent to be.

    And I think there are sound reasons for this fear. What I think we instinctively know but have trouble articulating isthere is something seriously wrong with the quality of humans we are producing. Our immune systems are how we ensure survival of the species. How we adapt to change. Survive infection. Repair damage.

    And something is going terribly wrong. And there is a quiet little voice in the back of our collective heads,telling us that if our immune systems are failing, then as a species, we are in serious trouble.

    We don’t understand all the reasons, and vaccines are something we can control. it’s understandable, but not helpful.

    I believe there are many pieces to the real puzzle.

    Discovery of and investigation into the human biome (all those bugs that live in and on your body) is opening scientific eyes to wisdom known by our grandparents but seemingly lost to rational modern life.

    I believe that this field will become the future of modern health care.

    But there are a lot of people who make a lot of money out of things continuing as they are.

    And this should worry all of us

    Because those quiet inner fears are spot on – we are currently gambling with the future of the human race.

    Science can already resoundingly confirm that many “routine” interventions in fertility, pregnancy, labour, delivery, and,early life have significant impacts on the composition of that colony of bugs,which make up at least 80% of our immune system. Variations in this cocktail of bugs are definitively linked to “immune system diseases, which science tells us includes diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Ms, IBS, arthritis, depression, and many more.

    Questioning modern medicine is good.

    We’ll considered critical analysis leads to better outcomes, improved products, better choice and better outcomes.

    Poorly informed, emotional knee jerk regurgitation of debunked mythology damages everyone’s capacity to contribute meaningfully to the debate.

    So, to all the parents who argue that they have emergency researched medical evidence and Have chosen to reject vaccination, I hope you aren’t selectivly critical.

    I hope you critically examined fertility treatments, a new the alternatives.

    I hope you critically researched the evidence behind the routine use of ultrasound and glucose tolerance testing in pregnancy (there isn’t much!)

    Or the potential negative impact of inducing labour and the use of artificial hormones to “enhance” labour. Or the impact of routine antibiotics in labour. Epidural impact on fatal distress. Or the fatal distress caused by continuous electronic monitoring. The incidence of life long respiratory, spinal, immune system and digestive consequences of caesarian delivery? Did you find out that clamping and cutting the card before it stops pulsing can deny your baby up to 1/3 of their blood? And let’s not get started on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.

    So, good on you for caring about the welfare of your kids.

    Make sure your consistent.

    And rational.

    And effective.

    We’ve got a long way to go.

  • Kimberly

    Hmmm…your demographic ever heard of the Polio outbreak? Iron Lungs? Paralysis? Bet some were happy Dr. Salk took an interest. And I couldn’t help but wonder when I was in my 20′s & volunteered to help nurse cardiac surgery patients in a third world country; what if we spent the money to give an MMR vaccine? Then all the mitral valve prolapse we were fixing might not be necessary because we would cut down on the Rheumatic fever causing it. I am a nurse & an acupuncturist, so I have seen both sides and it really hurts when you have to watch children die of something they didn’t have to. It becomes less of a theoretical discussion when you are pumping on a child’s chest or watching someone barely cross the room because they are short of breath or see the wasting from a Polio survivor.

  • Well Educated Dad

    Lies, Damned lies, and Statistics…
    Statistics always slant toward the agenda of those formulating them. Always. When I put my child in a car and enter traffic, my alertness and conscious capacity to drive defensively has an enormous impact on our “odds” of surviving the trip unscathed. But once I allow you to inject poison into my child’s blood stream, it’s out of my hands. Your deaths by automobile stats have zero baring on this discussion.

  • Well Educated Dad

    Agreed. If you extrapolate the idea of herd immunity from a medical to a social realm, we call it government and the laws we collectively agree to follow. As you say, a social contract. Currently, our laws allow parents to make their own decision about vaccination. I find it interesting, OK, disturbing, that those shouting herd immunity seem not to trust the laws of the “herd” they claim to want to protect.

