Jenny F. Scientist asks:
How to be less contemptuous of, say, vaccine delayers, or do they deserve it.
Vaccine delayers are an interesting group. They tend to argue that vaccines are given too early because doctors want to make sure kids get vaccines so they give them at the first chance or on rigid schedules that coincide with things like daycare or elementary school requirements. The argument is that some vaccination is better than no vaccination, so doctors give them too early. A conscientious parent who believes in vaccines and has the means to get them done will get them done but “optimally”. Now… why is delaying optimal? One (refuted) argument (made by a son of the original Dr. Sears who has since been censured –– the original Dr. Sears was very much in favor of the regular vaccination schedule) is that too many vaccines at once overtax a child’s system, which is silly because the vaccines don’t work that way and even if they did, kids are exposed to more taxing things just crawling around the house. Similarly there’s an argument about metals, but most vaccines don’t have the metals/chemicals that parents are afraid of anymore, and the metals they do have are in low amounts (one study says babies get more aluminum from breastmilk than from a vaccine). Then there’s the argument that babies do sometimes get reactions to vaccines, things like allergic reactions or swelling and redness around the injection site, and an older child might be better able to tolerate the side effects. (Moms who subscribed to this philosophy just wanted to delay vaccines, not spread them out.)
Another argument is that some moms just want to feel special and working out a special snowflake schedule for their kid helps. This argument is unlikely to make you feel less contemptuous.
A more likely argument is that a lot of white dude MD doctors are exploiting women’s fears for their children in order to sell them products. There’s a lot of evidence for this latter argument. When white dudes with medical degrees are pushing something and they’re put on talk shows, how is a parent without a science (or other advanced) degree supposed to know if she should listen to him or to her own pediatrician? You know and I know how to read articles in PubMed and how to evaluate evidence and when correlation is not causation… but most people don’t. I have graduate students I teach this stuff to. Instead of feeling contemptuous of the vaccine delayer women, perhaps the contempt should be saved for the men who are exploiting them and their children to sell their stuff.
When I was on a mommy forum vaccine delayers tended to be less stupid (…and less narcissistic) than deniers– one was even a microbiology PhD student. She would try to talk deniers into getting vaccines later. I think it worked on some of the mommies, though I think she also convinced some mommies who would have gotten vaccines on schedule to delay, so I’m not sure that there was a net positive.
Usually delaying isn’t going to be a problem. Except when it is.
What, of course, worked to get more moms on that forum to vaccinate on time was a measles outbreak nearby. Terrifying!
In an ideal world, enough people would vaccinate their kids on schedule that people who didn’t get vaccinated would have herd immunity. In an ideal world, many of these diseases would be completely eradicated. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so delaying vaccines carries risks that it shouldn’t. It’s still safest to vaccinate your kids on schedule unless there is evidence of a known allergy.