What follows might shock a few people, especially those who only really got to know me post 2012 (see Note 1). I was not always the stone-hard pro-vaccine nurse that I am now. In fact, most people I know today would probably define me as anti-vaccine, I am not sure if I would. But then again I am looking at myself rather than judging someone else. This all also ties in with what I keep on saying regarding Education, Critical Thinking and Evidence.
I guess it all started with my fascination with herbal medicine and other alternative healing practices. I had a very nice and sizeable herbal remedy bookshelf. The pride of which was my ‘The Green Pharmacy‘ by Dr. James D. Duke. I’ll come back to that in a bit. I also used ‘Healing Foods‘ by Miriam Polunin, still, do when the occasion takes me.
I liked my herbal teas, I was especially a big fan of Celestial Seasonings, which has proved to be extremely hard to get hold of in the UK. I liked the whole alternative lifestyle, I was an active Buddhist practising Nichiren Buddhism, I did most of my shopping in a local Health Food Shop. I was living in a town which had a big Buddhist centre just outside of it. Though in my defence, I did not take to astrology, or reiki, or faith healers, and I had some serious doubts about Homeopathy. As well as Bach’s Remedies.
But I did use the phrase “Sometimes Science Doesn’t Know Everything”, and right now I want to slap my younger self. But I wouldn’t because as odd as it all sounds this is what made me who I am today. I didn’t trust medicine that much, and if I could help it I’d rather get a herbal remedy than go to my GP and then the pharmacy. I wanted things organic when possible. I wanted things local. I wanted things compostable. I wanted cloth nappies. I wanted whole wheat pasta.
In 2004, my first child was born. Along with the usual worries of being a new parent, in a foreign country, there was the question of vaccinations. I have to admit I do not remember the whole national outcry regarding the MMR and autism, I think I was sort of cursory aware of it. Especially the whole question of whether Tony and Cherie Blair had vaccinated their youngest son.
There were also plenty of Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Independent papers containing some articles regarding the MMR vaccine in the nursing home I worked in. So it was all there, I just didn’t think I had taken any of it in. But then I and my ex-wife walked into the health food shop to ask the “experts”.
We were given a pamphlet written by an art lecturer in a local college. That clearly stated that vaccines weren’t necessary. That vaccines were probably more dangerous than the illnesses they prevented. That there was this obscure hospital somewhere that managed to cure ALL of their smallpox patients, whereas another obscure hospital all of them died who had had the smallpox vaccine. Vaccines make babies asthma worse and induce eczema.
And there and then, the decision was made. My eldest was not vaccinated. She never got any of those illnesses. She did get ill. But never any of vaccine-preventable ones. Yeah, I did have to defend my decision. Using the “I am the parent, it is my right” defence. Again right now I want to punch my younger self.
I have to say even then I wasn’t particularly against vaccines. I did get the flu vaccine when I could because I was working with vulnerable people, but somehow that didn’t stretch to me thinking about my home life. I just didn’t see them as that important anymore. Even though, as mentioned previously, I got the flu jab when I could. And so it was left and pretty much forgotten.
Until my second child was born in 2010. Then the whole question of vaccinating the child rose again. My ex-partner was not against it. But was quite happy to follow it with what I and my ex-wife had done with my eldest child. Or at least delay the vaccines until she felt it was right for our youngest to be vaccinated.
But we had a few health struggles with the youngest. She had a hard time feeding, and often little ill. Which also made us delay the vaccines. Then, the three of us got this horrible cough. That would not relent. Would not stop. My eldest coughed so much one night she vomited all over her bed, and couldn’t remember any of it the following day. I had to sleep with pillows propped up.
My youngest coughed and coughed and struggled often to breathe. We listened, and we Googled, we searched on YouTube. To this day I am still convinced that she had contracted whooping cough. But the GP’s didn’t agree and diagnosed her with bronchiolitis, on the basis that he had not seen a case of whooping cough in 10 years.
Which in itself does say something? At the time I had been working on the bank at the local acute hospital, so there is still the chance that I might have caught it there and passed it onto my kids. But still… Thinking about that barking noise that she made, how breathless she got, the fever, the gasp. I can’t help but think that the GP was wrong. My youngest got her vaccines shortly after she had recovered from all of that, but almost a year behind schedule. But inexplicably I didn’t get my eldest vaccinated. Because I didn’t think she needed it.
Then in March 2012. I started my academic journey as a nurse. This is actually where me re-reading of the Green Pharmacy by Dr. James Duke came into its own, throughout the book Dr. Duke advocated the use of evidence, the use of critical thinking, the use of making sure you ask the experts. Because in his words he was not a doctor but a botanist.
I had gone into nursing hoping to be able to start evidence-based herbal healthcare. But what I did find was the evidence was lacking in that field and I also found that medicine was at the heart herbal based. Because the majority of the medicine are based on original herbal compounds like Digoxin, or aspirin, or a lot of the chemotherapies.
Then, during my placements in my first year, I started encountering patients, invariably over 70 years of age, who had been inflicted by vaccine-preventable diseases, and survived but did not come out whole. There was a gentleman who was deaf because of measles. There was a lady who had callipers (see Note 2) and used a wheelchair because of polio. There were people with bronchiectasis because of whooping cough. And their friends and families who weren’t so lucky and died because of those illnesses that we can now prevent from occurring.
My mother told me about her experience of measles, and the siblings my grandfather lost due to whooping cough. I got involved in vaccine debates on Facebook, especially on a page called ‘Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes‘. I started reading a lot more scholarly articles. I reflected and I wrote. I applied my critical thinking to my past uncritical thinking.
August 2012 my eldest got all of the vaccines as per schedule. Her vaccine injury was a sore arm, immunity and most likely the eventual coming of old age.
This is why I harp on about evidence and education. One cannot be without the other, and without either, I would never have learned more about vaccines. Or medicine. Or nursing. Or the consequences of not vaccinating. My eldest daughter was lucky because of herd immunity, other people often aren’t that lucky.
- This article was written by Ingvar Árni Ingvarsson and originally published on his blog. Ingvar is a reformed Viking, a father of two beautiful girls, an RN, and a hardcore metal fan, living in the UK. With his permission, it is reposted here. Obviously, this is written in British English – I think editing this broke my spellchecker.
- Callipers (caliper in American English) is a term I’ve honestly never seen before in this context. Apparently, according to Collins Dictionary, it is a splint consisting of two metal rods with straps attached, for supporting or exerting tension on the leg. I’m sure many of you have seen photos of them worn by children or adults who had survived polio.