  • http://brokeandbeautiful.com/ Lindsay is Broke


  • Jarrod CL

    Vaccines are one of the safest medicines there are. Some risks are there, but they are so small compared to other day to day risks that they are not even worth considering in a cost-benefit analysis. Will you ever take your children in a car or on a horse (people die from falling form horses all the time). The sad part is that you want to keep the choice not to vaccinate, but are happy to take the ability to live a healthy life away from those who cannot be vaccinated. I don’t get it.

  • Liz

    Another important issue that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the fact that many of these diseases, when contracted by adults who have never been inoculated, present much more severe symptoms and have a much higher fatality rate.

  • Elizabeth

    Man, Sayward, I have such a girl crush on you.

  • Penny

    Hi Bonzai, I also did a huge amount of research and asked why my children should be vaccinated against sexually transmitted disease such as Hep B. It was explained to me that these viruses can be transmitted from a needlestick injury, such as used syringe that’s been left in a public area. The viruses have a much longer infection time frame.

  • islandmama


  • katta

    Thank you Sayward. As with so many of the decisions we make as parents, sometimes it will end well and other times it wont. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make active choices, choices that show we are part of a community.

    I will still be here – part of this community you have so generously created.

  • Chloe

    I have been reading your blog from sometime around the beginning, and I had my first kid around the same time as you – and I have been waiting since about then for you to bring this up! I am so glad to read your views. Thank you for sharing.

  • Betty

    Not so well educated, dad, aren’t you? If your child contracts pertussis because you deliberately decided what’s best for the child (not), what do you think your child will get in the hospital? That’s right, more “poison” as you declare it – a lot more and you could be lucky if your child comes out of it alive. Have you seen children with chickenpox? The scars they might have and later on they’ll most likely get shingles too – all thanks to a well educated dad. Hopefully your children will be even better educated and vaccinate your grandchildren.

  • Betty

    It is so surprising to me that there even has to be a discussion about vaccination. I am from Europe and without a doubt children are immunized – everyone understands the importance of vaccination and everyone does it. Schools have a yearly booster shot available through a licensed physician. They travel from school to school and administer booster shots or vaccinate where needed. It’s simply the right thing to do and the outbreak of measles in the U.S. is something so unnecessary and can jeopardize the lives of so many people, no-vax parents probably don’t even know to what extend they’re exposing others to diseases.

  • Suzy

    I agree with Cara. Nice thought out blog post, but we don’t vaccinate because we are “scared” of vaccines. We don’t because I know the risks and the risks outweigh any benefits. Since you are so adamant on this issue I am SURE that you have got your MMR boosters correct? I mean if you want to protect everyone I am sure you will gladly show the records of the boosters that you have got, since if it was longer than 15 years ago, you probably don’t have any more immunity to the measles.

  • Jen

    You have an option to have them separate. MMR we don’t have that option here. It makes a difference.

  • Rebecca Carnes

    whew! I was sweating for ya when I saw the title of this post BUT that was a great blog post!! So well written. I am all for everyone making their own decisions when it comes to the vaccine debate, but I feel like it gets so passionately about who is right vs. wrong that it loses complete focus on the ” hey, lets look at this logically and look at the pros/cons on BOTH sides then make an educated decision”. I have friends that choose not to vaccinate and I do not look at them any differently or judge them for it. It’s their choice. At the same time, all I can think about are those mothers in other countries where vaccination is not widely available, if at all, and they are fighting to keep their babies alive from senseless diseases….If anti-vaxers lived in a third world country where disease was rampant what would their stance on vaccination be then?

  • CrystalB

    Can I just say THANK YOU!

