This is the story of Heather Simpson who went from an anti-vaccine influencer, with whom many of us argued, to a strongly pro-vaccine advocate, and dare I say, influencer. Heather, first and foremost, is a mom, and as you will read, that strongly influenced how she viewed vaccines.
Her story, in her own words, is taken from a Facebook post she recently wrote. I am reposting it with her permission. And I just want to thank Heather Simpson for allowing me to republish this and for the strength it took her to write this post.
Heather Simpson in her own words
Hi. I’m Heather Simpson. And this is the story of how I went from being a hardcore anti-vaxxer to a pro-vaxxer.
You probably don’t know who I am, because I am a nobody to most people. But back in 2019 and the beginning of 2020, I was a viral anti-vaccine “influencer.” Let me explain.I was fully vaccinated as a child. In 2011 I barely poked myself with antique jewelry and I ran to my doctor’s office to get a tetanus shot. I was pro-vaccine because I was raised to be. My parents are awesome.
And then one day….fear crept in. It came in the form of an advertisement dedicated to an anti-vaccine documentary series. My husband and I wanted kids, and I knew this subject was important, so I caved and dumped $200 into the series.
The series, as you can imagine, described how vaccines are linked to almost every single bad condition you can think of. And, as a young woman preparing to enter motherhood, I didn’t know any better. They fed me fear and I ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I was, from that point on, convinced that vaccines could and would cause autism, SIDS, autoimmune diseases, and death in general.
I continued to study anti-vaccine theories. You can find anything you want to support your claim, if only you set your mind to it. And boy did I find some things. I mostly found an abundance of fear-based stories that terrified me. I decided I was never letting a vaccine near my child or me. Ever.
When my child was born in 2017, we gave her the vitamin k shot (which I was scolded by some anti-vaxxers for, and was told that it caused her to have health issues) and we opted to give her no vaccines. I was confident in our decision, and so was my husband.
When she was about 18 months old, or in the winter of 2019, I started posting on Facebook about my vaccine hesitancy. To be honest, that was a lie, as I was not “hesitant”…I KNEW I didn’t like vaccines. But I figured looking “hesitant” would make me seem less crazy. When I first posted my views and hesitations on vaccines, my post got shared several hundred times.I was shocked. Friend requests started pouring in. I didn’t know what was happening.
So I kept posting my views on vaccines, people kept sharing my posts, and my “audience” grew. It was wild and completely unexpected. I had no idea that this world of anti-vaccine moms and dads existed on social media.
They were so supportive and I made lifelong friends that I will always treasure. This whole experience was worth it if not just for the friends I made.
Fast forward to October of 2019 when I dressed as the measles because I was “trying to think of the least scary thing I could be for Halloween.”
Y’all, I am taking this moment to openly tell you I was the worst. The. Actual. Worst.
It didn’t even look like measles. It looked like syphilis.
And then it went viral. Like, real viral.It blew up on both Facebook and Reddit, and several national news outlets picked it up. I got death threats and people begged me to kill myself. It was bad. I did it to myself and I should never have dressed as something so heartless, but it was bad. I was shaken up quite a bit.
A few months later, however, February of 2020 arrived. I started to feel differently about things. I was relying on western medicine to treat my endometriosis, I had just had surgery, and had been studying vaccines from a different standpoint. I started to soften my anti-vax views. But when I posted about this softening of my views, a lot of the anti-vax crowd lost it on me. They were furious and just plain cruel. It was then that I realized a lot of them are very cult-like because they will cast you out if you don’t have an identical belief system to them.
Don’t get me wrong, there are MANY of them that are not this way, whom I love and adore. But a LOT of them are militant about their anti-vax beliefs. They claim to be “pro-medical freedom” but will tear you apart if you choose a different medical decision than them. They bullied me so hard that I ended up in the ER with a panic attack. It was one of the worst weeks of my life….all because I was softening my views on vaccines. And then they “canceled” me. Ohhhh, that online cancel culture. Gotta love it. But, if I’m being honest, it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings. Because I then had time to read, think, study, and grow on my own without the “group think” influencing me.
And here I am now, planning to get my flu shot next week. I will also be getting my COVID vaccine. We will also be following our pediatrician’s recommended vaccine schedule for our toddler. (I will not be discussing details as it is her private medical record.)
