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Vaccines: A choice or requirement? Some moms say they should have more of a voice in process


Photo by: Courtesy photo/Daniel Paquet


Sarah Fowler



With last week's announcement that students entering the seventh grade must have a Tdap vaccine, most parents simply shrugged their shoulders and added the shot to their school "to do" list. 


But some moms are digging in their heels. 


Joedee Robinson and Ivey Ivy, both of West Point, are members of parent advocacy group, Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights. 


Robinson and Ivy said while they are not against the idea of vaccines all together, they both prefer a delayed vaccination schedule for their children and not the one that the state recommends. 


"For me, it's not so much the why, it's that we don't have a choice. That's what I kept going back to," Ivy said. 


Mississippi is one of two states that does not grant parents the right to choose not to vaccinate their children for religious reasons. It is one of 33 states that does not grant parents the right to choose not to vaccinate for philosophical reasons. 


"Even if I had the best laid argument and you agreed with me, and everyone else agreed with me, the issue is, I wouldn't have the right to make that choice for my child. That's what is most important to me. Because I live in Mississippi and not the other 48 states who have the right to delay, or select, I just have to go with what's on paper or pull my kids out of school, which is what I've done," she said. 


Ivy has two children, Day, 4, and Wren, 18 months. While Day is fully vaccinated until kindergarten, Ivy said she plans to homeschool both her children. Wren is on a delayed vaccine schedule. 


Ivy said although she does not have to immediately worry about the Tdap vaccine, she is afraid it could open the door to other vaccines being introduced. 


"Of course I'm not faced with what I would do with a seventh-grader right now but that also opens the door for others, for additions to the schedule. Right now, she's good through the seventh grade. That is, until something else gets added. That's my main concern right now, is just the schedule itself. It's increasing. It's growing." 


In addition to her concern with the schedule, Ivy said she questions the use of one vaccine to treat a combination of diseases. 


"One of my concerns about that one in particular and the MMR is that you can't split those out. The Tdap is tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. You're making a decision based on three very different diseases so it's an all or nothing thing there. So where I might vaccinate for one of those, and not the other, you don't have that choice. Those aren't manufactured separately. That's the same thing with MMR and measles and mumps. Rubella? Maybe so, but you don't have that choice," she said. 


Robinson also has two children, Leslie, 4, and Henry, 18 months. 


"You read about pertussis or whooping cough. I might choose the "p" but I don't know about the others," Robinson said. "We just have to wait and see." 


Faced with the option of either vaccinating her children by state requirements or homeschooling, Ivy said she has chosen to homeschool. 


"You homeschool," she said. "That's your only option. That's your only choice." 




Mother's Intuition 


Robinson said her desire to do select vaccination was based on mother's intuition. 


"I'm not someone that normally reacts or makes a decision based on feelings. I like facts and information. But when it comes to my children, when I feel a certain one walks out with their eight-week-old baby and feels OK about giving them six different shots," she said. "I just did not feel comfortable with it. You don't know how your child is going to react. Their immune system is not developed. I just wasn't comfortable with it." 


While Robinson's four-year-old is fully vaccinated and in daycare, she chose to delay vaccination with her younger child. She said her primary concern with the state's recommended shot schedule was the time frame. 


"As the schedule gets later to two years old, they're more spread out. It's those first six months where it's like shot after shot after shot after shot," she said. 


"It's just like, 'Is that really necessary?' especially when many babies that age aren't in daycare and they don't have to be exposed to that. It's that discomfort in those few months of putting all of this in my baby and not knowing how they're going to react to it." 


Robinson said because of her discomfort with the shot schedule, she began to research delayed vaccines. 


"It wasn't just 'I feel this way so I'm not doing it,'' she said. "It was, 'I feel this way so I need more information.'" 


Ivy said while she did not have a problem finding a pediatrician who would allow selective or delayed vaccination, local daycares would not admit her children unless they were on the state required schedule. 


"It's not a matter of not finding a doctor, it's the matter of not being able to find a daycare without fully vaccinating on schedule," Ivy said. 


"When I had Wren, my plan was to delay, waiting six months, to vaccinate. I didn't have a problem finding a doctor locally who would agree to that. It was great and we had it on paper but when it came to daycare, because of the way they're regulated and licensed through the state department of health, we have to do every shot on schedule." 


Ivy said she too felt a "mama instinct" about vaccination with her first child and decided to research. By the time she had her second child, she had a plan in place. 


"Mine -- I think initially -- was a mama instinct. With Day, I spaced hers out and I was comfortable with the spacing. And for whatever reason, that was not as big of a deal with the daycare four years ago. Then I had time to learn more about it with my second child and so I had a different plan. I wasn't going to start at birth, I was going to start at six months," she said. 


"Because I felt uncomfortable, I wanted to read and get the facts. I'm not going to just take the doctor's word for it. I really want to be a part in this decision so I just read. I read the inserts and read the information provided by the CDC (Center for Disease Control). It's not like you have to dig very far to find the risks involved." 


After reading the risks, Ivy said she felt more confident in her decision to do delayed vaccinations. 


"It wasn't any specific scary thing. It's kind of like this: You should not vaccinate because you're afraid of vaccines and you shouldn't vaccinate because you're afraid of the disease. Fear shouldn't rule either of those decisions. That's kind of where I am. I'm learning about each one. They all have risks from just a swelling or seizure or death or there are incidents of increased asthma and eczema and diabetes, all of kinds of things are linked." 


She added that she felt most parents are scared to question the process and their child's physician. 


