Getting to the Heart of the Matter on Vaccines
Parenting as a process and role involves caring and loving a particular child, and is an experience that is undeniably subjective. In other words, parenting by definition involves bias. No matter what your feelings, research, and personal decisions are on vaccination, all of us as parents share the most fundamental commonality: a responsibility to protect our own children, and a very instinctive and biological drive that ensures we do virtually anything to support the likelihood of their survival.
Parenting also calls on us to hold dear our deep mammalian love for our babies while integrating the big picture view of the health of our communities. This requires the capacity to consider perspectives and experiences of family and community members, expert and professional opinions, and scientific research, in all their full variety and contradiction! Diversity of viewpoint is unavoidable and important as a marker for cultural health.
Finally, we are tasked with the challenge of thinking for ourselves. This is not only a right, but a responsibility. Ideally, we manage the feat of making a decision about vaccines that best integrates many different forms of intelligence and leaves us feeling confident in our choice. Whether confident in our choice or not, the preciousness of our children’s lives beats brightly in our hearts – even while our minds navigate the diverse and far less reliable pandora’s box of “facts”, Facts, and opinions.
Our concern for our kid’s wellbeing is the constant we all share. It’s time we stopped feeling bad about that. The parent who wants their healthy child to remain healthy (and avoid risk of death) is no more “selfish” than the immune-compromised parent’s desire for their child to survive. Nowhere in nature do we see a species sacrificing its healthy members for those who are sick.
A PAINFUL EVOLUTION IS REFRAMING THE DEBATE
The vaccine debate (and emerging dialogue) is not particularly warm and fuzzy. Like parenting, the community conversation continues to be fraught with challenge, self-examination, deep inquiry, and learning.
Some of this learning and evolution is happening through an intense process that involves community discord and major threats to our civil liberties. Vaccine mandates are forcing us to examine and claim our parental rights. Adult vaccination mandates will next force us to examine and claim our human rights to medical freedom. Throughout this process, we are being called on to reframe the terms of the debate on vaccines and upgrade them to be truly relevant and current to the questions that continue to emerge with new pieces of information about the history of disease and vaccines, the physiology of the body, the impact of powerful new technologies in vaccinology, and the overlapping environmental, genetic, and nutritional factors that all play a role in our health. In other words, we are called on to look at disease in terms of whole systems. Naturally, some people feel better off passing this task over to the “experts.” Others don’t, and won’t. Blind spots and bias are unavoidable, in both laypeople and trained professionals.
We know that the world is not static, but dynamic. That means that understanding causes and effects makes for a steep learning curve – whether you are a scientist or a layperson. A system that doesn’t learn is not intelligent. And there is something that the medical establishment is not learning from parents. The feedback loop of communication seems to be getting frayed. The common-sense intelligence of parents and their ability to observe cause and effect is a form of emergent knowledge that will not become social intelligence until there is an authentic and mutually-respectful feedback loop established between parents and public health officials and programs. Mandates truncate any feedback loop, and democracy withers at the root.
UNAVOIDABLE BIASES AND MISLEADING FALSE DICHOTOMIES
Conflicts of interest in scientific research are a rampant and glaring problem. Our regulatory agencies have a vested interest in maintaining the legitimacy of vaccine schedules they have declared safe, for backtracking would involve huge liability and recognition of error. Parents who vaccinate are understandably biased towards believing they did what was best for their child, unless their child has an adverse reaction. And parents who opt out of some or all vaccines are also obviously biased towards evidence that supports their justification of their right not to vaccinate. As pulitzer prize-winning oncologist and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee suggests,
What doctors fight against isn’t so much disease — it’s their own biases. Every science suffers from human biases. Even as we train machines to collect, store and manipulate data for us, humans are the final interpreters of that data. In medicine, the biases are particularly acute, not least because of hope: we want our medicines to work. Hope is a beautiful thing in medicine — its most tender center — but it is also the most dangerous. New medical technologies will not diminish bias. They will amplify it.
The vaccine debate is also being framed in such a way as to make individual children’s health and community health seem like two separate, diametrically opposed, and therefore mutually exclusive goals, with the parent stuck between. False dichotomies are excellent at raising adrenaline and creating defensiveness and division. They aren’t so great at boosting community health though. A community of individual children who are sick is not a healthy community. A community that can’t communicate respectfully and learn and grow together will not raise healthy individuals.
WHAT THIS WEBSITE ASKS
This website asks that as we call on governmental agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and doctors to be more honest and more transparent with us about vaccinations, it is also valuable for us to be transparent with ourselves and our community about our important parental biases that serve as the foundation for our unique role as protectors of our children.
In the face of what we do know, let us be honest.
In the face of the infinite amounts we do not know, let’s be humble.
In an attempt to offer one-size-fits-all formulas, let us be cautious, because diversity is precious.
And let’s try to stay truly objective and scientific in the sense that we keep wondering and keep being open to answering (and funding) new and important questions.
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