Your Baby's Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Livesby Stacy Mintzer Herlihy, E. Allison Hagood
Parents can easily be bombarded by conflicting messages about vaccines a dozen times each week. One side argues that vaccines are a necessary public health measure that protects children against dangerous and potentially deadly diseases. The other side vociferously maintains that vaccines are nothing more than a sop to pharmaceutical companies, and that the… See more details below
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Parents can easily be bombarded by conflicting messages about vaccines a dozen times each week. One side argues that vaccines are a necessary public health measure that protects children against dangerous and potentially deadly diseases. The other side vociferously maintains that vaccines are nothing more than a sop to pharmaceutical companies, and that the diseases they allegedly help prevent are nothing more than minor annoyances. An ordinary parent may have no idea where to turn to find accurate information.
Your Baby’s Best Shot is written for the parent who does not have a background in science, research, or medicine, and who is confused and overwhelmed by the massive amount of information regarding the issue of child vaccines. New parents are worried about the decisions that they are making regarding their children’s health, and this work helps them wade through the information they receive in order to help them understand that vaccinating their child is actually one of the simplest and smartest decisions that they can make.
Covering such topics as vaccine ingredients, how vaccines work, what can happen when populations don’t vaccinate their children, and the controversies surrounding supposed links to autism, allergies, and asthma, the authors provide an overview of the field in an easy to understand guide for parents.
In an age when autism diagnoses remain on the rise, when a single infectious individual can help spark an epidemic in three countries, when doctors routinely administer an often bewildering array of shots, and when parents swear their babies were fine until their first dosage of the MMR, the authors hope this book will serve as a crucial resource to help parents understand this vitally important issue.
This is a writing duo to be reckoned with. Hagood announces early on that she is not a parent. Her analysis of the vaccine manufacturversy is a wholly objective one. Herlihy, a writer of wit, charm and experience and a mother, recounts her tale of paranoia following her daughter being vaccinated, effectively demonstrating the power of anecdote and the human propensity to empathy. Combine these two women and you have a book that sticks like glue to the evidence that “vaccines are safe and save lives” but has huge amounts of heart and a conversational but never flippant tone that conveys a deep understanding of the toll fear and information overload can take on frazzled, possibly sleep deprived parent’s critical faculties....
Your Baby’s Best Shot covers a lot of ground and a fair bit of history with forty pages of notes and references at the end.Never, though, does reading this book feel like a slog. There are no inches of footnotes at the end of each page as the research discussed and the sources referenced are cited seamlessly in the main text. Even the science heavy chapters relating to how vaccines and the immune system work are somehow imbued with the same warmth of tone of the chaptersprecedingand following them. Tricky concepts are related in concrete terms of everyday experience. One can almost imagine going for a coffee with the authors and them moving salt shakers and sugar bowls around the table to demonstrate what happens when a vaccine is received. In these passages their love of science and its discoveries are clear to the reader. These authors are passionate about this subject.
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Your Baby's Best ShotWhy Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives
By Stacy Mintzer Herlihy E. Allison Hagood
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2012 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWho We Are and Why We Wrote This Book
From the moment of the first smallpox inoculation, vaccines have been fodder for societal debate. On the one hand are parents concerned about the thought of injecting their children with something that others have told them might potentially cause harm. On the other are medical professionals attempting to explain exactly why vaccines are safe and save lives.
Vaccines are an issue every single parent must confront nearly instantly. Within hours of birth, most American children are given the first of three shots designed to protect a newborn against hepatitis B. As a baby grows up, doctors in the United States and many nations across the world recommend that parents give their child more than three dozen immunizations.
Mixed in with the voices of pediatricians are the other voices so many parents hear talking about vaccines.
Celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy write best-selling books alleging that vaccines harm children. A single Google query can yield pages of websites filled with allegations that common shots are responsible for modern epidemics of diseases including diabetes, asthma, autism, and childhood obesity.
Reasonable parents can listen to both camps and still not know where to turn.
On December 26, 2002, I gave birth to a child and immediately became that person known as a new mother. New mother as in the last time I held an infant in my arms I was four and the baby in question was my little brother. New mother as in I was grateful for more than an hour of sleep at a time. New mother as in I still wasn't quite sure what to do when my daughter cried or exactly how to give the baby a bath without turning the entire bathroom into a morass of baby toys and sodden towels.
