Before we had kids, I wondered if we’d get them vaccinated. I had heard a bit about vaccine controversy, but hadn’t thought too much about it. Once I was pregnant, I decided to do a bit more research and quickly found that vaccines were, in fact, not dangerous. Coming to the conclusion that vaccines are a good choice for our family brought up some basic ideals in how we want to raise our kids and what kind of worldview we try to instill in them.
Before getting pregnant, Frank and I took a two week vacation to southern Africa. We started in Zambia and traveled through Botswana, ending in South Africa. We were there during the wintertime, so the risk of many diseases was low, but we still updated our MMR booster, received the mandatory yellow fever vaccine, and took malaria pills, just in case. We had a wonderful time and when we came back, we started thinking about starting a family. Because of the vaccines in my system, I needed to wait about three months before trying to get pregnant. It’s not so much that there’s proof they could hurt the fetus, but no researcher wants to conduct an experiment on pregnant women. Waiting worked well for our timeline, so I didn’t think too much about it.
When I was a teacher, I rarely got the flu vaccination (and never got the flu!) but most of my students did. I totally benefited from their herd immunity. Once Bea was born, Frank and I got our flu shots because she was too young to receive hers. It’s one thing to put myself at risk for an unpleasant week of sickness; It was completely different for me to think about subjecting my infant to a disease that may cause permanent damage or even death.
Now, at 2.5, Bea has received all the recommended vaccines on the recommended timeline. I trust our pediatrician to do her research – just like my student’s parents trusted me to research the best practices for teaching their kids and Frank’s clients trust him to be up to date on new tax laws and changes.
Here’s where our family’s worldview plays into our decision to vaccinate our child: I want her to travel the world, to learn from other people and cultures. I want her to know her neighbors here and to be the best friend and kindest person she can be for them. One of the ways we can ensure that we are best loving our neighbors is to make sure we are not putting them at risk. I don’t know which of our neighbors (both near and far) can or cannot get vaccinated. Maybe they have medical reasons not to – it’s really none of my business. But, I want to love them the best I can and that means not putting them at risk for a preventable disease. Or when Bea starts school, I want to know that her classmate’s baby siblings are safe because she will not bring measles to a public school. If I choose what’s “best” for my healthy child without thinking about my community as a whole, what are my life choices showing others?
When I think about Jesus saying, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me” (Matthew 25:45), I wonder what he would say to us today?
I know that for us, trusting our doctors, trusting our neighbors, trusting our friends and coworkers all play into how we best love our neighbors and show grace to the least of these. When I think about the most vulnerable not only in our neighborhood, but also the world, I think about how I am best caring for them.
I don’t know how each individual family feels called to show love to their neighbors. Clearly, this is a personal choice and hopefully each choice was made in a well-thought out manner. I know that for our family, the schools we send our kids to, the neighborhood we live in, and the way in which we protect ourselves and subsequently our neighbors are all ways in which we can love those around us.
As a parent, I have decided that my responsibility includes not only my individual child but also those in my community. I don’t view this as sacrificing my child or “taking one for the team” (as someone recently suggested) but as actively loving my neighbors and living out the teachings of Jesus.
Here are some articles and a video that have been thought-provoking for me during this recent round of vaccine debates:
The Christian Case for Vaccinating your Kids by David R. Henson
Of course, nostalgia, like the decision not to vaccinate one’s children, tends to be primarily an indulgence of the white and wealthy. Parents who refuse vaccines tend to be in both of those demographics. Any time a trend like this, with such clear and dire public health consequences, skews white and wealthy, then we must acknowledge that it’s also a race and class issue.
Vaccines: An Unhealthy Skepticism by RetroReport (via New York Times)
An outbreak of measles that started at Disneyland has turned a spotlight on those who choose not to vaccinate their children. How did we get to a point where personal beliefs can triumph over science?
The New Mommy Wars, Vaccines, and White Privilege by Alexandra Kuykendall
In general mommy wars exist because we as moms are passionate about our kids. We parent out of our values and the stronger we hold to a given value, the more we want to defend the decisions that stem from it. I’ve tried my best to understand this underlying motivator as I’ve watched other moms make different decisions than I have and certainly have grown in my ability to let others do their thing without taking it personally. But this new debate coming up prompted by the Disneyland measles outbreak has a different nuance than debates I’ve listened to in the past because what you do or don’t do on either side of the vaccination decision might impact another child in a significant way.
There are so many ways to choose love our neighbors beyond the vaccine debates. How are you actively choosing to love those around you?