Vaccinations and the fear of getting sick

Maybe it’s just me, but we seem to live in a society where people are getting more and more afraid of being sick. There are billions spent on finding vaccines for even the most benign illnesses and a shortage of flu vaccine is treated as a national health emergency and shows up as the cover story in all the major news magazines.

But getting sick isn’t such a bad thing. Oh, it’s a drag and unquestionably impacts both the person who is sick and their family and colleagues, but it’s impossible to be perpetually healthy and still be out in the world, experiencing all the highs and lows of life, without being exposed to germs, bacteria and viruses. And so we occasionally become ill, with a runny nose, a chest cold or a stomach bug.

Children experience this more than adults, of course, because they are less hygienic, less aware of the risks of being around a sick person, and spend more ‘high density’ time stuck in classrooms and playgrounds in close proximity to their friends. Babies, from personal experience, are the most prone to illness because, well, they crawl around on the floor, put everything they can reach into their mouths, and few parents ever think of washing their baby’s hands with soap.

A walk down the aisles at the local drugstore, however, or a glance through any modern magazine, will suggest that we’re all just one miracle drug away from perfect health and optimal performance. Hair loss? Take drugs. Face showing signs of age? Take drugs. Afraid of getting the common cold? They’re working on a vaccine for that, and in the meantime… take drugs.

In our household we have a different philosophy about sickness. We don’t actively seek out sick children to infect our own, but we let our children be sick, and support their bodies in fighting off the infection and becoming well. That’s not the same as “give them drugs to suppress the symptoms”, note, which is what almost all the over-the-counter medicines actually do. Really. Go in the store and read the labels on any of the major cold remedies and you’ll see that they do nothing to actually help you get better, they just hide the symptoms so you can pretend that you’re not sick while your body continues to fight the good fight against the invaders.

So when our 1yo baby K- got sick with a cold last weekend, we were saddened because it meant she was sick for her birthday, but glad that she’s finally gotten sick at least once in her young life. Getting sick means that her immune system can finally kick into action and fight off an infection. This is exactly how vaccinations work too, in case you think I’m out in left field: give the person a very, very small dose of a disease and then let their immune system learn how to fight it. Then – theoretically – they’ll be more able to fight off larger scale infections of the same kind when they appear in the environment.

I think we’re swimming upstream on this one, though. It seems to me that trusting your body, strengthening your immune system, and welcoming the occasional cold as a way to keep your “troops ready for action” is becoming an anachronism in the face of the never-ending tsunami of pharmacological innovation. You can’t pick up a magazine or watch a TV show today without being bombarded by pharmaceutical advertising, for drugs that address illnesses I’ve never even heard of. But don’t worry, when we have no immune system at all and are completely reliant on the products of drug companies, they’ll still be pricing things so we can afford them. (and isn’t it interesting that ailments like AIDS, an immuno-suppressive illness, show up in parallel to the large-scale introduction of vaccinations and medical “wonder drugs”?)

How about you? Do you take a deep breath, shrug your shoulders, and let yourself be sick for a day or two if you get ill, or hug your children, bundle them up in bed and read them stories while their bodies learn how to defend against infections, or do you rush out to the 24-hour drugstore to buy the latest miracle cure?

13 comments on “Vaccinations and the fear of getting sick

  1. I just wanted to thank you for this site. I am a stay at home dad with a four month and a 4yr. old. My wife and I had both our children at home born in water with a midwife attending. We have a live in pediatrician with Dr. Sears. He has all the advice and all the reference books any parent needs to raise a healthy well adjusted child. From healthy birth to attachment parenting to a well discaplined child. Not a well punished child but a well dicsaplined child. So thank you for this site to support our journey. As far as the latest article I cannot agree more. Our society cannot live with the image we see in the mirror so we look for any remedie we can find to change that self image to fit a “corporate look”. The only problem is that “look” is unatainable and a false image. Most parents have no confidence in their ability to diagnose their childs ailments. So they run to the nearest doctor to get a cure all “drug”. This pattern does not let the body do what is naturally within us all.
    Well one could ramble on for days about our “cure everything and anything” drug culture. I will be reading and writing often and thank you again.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful, interesting site. I’m what I call a “mid-range” APer, meaning I’ve had to compromise some of my ideals due to a severe case of postpartum depression and anxiety. We had to do modified cry it out with my baby daughter due to the severe panic attacks her night cries triggered. I’m still feeling guilty about it.
    Anyway, I sling, respond 99% of the time to her cries, and am a big believer in following her cues to guide my parenting. As such, I agree with the gist of your post, which is that trusting our own intuition about illness (and most other things) goes against the social norms. The ever-bleating voices of television, radio, magazines and other media drown out the quiet knowing that will bubble forth if we only sit down to hear. But making time to listen is not a priority for most people. Even myself, I must add. Dealing with part time work, a six month old baby, a household, and ailing parents is a lot for anyone to shoulder.
    I’d also add that bundling up your child, reading stories, serving warm soup and letting the illness run its course takes the kind of time that most people (think they) don’t have. We want to rush health. Isn’t that crazy? It’s akin to rushing joy, or rushing happiness. It’s like rushing through conversations, afraid to hear the silence.
    Why are we so afraid of slowing down?
    I’m veering off topic, but it got me thinking. Thanks for that. Very much enjoy the thoughts on your site.