My own mother, glowing in the aftermath of the delight of the birth of her first grandchild, had recently left the baby and me to go back to her condo a dozen states away. She'd given me a five-week apprenticeship in the art of baby caring, but I still felt as unprepared as a college freshman the instant she left.
What actually surprisingly scared me the most was the subject I'd spent hours studying while pregnant: vaccines. Vaccines were all over the news at the time. Everywhere you turned it seemed as if children were getting the measles shot and seemingly instantaneously showing signs of autism. At the same time, my next-door neighbor (a pediatrics nurse) had solemnly told me stories of caring for tiny babies on respirators due to pertussis. A nurse in a neighborhood school had given out vaccine exemptions as easily as one might hand out permission for a school trip, and the resulting eruption of pertussis was traced to that nurse's doorstep.
As a history major I am familiar with the effects of vaccine-preventable illnesses throughout history. Queen Elizabeth I was expected to die of smallpox and bore the scars of her struggle for the rest of her life. Her descendant Queen Victoria lost a grown daughter and several grandsons to diphtheria. FDR, my father's favorite president, nearly died after contracting polio and is famous for serving his presidency in a wheelchair.
I knew all of this and yet and yet and yet ... I stood on the threshold of the pediatrician's office still worried. Fellow parents had cautiously whispered stories about vaccine reactions during my pregnancy. A few had sat at my baby shower recounting episodes of babies who had their shots and then fell seriously ill a short time later, never to recover.
I wanted to protect my daughter against such diseases in the abstract, but faced with a real-life situation I suddenly was sure but still scared.
I finally plopped my daughter in my lap, stuck a breast in her mouth, and let the pediatrician administer her DTaP needle. Four hours later my daughter started to cry. The crying was normal, but this particular cry had a much uglier sound to it. The sound was high pitched, and it was constant. My daughter seemed to struggle for every single breath, and her howling grew louder and louder with time.
In my panic I lost track of how long her crying fit lasted. It may have been twenty minutes, it may have been an hour, but during that time period my natural parental fear overcame my understanding of the necessity of vaccines. My daughter's weeping reverberated in my brain. As I rocked her back and forth and my husband frantically sought out the pediatrician's number, I was horrified. The voice in my head started to recount all that I had read about vaccines harming babies. For that brief period of time I became convinced I had made the wrong decision on vaccines. Hours and hours spent reading the anti-vaccine literature had finally completely made me believe that all anti-vaccine people were utterly right.
I felt like the world's worst parent.
Eight years later my daughter is fine. She's more than fine. She reads Terry Pratchett novels. She can multiply three-digit numbers, identify Mongolia on a map, and spend hours exercising to Dance Dance Revolution with her father. She's happily enjoying being a big sister.
Today vaccines remain as much in the news as ever. In 2010 the number of whooping cough cases soared, in part because of nonvaccination. A mumps epidemic broke out in Brooklyn. A single unvaccinated child trigged a huge eruption of measles cases in San Diego in 2008.
Vaccines are perhaps the greatest health miracle ever known to mankind. Inoculations will protect babies and toddlers from everything from pneumonia to chickenpox. Vaccines such as the hepatitis B and Gardasil vaccines can actually act as anticancer protection by greatly reducing the odds of getting liver or cervical cancer.
As late as even a century ago a woman wasn't considered a "real mother" until she had lost at least one baby to illness. Most parents today barely give measles or rubella a first thought let alone a second or third thought.
Yet as vaccines have become widely available and in much greater use, so too have voices raised against them become louder and louder in the public square.
Parents like me are often left full of questions even if we choose to vaccinate. I hope this book will help to answer such questions. I hope that anyone reading this book will gain an understanding of why vaccines are so vitally important to the health and well-being of all of us.
I'd like to think this is the book I wanted when my daughter was two months old and in the middle of a vaccine reaction—the kind of book I hope any parent can turn to and walk away with their questions answered and their fears about the subject completely gone.
Let's get something out of the way at the beginning.
I do not have children.