HOW DID I GET HERE?!
That’s really why you’re reading this article, after all. So, allow me to explain the magic that happened in those months of studying after being “canceled.”
First of all, when approaching an anti-vaxxer, you have to realize that there are usually three types. Typically, one is a conspiracy theorist, one is scared, and one is an ex-vaxxer. Sometimes they are all three. Sometimes they are none of these. Each person is unique, but these are the three categories I’ve typically observed. Depending on what category they fall into is going to help you to know how to approach them.
My category? I was scared. Terrified. I did not want to inject something into my child if I thought it was going to kill her. I wanted to protect my baby with my life. These are the most anti-vaxxers I know. They are fiercely protective of their children, just like pro-vaxxers, and only want to keep them safe. And, to clarify, this is not a bad person versus good person debate. There are incredible parents on both sides. But I digress. I kept reading horrifying anecdotes from moms who would say that their baby died the day after vaccines. Or that their baby stopped talking the week later. Or that their baby stopped walking the month after.
What finally caused me to start to question my anti-vax beliefs was when I started digging into each of these anecdotes to find the real truth, instead of blindly trusting stories. I found some of them to be true, definitely. But…I started to see that a lot of the “vaccine deaths” were actually due to co-sleeping accidents or other underlying conditions. The timing was just very, very unfortunate. The whole situation was sad. But vaccines inevitably took the blame. And sometimes the vaccine DID cause the baby’s death or disability.
Vaccines have never claimed to be 100% safe. Sometimes your baby is one of the rare statistics. Which makes it even harder to have discernment when reading anecdotes and trying not to be overcome with fear.I got to a point where I was so engulfed in every anecdote, that I lost my ability to critically think about a situation past my emotions. I would read a story, feel sick to my stomach, and swear to never vaccinate my child.
But the problem is, that anecdotes without proof can get out of hand quickly in the hands of social media. Susie could have broken her leg on the swingset the day after her tetanus shot, but the way Susie’s mom told it on social media was that Susie got her shot, and now she can’t walk. Then this post gets spread 20,000 times. You now have a bunch of parents not wanting their child to get the tetanus shot because of COURSE they don’t want to risk their child losing their ability to walk.
I was told that my child’s sleep apnea was due to her Vitamin K shot and that her heart arrhythmia was due to the vaccines I received in my childhood. If someone develops an autoimmune disease 15 years after their vaccines, some anti-vaxxers will still blame the vaccines. People need a reason explaining why they are sick. People need a reason their kid is sick. Vaccines are the perfect scapegoat, no matter how long it has been since they received them.
The next thing that started pulling me away from the anti-vaccine movement was VAERS, also known as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. There was something like 48,000 events registered in 2019 alone. But here’s the deal: parents can report anything with no proof. Causation does not have to be established to make the list. For example, these are real documented events on VAERS — gunshot wound, fight in school, frostbite, infection of mites, electric shock from a hair straightener, drowning, damaged hair from incorrect hair bleach mixture, sunburn, testing positive for an STD, sports injury (dodge ball), sports injury (football), suicidal ideation due to breaking up with boyfriend, murder, motor vehicle accident, and many, many more.
Some anti-vaxxers use VAERS as one of their strongest arguments, but as you can see, by doing this they are able to claim that sunburn is a vaccine injury. Which, it’s just…not.
The next thing I started studying, and again what many anti-vaxxers use in their arguments, is the vaccine package inserts. They use it as a “gotcha” argument. I used this argument too and was very confident in it. The problem, however, is that the package insert is a legal document, one that has to list any adverse event that occurred subsequent to the vaccine or during clinical trials or post-marketing studies. No causal relationship has to be proven, but they legally have to list everything that happens. The Gardasil vaccine insert, for example, lists gunshot wounds, car wrecks, and suicide as adverse events.
Next, I examined the ingredients. The ingredients were the biggest thing I was afraid of. Let’s talk about aluminum because mercury for the most part has been eliminated from vaccines and aluminum has stolen the spotlight. Babies receive about 10 mg of aluminum during their first six months of life if they are breastfed, 30 mg if they are formula-fed, and 120 milligrams if they are soy formula-fed. But they only receive 4 mg of aluminum from vaccines in their first six months of life on the current vaccine schedule. Scientists have also done research that shows that the aluminum from vaccines does not raise the blood level of aluminum already in your system and that the aluminum from vaccines exits so quickly that half of it is gone from your body by the next day.
