Kristen O'Meara thought she was doing right by her three daughters when she refused routine vaccines against once-common childhood diseases. The 40-year-old Chicago mom even lied on a preschool form, saying her now-7-year-old Natasha hadn't been vaccinated due to religious beliefs.
All that changed two years ago when her twins, Áine and Lena, then 3, contracted rotavirus, a painful illness of severe diahhrea, cramps and dehydration. It wasn't long until Natasha—and eventually O'Meara and her husband—were also suffering. After three weeks, despite dangerous levels of dehydration, they all recovered.
But O'Meara came out of it a changed person. She'd begun to doubt her stance against vaccinations.
Like a lot of parents, O'Meara did her research on the safety of vaccines. But having been raised a skeptic toward the medical establishment and protocols, she sought out papers and information on immunizations that doubted the safety and efficacy of immunizations. Writing for "Voices for Vaccines," she admits she always believed that vaccines could prevent diseases but that herd immunity—the fact that a majority of people around her were vaccinated—would put all the risk on others while keeping her and her kids healthy.
“It was a very selfish viewpoint because I had the best of both worlds. I knew that my daughters had a low risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases—precisely because vaccination is effective. I had faith in herd immunity while questioning its very existence.”
When she got past the worst of the rotavirus, and after much rest and rehydration, she decided to do research on vaccines again. This time, though, she said she went in with an open mind and looked for research that could confirm the safety and efficacy of routine immunizations. She read books by Paul Offit, who co-invented the rotavirus vaccine, and also “The Panic Virus,” by Seth Mnookin, which argues for vaccines.
What she found convinced her. Her daughters are now all caught up on their vaccines.
O'Meara says that she lost a best friend over her change of course, but that she's confident she has finally made the right decision.
She writes that she feels guilty her girls had to suffer the potentially deadly form of diarrhea and is grateful her children weren't newborns—or medically fragile—when they came in contact with the virus.
O'Meara writes that she's frustrated with the amount of bad information she came across when she first started looking into the safety of vaccines. She also credits her willingness to reassess her position and finally accept information that is based on sound science and evidence.