  3. Thank you both for your supportive postings. We’re clearly on the same wavelength. What amazes me is that pediatricians have this amazingly lucrative setup nowadays, where parents are so afraid of illness that if their child has the sniffles or, heaven forbid, a 101F fever, they’re whisked off to the doctor or even an emergency room. All they need is bed rest and some quiet time. Honestly, I think it contributes to the ridiculous cost of health care in this country, among other things.

  4. hello, i am facing A LOT of trouble in handling and taking care of my two kids .The eldest is two and the second 1.Though i do have a care taker with me, i am still finding it extremely difficult. i have even spanked my youngest twice!

  5. Tired mother, if you have a one year old and a two year old and they’re proving that much of a handful, then perhaps you might spend some time thinking about the relationships and interaction that they see on a daily basis. I know that in our household, when we’re tense, upset, or angry, our kids naturally mirror our emotional state and get more difficult too.
    By contrast, try something wacky. If your children are being frustrating or annoying, laugh. Do something goofy. Get down on the floor and tell them that they have to tickle you.
    Also, I’d strongly suggest that you and your care taker make sure that you’re both approaching things the same way too; it might be the case that she encourages or allows certain behaviors that you don’t like, giving the children a mixed and confusing message.
    Good luck. Maybe getting rid of the “tired” in your sig (that is, getting some sleep) could help too… 🙂

  6. Thanks for the answer.i do get sleep etc, but its just that my bearing capacity, that is patience is EXTREMLY LOW!.
    My care taker does what i ask her to, there is no clash.
    earlier i had a very good care taker, who the kids used to love being with, things were really smooth then, but she left,and my kids dont jibe very well with the new one, especially my youngest, who just cant leave me, which is very tiresome for me.i do wish i could enjoy parenting, and being with my kids always,but unfortunately very unfortunately it is not so.
    i stay at home, but i like to spend time by myself, doing other things.
    what should be done, when both cry at the same time,? !when the elder spanks the second every time she sees her?i am wondering whether i should take some medicines to calm my self? not allopathic one for sure, but some alternative like homeo pathic?please advise.
    And thanks a lot.

  7. More thoughts: maybe each of your children is hungry for one-on-one time: can you devote an hour each day to spending time just with one child, not both, and do whatever they most enjoy? (go to the park, play on the floor, cuddle in bed, whatever)
    Obviously, you have to stop hitting your children so that you can tell them that hitting is never a solution to conflict or problems. You can’t really get upset that they hit if you are also hitting them (my personal opinion, others disagree)
    When they’re both crying, hug them both and let them cry until they feel better. Are they dressed warmly enough? Are you feeding them good, healthy foods that meet the needs of their growing little bodies? Are they sleeping enough? (our kids go to bed at 6pm and sleep through until 7 the next morning)
    Good luck.

  8. Tired Mother, you poor thing. I agree witht he things that Dave has posted about the possibility that you and your care giver may not be compatable, making sure the children are getting enough sleep (I think one of the most important things a parent can teach a child is how to sleep), enough healthy food, and are warm and safe.
    I have a few other tips as well. I’ve just had my fifth child, and over the years, I have experienced many many things involved with parenting. I’ve had post partum depression, anxiety disorder, been encouraged not to breast fead, been bombarded with guilt, and I know that it sure isn’t easy.
    Take a deap breath, and relax. It won’t last forever. Things are going to change, and your children won’t be a needy for long, and everything is going to be alright.
    Sometimes the most loving thing a mother can do for her children is to love herself. Take a little time nurturing things inside of you that may not involve being a mother. Maybe a gym membership, or volunteering somewhere that touches your heart. Long hot baths can be life-savers! Certainly make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, and that your nutritional needs are being met. Go out in the sunshine for at least 15 minutes per day, and have you given meditation a try?

  9. I agree with your views on vaccinations and especially the view on drugs. I too feel that in the US we are over-medicated, under-educated, and becoming immune deficient. I think our bodies our wonderful and are capable of doing and handling more than we give them credit for. I believe that our minds are under-estimated as a tool for our health.
    That said I am still very confused about the whole vaccination thing. I know people that are very religious in getting thier kids vaccinated and tell me how important it is and use all kinds of studies to prove it. I know people that don’t vaccinate at all and use all kinds of studies to prove the dangers of it. I also know people that vaccinate homeopathically but I don’t know much about it so I am afraid I would mess it up.
    I would like to take my child to a homeopathic pediatrician but am limited by financial means. Since my child is on the CHIP program I am limited in my choices for doctors and changing doctors just because I don’t like the current one is like doing back flips through hoops.
    If anyone can point me in a direction on where to get credible information I would appreciate it. I am very leary of going to just any website since I don’t know if it is someone voicing their oppinion or if it is actually a credibel source. Thanks for your help.

  10. If we overprotect our children, we are to blame when something goes wrong or the child cannot cope. If we over-immunize our children and something goes wrong, we blame ourselves. I cannot help but think of scientists who spent long hours in isolation in Antarctica, and who then upon arriving back in bacteria-ridden civilization, discovered that they would get very sick indeed. I used to avoid parties that involved children as they always led to the worst colds and flus. Now, isolation from ailments concerns me as much as possible pandemics. I think I shall die of worry before my immune system malfunctions.

  11. I am not entirely A/P, I do believe in spanking, and my kids appreciate it. It really depends on how you do it.
    Vaccines are my hot button, though. I have a vaccine injured child. I was a very young mom in a foreign country and threatened by a pediatrician and didn’t know better. So now my child is paying the price of too many too soon.

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