I Used to be an Anti-Vaxxer

We just scheduled shots for our two children.

This might seem routine to you, but it still isn’t to me. I used to be an anti-vaxxer.

Based on the information I had been given and the logic I was raised with, it was the best choice I knew to make. My first son, who was a planned home birth, but was born in a hospital due to a complication, had to get some shots in the hospital, and we didn’t fight it. But after that, we were shot-free. Nothing that might harm my baby was going into his body if I could help it. It is true that the risk of shots were overstated in the information I read, and the risks of the diseases they prevented were definitely understated. The risk to other people, caused by a lower herd immunity, was never mentioned.

I have since read more — a lot more and outside the crunchy circles — and changed my mind about which ‘risk’ I would rather take (and indeed, there seems to be very little risk to a typical child getting a vaccination).

But even when I was an anti-vax parent, I was not a *bad* parent. I don’t think I was even a stupid or irrational parent; I was a misinformed parent. I wasn’t being selfish. I wasn’t deliberately risking my child’s health for my ideology; I was doing the best I knew to take care of him. I was young, and the parents I knew were all anti-vaxxers and they were where I got my information. Remember, anti-vaxxers overstate the risk of vaccination (and circulate now-discredited studies) and understate the risk of the diseases. Furthermore, the anti-vaxxers I knew were all ultra-conservative Christians, and part of the reasoning I heard was that you could actively do something which might cause harm to your child, or you could passively forego that action, and risk a disease, but God would protect your child (if it was his will to do so) if you trusted him. Trust was the key.
Besides, if it wasn’t God’s will to protect your child, nothing you could do would save him anyways. This last part was never explicitly stated in my hearing, but it follows logically from the rest of the argument.

I’ve since left Christianity, and when I did, I read more on vaccinations and started getting my kids’ vaccines up to date when the older child was nearly four and the younger was two and a half.

I do regret the years we went without vaccines, risking my children’s health and the health of immune-compromised and unvaccinated people around them.

I’m writing this because I have seen many accusations leveled against anti-vaxxers. That they are unintelligent, that they are selfish, that they are bad parents. I don’t think that most of them are any of those.

I have seen people attack anti-vaxxers and make fun of them. I don’t think that helps. Attacks seem to make people dig deeper trenches. It certainly wouldn’t have changed my mind. My mind was changed by information and by a change of belief — brought about by still more information. Intelligent, respectful discourse is key to getting information across. It might not work, if the audience is unwilling to question their beliefs. However, to an audience of true listeners (and you often can’t know who might be listening on the internet), a little understanding mixed with your facts can go a long way.

I’ve heard that anti-vaxxers are incapable of change.

That’s not always true. I’m proof.

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