    I was raised hippie (commune kid, baby!) but I am fascinated by science and knowledge. I did lots and lots of research on vaccines when I found out I was pregnant, and my husband and I talked for days on the subject. We decided to do selective vaccinations and I have been trying to explain to people why we did it. It IS an emotionally charged topic. So much so, that I feel like my friends on either side don’t even want to listen to my reasoning. Lately, I have been called out in Social Media for “destroying herd immunity” for Measles. Never mind that is one childhood illness my kiddo is vaccinated against! I have also been called out for “poisoning my child”, never mind that we did our best to separate out vaccines and weigh risk vs. reward. No one wants to listen and I can’t articulate everything I feel about it. But you did, so eloquently and so respectfully. So thank you! Thank you for making me feel like I can balance both sides of my life (hippie and sciencey) and not be completely alone in my thought process.

  • Krista

    I’m impressed that you respectfully outlined your decisions. It is an interesting addition to the conversation. Thank you.
    What a touchy subject to talk about our children, and how we choose to keep them safe. I am interested in how parents assess risk in these situations. You often hear of the deadly risks involved in vaccinating, when in reality, statistically, not vaccinating raises your child’s risks of negative consequences. It’s that idea that “doing” something (in this case vaccinating) even if the risks are lower that a negative outcome will result
    , is preferable to not vaccinating and having a higher chance of experiencing a negative outcome. It’s a strange thing to think over.
    I’m also interested in intelligent people’s views of science. Respectfully, I disagree that dr Sears is based in science. If his methods were the safest, all doctors (or at least the vast majority) would recommend the schedule. He didn’t discover something new, but he is making BANK over convincing parents that he knows something every other doctor doesn’t. It Doesn’t sound very ethical to me.


    While smart people have differing opinions, the science had been clear.
    I’m so grateful that my vegan daughter has access to modern medicine. My heart couldn’t take the alternative.

  • Krista

    Why do we care about non vaccinated children?
    Because children under one are not allowed to be vaccinated.
    Because children with compromised immune systems can’t choose to vaccinated.
    Please look at the recent out break. Many of the infections were in babies whose parents never had the luxury of deciding to vaccinate or not. :(

  • Natascha Snellman

    Thank you for this!

  • Lynn

    Thank you for this post, it is by far the most civil and well thought-out I have read on the subject. My mother is a nurse, and I am also something of a hippie, but I firmly believe in vaccination, risks and all. I see no point in flaming people who don’t; it solves nothing. I respect you for venturing the topic in such a respectful way.

  • Kathleen

    What Happened to Scarlet Fever = Penicillin

  • Liz

    Thank you for a wonderful, informed and well-thought out post. I don’t have any kids, but might some day. I stay away from most social media, so I haven’t been up to date on the latest vaccination debates. I appreciate your perspective so much, Sayward. I have been a long time blog reader….and am now a 1 year 2 month vegan in large part due to being inspired by you and your blog. Thanks for being you.

  • Annie

    “I am a godless heathen with no spiritualism to guide me.
    But I do believe in goodness. I believe in our humanity. And I believe in community.”
    Hahahaha, poetic. This is exactly my sentiment.

    I really, really loved this post! So concise, so unbiased.
    I too agree with vaccinating the standard childhood vaccines.

    There was something going around tumblr last week about a little boy with
    leukemia whose dad was arguing that unvaccinated-by-choice kids shouldn’t be at his (public) preschool, because his son *couldn’t* be vaccinated because he was ill. And THAT is who we need to consider in social contract. People that haven’t been immunised because they couldn’t. That little boy is vulnerable. And if he were to get sick, it would likely be far more aggressive and risky than in a healthy person. And realistically, we accommodate to children with allergies by having nut-free lunchboxes, why would we not do the same for someone else whose health is circumstantially extremely vulnerable?

    I don’t know about over there, but public pre-schools,
    kindergartens and day cares (and even my dog’s puppy school!) do checks for

    Anyway, babies and toddlers, the aged, the allergic to vaccine ingredients and immunocompromised are all vulnerable and all deserve safety like everyone else. There are also reasons why people weren’t vaccinated – aged and missed out, were rural living and missed out (such as indigenous communities*) and asylum seekers. These people need and deserve herd safety too.

    * If you think that preventable, communicable disease can’t devastate indigenous communities, then read any history book about Canada, us, Australia, to infinity and beyond.