"Here's the thing. I think our experience of showing up at two months and being faced with however many shots, that's not uncommon. It's the questioning of it. A lot of people are afraid to question. A lot of people are afraid of this issue all together." 


Ivy said for her family, the risks of her child having a reaction from vaccines are not worth what she sees as a minimal reaction from the actual disease. 


"It's not (a risk) for me," she said. "When looking at the risks of the vaccines that we have not had, it's minimal." 




Medical Reaction 


Local pediatrician Dr. Jacob Skiwski said he will administer vaccines on a delayed schedule for children up to school age. 


"I happen to believe in free choice," he said. 


Skiwski said he feels some parents choose to space out the shots out of concern of their child's comfort level. 


"The problem is parents think it's going to be too painful or the response isn't going to be there so they want to spread it out a little bit more." 


However, Skiwski said the shot schedule has been set up to provide children with optimum benefits. 


"The system has been set up so that we get maximum benefit from the shots given at certain times," he said. 


Referencing the Tdap shot, Skiwski said, "The reason it's called the seventh-grade booster is we're catching everybody at seventh grade now because whooping cough has not gone away. It's been reduced but it has not gone away. Come to find out, it's the teenagers now, usually around 13, 14, 15 and on, the young adults, that are the carriers. We're trying to protect, not them so much, as it is the babies, the first four months of life," he said. 


He added, "Teenagers come in the family, they don't happen to be real sick because they've got some immunity but not full immunity, they can pass it on to the kid who has no immunity or just barely started." 


Whooping cough vaccines are administered to children at ages two months, four months, six months, 12 months, 18 months, when they're either four- or five-years-old and then again when they are 11- or 12-years-old. 


Skiwski said those are given to boost not only the children's immunity, but other's immunity as well. 


"The concept of immunization is herd immunity. If you get enough people immunized, the people who don't get immunized are protected. That's why you don't see everybody coming down with disease The bottom line is, none of the parents today have seen huge outbreaks of Rubella, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus. It's still out there but they're not big diseases today. In other words, there are not a lot of kids that have this." 


Skiwski noted the danger of complacency, citing a whooping cough outbreak in California in the mid-1980s. Earlier in the decade, the state of California stopped administering the shot due to fear of reactions. By 1987, thousands of California children had contracted the disease. 


"They had very little whooping cough but then three years down the road, in 1987, they wanted to restart everything because they had 60,000 kids who had whooping cough all of a sudden," Skiwski said. "About one half to one percent of those died. So they went back to giving the shot because they weren't having that much of a problem with the reaction and that's why we had a shortage of vaccine from about 1987 to 1990 because California wanted to catch everybody back up again." 


"When we take the shots out, we get disease states," he said. 




Autism fears  


Robinson said part of her concern with vaccinating her youngest child was the fear of autism. 


"I hate to bring this up but...autism. Boys are more prone to it and my second child is a son. I just freaked out. I can't, I can't put him through this," she said. 


Dr. Skiwski said he is hearing more parents question if vaccines were related to the increase in autism. However, he referenced a 20-year-old study conducted in England that monitored the cause and effect of vaccines and autism. Skiwski said the results of the study were released in the late 1990s. 


"The reason they picked England is because England is a highly developed nation but they recommend shots, they don't require it like the United States. And so they came up with three groups -- given no shots, some shots, all shots. They found in their study, from the time they were doing it for 10 years, autism had increased over 100-percent. If it was related to the shots, the group that had no shots should have not increased one hundred percent. But it was across the board, the no shots, the some shots and the all shots increased the same amount," Skiwski said. 


Autism rates have skyrocketed in the last several years and have left many questioning a connection between autism and vaccines. Skiwski said, in his opinion, vaccines are only related to autism when it comes to the time frame when the shots are administered. 


"The problem with autism is when it shows up. You can usually pick it up around 15, 16, 17 months when the kid is trying to talk and then loses it or just can't seem to get his walking down. He just doesn't quite act like another 15-month-old child. Also at the time, you're giving the MMR shots. So, yes, they are time-related but not cause -related." 




Right to Choose 


Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation in the last session that would allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their children. The bill didn't make it out of committee. 


While Ivy does not yet have that option, she said it is something that she would like to be able to choose, not have chosen for her by the state. 


"I would look at each shot," Ivy said. "Each disease versus immunization and weigh the pros and cons. (That) is what I'm doing and what I have done, but the problem is the time frame you have to do that." 


Dr. Skiwski said he feels getting a vaccine is less dangerous for children than many normal activities. 


"If you want a comparison, you get more of a bombardment of your immune system when you go Christmas shopping at Walmart. You get everybody's germs coming through," he said. 


Skiwski admitted there are instances where a child can have a reaction to a vaccine or an antibiotic. 


"There are going to be some reactions," he said. "You can't get away from that. You can walk across the street and get hit by a car. It's the same thing, but the majority of the time, the reaction is very minimal. 


Ivy said despite her confidence in her decision not to vaccinate, she understands other parents may question her decision. She is quick to provide those parents with an answer.  


"I think some people think that if my child is not vaccinated and their child is, somehow my child is making their child at risk," she said. "My answer to that is...if your child is vaccinated and the vaccine is doing its job then aren't you protected? Even if my child were to contract something, aren't you protected?" 


Despite critics, Ivy said she feels choosing to delay vaccinations is the best decision for her family. She would like the state to grant her that right. 


"I would just like to be able to make a decision for my family, not anybody else's. I'm OK with whatever decision they make, I would just like to make one for my family."


Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.



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