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Why I Want the Choice to Opt-Out of Vaccinating My Child

Lately, I've been shocked and dismayed by the vitriol that seems to have consumed our nation on the topic of vaccines. By how polarized we've allowed ourselves to become, or to appear. I've felt torn about whether to jump into the fray. But I feel I should speak up.

This could be a much saner, more nuanced conversation, and, for the sake of our kids, it should be. Whatever your stance on the topic, know that I really respect that you feel strongly about vaccination. At the same time, I urge you to recognize how much the media has served to stir up this controversy, and how extreme an opinion in favor of a vaccine mandate is. We're talking about potentially denying people the right to determine what does or does not enter their own, and their children's, bodies. And we're talking about something that would kill my child.

RELATED: Another Mom's Perspective: Vaccination's Shouldn't Be Optional

My son is vaccine injured. Vaccinating created a hyperactive immune response in my son, and our doctors support this understanding. His immune system is damaged; his food allergies are numerous and life-threatening. His environmental allergies are so severe that we had to relocate last year because our home city in Texas overwhelmed his system to a point that precluded his attendance in preschool or even his playing safely outside. So I have a hard time just respectfully agreeing to disagree when the disagreement is, fundamentally, over whether what our family has been through (hell) for the past five years is real. Whether what I have seen with my own eyes is real.

Most children don't end up vaccine injured, but the current CDC schedule doesn't allow health care providers, or parents, the time and space to evaluate which babies might be.

Also at issue is whether I'll be able to advocate for and protect my kid while navigating the misunderstood epidemic of anaphylactic food allergies. It dictates every waking moment of our lives in a way that even our closet friends and family cannot fathom. After years of research and numerous doctor consultations we are certain his condition was a genetic predisposition to allergy that was triggered by childhood antibiotics and vaccinations. What we saw were escalating vaccine reactions and then finally, at nine months, a reaction so severe even his run-of-the-mill, here-have-a-prescription pediatrician at the time said we should STOP. And I can tell you with confidence that I would readily trade a case of the measles in exchange for what my child has lived through since he was a baby. Because if you think a small handful of kids nationwide with the measles is scary, you should try parenting a kid amidst a planet full of otherwise edible food that could kill him before an ambulance arrives.

Well-meaning friends sometimes say that they vaccinate their kids because of kids like mine—to protect kids like mine, kids who shouldn't be vaccinated. But these people just got lucky. These people didn't know that when their babies received shots, any more than we knew when our son did, that their children would be fine. Most children don't end up vaccine injured, but the current CDC schedule doesn't allow health care providers, or parents, the time and space to evaluate which babies might be. Pediatricians aren't trained in any protocol for identifying the children who are most at-risk for vaccine injury. My son had terrible eczema, which was worsened by vaccines yet it was never suggested to me that this symptom of an overreactive immune system might be cause for, at the very least, waiting a little while before beginning the typical—and ever-increasing—number of shots.

This isn't about whether vaccines have or haven't all but wiped out certain deadly diseases; it's about whether vaccines, in the manner we administer them, are in fact safe for all children.

Our well-meaning friends also aren't 'protecting' my son, or other immune-compromised individuals, by getting vaccinated; the MMR vaccine contains three live viruses that shed. For this reason, the Johns Hopkins guidelines for "Care at Home for the Immunocompromised Patient" specifically advise people undergoing chemo to tell recently-vaccinated friends not to visit. There is no reason why healthy unvaccinated children shouldn't be allowed in public school classrooms; they pose no threat to their classmates. If anything, it's the other way around.

This isn't about whether vaccines have or haven't all but wiped out certain deadly diseases; it's about whether vaccines, in the manner we administer them, are in fact safe for all children. Given that they're not, how could we even question whether a parent should have the right to opt-out?

Contrary to current misperceptions, the number of parents who choose not to vaccinate remains very, very small; MMR vaccination rates have hovered at just over 90% for twenty years. Structuring vaccine "debates" around parental rights is missing the point entirely. The questions we should really be asking are getting lost in mix.

RELATED: Why I'm a Vaccine-Wary Mom

Do you really think this one-size-fits-all approach is safe for all babies? Don't you think we should create a path to herd immunity that is? Do you think that's possible in a climate that won't even talk about it? It is possible to be pro-vaccination and also advocate for safer vaccinations, for fewer vaccinations, for a revisiting of the schedule. Countless medications turn out to have disastrous side effects. (Acutane? Tamiflu? Xolair? Delusional disorder-inducing sleeping pills?) Opinions change. Research changes things. But only asking questions—and the freedom to do so—fuels research.

I don't think we should have to sacrifice any babies for the sake of the herd. Babies don't get to opt-in. They rely upon us to make the decisions that will protect them best and right now legislation is pending in 10 states that would remove parental rights around vaccination. We must protect our rights, as parents, to make medical decisions for our children.

If you think the measles poses a threat, I promise you that allowing this polarized thinking to persist, and permitting this legislation to go through, represents a much larger one.

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Image via Getty Images

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