    The argument does seem to have a lot of back of forth. And I
    think there is too much aggression and not enough transparency and open,
    informative explanation that acknowledges risks.

    Two things I really dislike about the ‘aggressive’ pro-vaccine crowd:

    1. Stop acting like those that don’t vaccinate are cruel idiots. They obviously
    think they are doing the right thing. Look how much literature they have read
    and time they have spent investigating. Don’t be mean.

    BUT. In my mandatory reporting class, we were told that “in cases of neglect,
    it is easy to be swayed by the fact that the parent/caregiver ‘meant well’… if
    you always look at the intent, then neglect won’t be that evident. You have to
    assess the *consequences*.”
    Not saying that not vaccinating is neglect, but weighing the intent
    vs consequence is really important.

    2. The Jenny McCarthy bashing. I totally disagree with the autism sentiment,
    not even disagree.. that’s just not how it works. But the arguments against her
    immediately turn misogynistic and horrible. It’s fine to say “don’t get health
    advice from someone who is not a health professional”. No need to bash her as a woman or her career decisions.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Loved it x

  • veronika

    Exactly. And this is why one of the questions I’ve been hearing lately is whether or not it should be possible to sue parents who choose not to vaccinate for negligence, should they promote the spread of these diseases to vulnerable populations.
    I know everyone is fond of car analogies, but let me offer one more. If a parent chooses a nonmedical exemption and it results in infection of a newborn or an immunocompromised person, how is that different from someone who neglects to fix his car brakes and runs into another car?
    Maybe that’s what we need to put things in perspective: a nice flood of lawsuits for negligence?

  • http://veganza.com Renée MBM

    Twitter is telling me the link to this blog post is spam/malware/phishing and won’t let me post. I don’t know if it’s just a Twitter malfunction or someone has flagged the link… >.<

    Anyway, great post. Vaccination time has come around again for me + 2 kids today. We delayed a while with vaccines, doing the alternative schedule thing, not seeing it as an entirely black-and-white and living in relative isolation. Planning international travel so we'll have extra on our schedules soon. We are tucked in, so safe and sound, in our little privileged corners of the world with our Herd Immunity and healthcare access, not knowing what disease outbreaks really look like…

  • http://www.carrieonliving.com/ Carrie @ Carrieonliving

    I haven’t read any of the other comments to your post, Sayward, but I just wanted to say how much I liked reading your take on vaccinations. I was mostly touched by the continued thoughtfulness you have obviously put into raising your son and I find that so, so admirable (I don’t have kids but as an outside observer I can see how potentially overwhelming it could be…SO many decisions to make with constantly changing variables).

    But, I also really like how you pointed out the issue of community as a consideration and how that is also something real. I’ve had my ups and downs with feeling like I’m part of something bigger then myself, but I just wanted you to know that you’ve inspired me to continue thinking beyond my personal needs. Thank you and I think you’re awesome.

    P.S. Sounds like someone needs a waterproof whiteboard installed in the shower? :)

  • sarah

    You said this so much better than I ever could… Her comment made me angry. Too many people have this ignorant view that they can only associate with those who validate their opinions, and all it does is contribute to the ongoing vitriol on this topic or any other. That goes for both sides.

    I’m still researching. Undecided, leaning towards not vaccinating, but undecided. Regardless of the choice we make, I appreciate this post (it’s something I’ve been wanting you to post about for a long time) and I will continue to look forward to your writing like I have from the beginning. I think you’re awesome.

  • Elizabeth

    The fact that you’re a scientist has no bearing on this discussion, and it certainly doesn’t help your case to dismiss Sayward as “just a grad student”. You seem ready to tout your credentials, but you don’t actually tell us what they are. And, while I find research on climate change to be laudable, I would like to know what it has to do with immunology/bacteriology/pathology. Your analogy that because you’re a scientist you know all about those subjects is the same as my saying that because I have a PhD in art history (which I do) I am also an expert in city planning. No one likes a show-off, Mike