The second scary ingredient I forced myself to examine is formaldehyde. It is used to inactivate the viruses and bacteria in the vaccines. Because of that, you are going to end up with some formaldehyde in the final product. The amount of formaldehyde in a vaccine, not exceeding one-tenth of a milligram, is considered safe, as you already naturally have formaldehyde in your circulation. Formaldehyde is required in humans for the synthesis of thymidine, purine, and amino acids — all of which are all necessary for the formation of DNA.
Everyone has detectible formaldehyde in their bloodstream or about 2.5 micrograms per milliliter of blood. If you take an average weight of a 2-month-old (11 pounds) with an average blood volume of 85 milliliters per kilogram, the total quantity found naturally in that infant’s blood would be about 1 milligram. One milligram of formaldehyde is ten times that which is in a vaccine.
And for the third scary ingredient I examined, we have polysorbate 80. Anti-vaxxers believe this chemical will open the blood-brain barrier (BBB) up and allow aluminum to slip through into the brain. The problem with this, however, is that it is physically impossible for that to happen. Opening up the BBB is not as simple as it sounds. Assuming a vaccine contains 50 mcg (HPV vaccine, for example), a 10-pound baby would have to have dozens upon dozens of vaccines injected straight into its carotid artery to have even a CHANCE of opening up the BBB. Polysorbate 80 is also a very unstable chemical that gets attacked by esterases in your tissue at a very fast rate and has a half-life of 1.07 hours.
But ultimately, what finally changed my mind, was having people reach out, listen to my fears, and talk to me. The thousands of mean comments didn’t change my mind. In fact, those comments made me think I was even more in the right. If I had enemies, after all, then I must be doing something right. Those awful comments had the opposite effect on the pro-vaccine person’s intentions.
But when friends calmly and patiently explained the science to me, showing they cared more about me than about changing my mind, my mind started to open up to the fact that I could be wrong. That’s when I started reading a book called “The Vaccine Book” by Dr. Robert Sears. He lays out information in a middle-ground sort of way. He seemed to be both pro-and anti-vax, with a very open mind and honest approach to both positions.
As I read, I started to realize that I trusted the doctor in this book and that these vaccine injury posts on Facebook just did not line up with the number of vaccine injuries he stated had happened.
But the final straw that broke the camel’s back was when I was hospitalized due to bruising everywhere and endometriosis. The care I received from the medical team was amazing. The western medicine they gave me helped me so much. I realized many anti-vaxxers are anti-vax based on the theory that scientists and doctors are in on a conspiracy to kill or maim children for money. It dawned on me that I definitely don’t believe that, and am not a conspiracy theorist at all. There is no way that thousands of doctors and scientists are out to kill or maim our kids. It’s statistically impossible. Most of them are amazing people with huge hearts for kids.
I want to apologize to anybody I hurt during my anti-vax days. I was harsh, sarcastic, and extremely hurtful. I know that there is a lot of ableism in the anti-vax movement, so just know this — your autistic child was born perfectly. Do not let anyone tell you that they need to be cured or fixed. I am so sorry if I ever promoted ableism. That was never my heart or intent, of course, but I am sorry if I did regardless.
I would like to ask the pro-vaccine and medical community’s forgiveness for my flippant attitude, my Dunning-Kruger effect that I put on like a pair of shoes daily, and my measles costume that looked more like syphilis. I am so sorry. So, here I am. About to get my flu shot once I recover from a small case of pneumonia. Planning to trust doctors and scientists from here on out. Wish me luck on my journey-I am looking forward to seeing where it leads me.
Edit — I am now aware that Dr. Bob Sears is not a great doctor to follow. I highly recommend “Vaccines and Your Child” by Paul Offit, M.D., and Charlotte A Moser.
This article was taken verbatim from a Facebook post by Heather Simpson. It’s been slightly edited to fit the format of this blog and to correct spelling errors. Also, appropriate links were added so that the reader can get additional information.