Are Vaccinations ‘Everybody’s Business?’

December 9, 2014

moral dilemma

Whether or not to vaccinate your children is a very personal decision.  At NWABR’s recent Community Conversation, we explored the idea that it is a public decision as well.  Dr. Doug Opel, a clinician and researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, facilitated our Conversation and posed the following questions: “How do we balance personal choice with public safety?  Are current vaccination mandates too intrusive or too lax?”

Attendees watched and responded to a documentary filmed on Vashon Island, “Everybody’s Business,” by Laura Green, which of course asks the question, are vaccines everybody’s business?  Our participants spoke with one another in small groups and then we had a larger Q&A with Dr. Opel.
What most impressed me is that our discussions reflected diverse opinions and evaluations demonstrate that our attendees valued the genuine conversation and opportunity to share information.  The following paraphrased Conversations illustrate our dialogue:
1.    Concern: more vaccines mean more opportunities for complications.
Response: there is no data supporting a correlation between an increase in the number of vaccines and an increase in complications; modern vaccines have fewer antigens than vaccines of the past.  That being said, while vaccines are extremely safe and effective, approaching 100%, they are not perfect.
Conclusion: The benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks for nearly 100% of people.

2.    Concern: some attendees do not trust pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines and other medications.
Response: doctors don’t receive money from companies for the patients they vaccinate, but as a society we’ve allowed companies to influence our thinking through direct to consumer marketing.  It’s sticky.
Rebuttal: What about the expansion of vaccine services by drug stores? They wouldn’t be offering this service if they weren’t making money.
Conclusion: Lack of trust in pharmaceutical companies is affecting public attitudes about the value of vaccines.

3.    Concern: a few attendees were worried that vaccines cause allergies.
Response: there is no data that suggests vaccines cause allergies. Some people are allergic to ingredients in vaccines, like eggs.  This impacts less than 1% of the population.
Conclusion: People who are allergic to vaccine ingredients should not be vaccinated with those particular vaccines; vaccines do not cause allergies.

By the end of the Conversation, we were all fairly animated and still expressing strong opinions.  We left the room with a greater understanding about ongoing concerns over childhood vaccinations and a stronger empathy for those with opinions and experiences different from our own.  Strong work!

Wishing you and your community a healthy and happy holiday,

Jen Wroblewski, NWABR Public Engagement Manager

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