This piece of information will automatically cause some readers to dismiss my contributions to this book, and perhaps the book itself. Those readers may think to themselves, "Well, how can she possibly know what it's like to worry about negative side effects of vaccines?"
The answer, of course, is that I cannot, not from personal experience. I can only learn from observing friends and family members go through the process of making hard, important, and lifesaving decisions for their children, and from listening to their discussions of the thought processes behind those decisions. I have watched friends struggle with all sorts of parenting decisions, from vaccinations to school systems to whether or not to buy their girls Barbies. I have engaged in many, many conversations about balancing scientific research with personal opinions and philosophies.
I can also point out that parents often do not expect their pediatrician to have children, and they still can and do accept that the pediatrician is an expert in his or her chosen field. Most people do not wait until their doctors have had a broken leg before being comfortable with having a broken leg treated. People with cancer accept medical advice and treatment from oncologists who've never had cancer. It is not necessary for someone to have personal experience with a situation in order for that person to understand the scientific information regarding that situation.
But what I can and do know is that there is an enormous amount of misunderstanding and misinformation out there regarding science in general, and the science of vaccines in particular. My contributions to this book are designed in some small way to address those gaps in knowledge, so that people making decisions about vaccines can do so with a full understanding of the issue. I want people to have empirical information regarding the science of drug development and the research regarding vaccines. I want to increase people's understanding of the validity of arguments surrounding the vaccine issue. I want people to be able to identify when they are being given misinformation designed to confuse or frighten them.
When it comes to important decisions, many people choose to rely on their gut instinct, their "feeling" about the issue. The most widespread craze in pop psychology today can be phrased as "Trust your gut!" We are told that our instincts, intuition, or gut feelings are the most trustworthy way to understand the world. Follow your heart, say the pop psychology experts, and you'll never go wrong!
They couldn't be further from the truth.
Natural human intuition is loaded with errors in the way we process information from the world around us. Left to our own devices, we will make a number of mistakes when we think about our lives. Most of the time, those errors are inconsequential. Relying on our gut instinct about what restaurant at which to eat, or whether to go to the 7:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. movie, doesn't leave us open to large negative consequences if we are wrong. But relying on our gut instinct about complex, complicated issues may very well do just that.
I want parents to be able to make what really is one of the easiest decisions regarding their children's health in an atmosphere of support and comfort, armed with enough background to feel they have made the right decision when they decide to vaccinate their children. Therefore, I wrote this book to help parents recognize the importance of using science and research to make the decision to vaccinate.
In the search for information about the safety of vaccines for their children, parents will inexorably believe they are truly avoiding their own biases and seeking out valid and objective sources of information. Unfortunately, those well-meaning parents will be less successful than they are aware. Everyone falls victim to cognitive biases that limit our ability to accurately gather information unless we are very, very careful. I wrote this book in order to help address the most common biases in the vaccine issue.
Cognitive Biases and You: How They Work, Why They Hurt
We have a tendency to seek out information that confirms our preexisting belief system. We want to believe we are right. This inclination, known as confirmation bias, limits our ability to accurately weigh information about complex issues. It leads us to reject information that tells us we might be incorrect. If a parent has already established a suspicion of medical science, that parent will be more likely to pay attention to stories about possible negative reactions to vaccines. Those stories will not be balanced by context such as the kinds of reactions, how often, out of how many injections, and so on.
It is quite easy, and indeed completely natural, for people who are distrustful of vaccines to seek out information supporting their belief that vaccines (and by extension, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and scientists) are not to be trusted. There is valid evidence of adverse reactions to vaccines, ranging from mild to severe. Such evidence is used by vaccine doubters to bolster their arguments against vaccines. However, those doubters ignore equally valid (and certainly more abundant) evidence of the benefits of vaccines because of confirmation bias.
Strongly related to confirmation bias is the concept of illusory correlation. This is the belief that two things are related when they are not. An example related to the topic of this book is the often-reported (and scientifically debunked) relationship between vaccines and autism. For reasons that will be explained in later chapters, a single badly designed research study claimed to have found a link between the administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autistic symptoms in children. This result, irresponsibly spread by a sensationalist media, became entrenched in parents' minds. Parents of children with autism began to insist they knew immediately that their child was damaged by vaccines, often claiming their child became instantly autistic in the doctor's office. These stories influenced other people to begin "noticing" this illusory correlation.
What went (and continues to go) unrecognized are all the instances in which children receiving vaccines are not diagnosed with autism, or the instances in which children not receiving vaccines are diagnosed with autism. This is an example of the illusory correlation ("vaccines cause autism") working in conjunction with the confirmation bias (noticing only confirming instances).
Humans like stories. We like words that can help us create pictures in our minds of how the world is or should be. We distrust numbers and cold, hard scientific data. We want to hear stories (also called anecdotes) rather than statistics (also called research).
The problem is that easily remembered stories are easily remembered for a reason. Vivid information tends to be unusual or abnormal in some way. When asked about violence in American high schools, Columbine is a vivid case that comes to mind. When asked about violence on American college campuses, Virginia Tech will probably be the one that most people recall. However, neither is a typical example of high school or college violence (thankfully). The extreme nature of these examples makes them memorable and easily recalled, but they are not in any way representative of typical American high schools or colleges.
In terms of this book's topic, emotional cases of parents discussing how their child went from completely normal to 100 percent autistic in an instant after receiving a vaccine are dramatic and emotionally involving. These cases, therefore, are much more memorable than dry statistics regarding vaccine safety, autism development (which does not occur instantaneously), and medical research.
Parents often search for information about vaccines by starting with a search for information on negative reactions (which do occur). When parents find such information, it is more influential on their decision-making process than a piece of information about the positive aspects of vaccines. First, the negative reaction information would tend to be in the form of a story about what happened to a child—emotional, sensational, and attention grabbing. In contrast, the information about the positive aspects of vaccines would more than likely be in the form of a lack of stories. Vaccines, after all, prevent illnesses, and it's difficult to make a colorful and attention-grabbing story out of children not getting sick or dying of measles. Therefore, the negative information is about rare cases (and usually not placed in context). Parents would naturally be much more able to build a picture of their own child experiencing the same results. It's much harder to build an equally emotional picture of your child being healthy.
Scientific Evidence: The Treatment for Cognitive Biases
Since 1999, I have been teaching college students ranging in age from 17 to 70, and in that time I have witnessed an appalling lack of understanding of science and the scientific method. I have heard students say, "I don't believe in science," as if science were nothing but a philosophy or a religion, with no basis in objective observable fact. These statements often imply that the speakers haven't taken advantage of scientific advancements throughout the course of their lifetimes. Students seem to not understand how science addresses matters of the observable and measurable world, and how that focus doesn't require any sort of belief system.
I have had the same conversations with friends and acquaintances. We seem to view science as something to be distrusted, fought against, or rejected, like some sort of repressive regime designed to reduce our freedom of thought.
In fact, science is not a religion. It is not a belief system. It is a way of taking observations and measurements of the world around us and analyzing those results. The method and analysis that scientists use aren't mysterious rituals, and it's easy for you to understand them. Understanding the scientific method and the reasons for its use allows you to easily identify valid information from misinformation and lies.
Science doesn't replace religion or personal philosophy, and it doesn't strive to do so. People can maintain any sort of personal belief system they want and still be a scientist or simply understand the scientific method and what it can tell us.
My contribution to this book, therefore, is meant to provide parents with some small background in understanding what the science states about vaccines. Parents will always experience worry and fear with regard to the decisions they make on behalf of their children—it is my hope that the information in this book will allow parents to recognize how to make rational decisions based on empirical fact, in spite of the natural concerns they may have regarding those decisions.
It is my hope that this book gives people a better understanding of how scientific research works, how that research applies to the field of vaccines, and what that research tells us about vaccines.
Excerpted from Your Baby's Best Shot by Stacy Mintzer Herlihy E. Allison Hagood Copyright © 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Meet the Author
Stacy Mintzer Herlihy is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in many publications including Big Apple Parent Magazine and USA Today.
E. Allison Hagood is a psychology professor at a community college in Colorado. Before becoming a professor, she was a clinician and researcher specializing in adults with severe mental illnesses. She is a member of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology.
Foreword author Paul A. Offit, MD, FAAP, is the chief of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has published several books including Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases and Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.
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