Green and Pro-Vaccine

With all the information coming at us about GMOs in food, hormone-disrupting chemicals in soap and toxic flame-retardants in pajamas, it’s no wonder we don’t trust the government. The FDA isn’t protecting us from toxic chemicals. The EPA is watered down by political and corporate lobbyists. There are yoga mat chemicals in our bread and Flintstone vitamins are little more than high-fructose corn syrup in a Barney Rubble jelly mold. We are trained to read every ingredient and do hours of research before buying a bath toy.

So it’s easy to see how the anti-vaccination movement has taken on such steam with green, holistic and health-minded parents. There’s just one problem – this is an instance where we really should listen to our doctors.

One hundred years ago, your life expectancy would have been in your 40s. Vaccines are a big reason why human life expectancy has doubled over the course of the last century. Childhood diseases used to be so common that most families had experienced at least one childhood death due to diseases. Many of those life-threatening diseases have been controlled or even eliminated through immunizations.

I’ve always kept quiet about the vaccination issue. I have friends who truly believe that their child’s autism is a result of vaccines. Who am I to judge the belief of a parent desperate for answers to such a devastating diagnosis? There but for the grace of God go I.

But what I began to realize is that this is one parenting decision that doesn’t just affect your own children. Whether or not we breastfeed or cloth diaper or work outside the home or feed our kids Fruit Loops – these “mommy wars” need not be public debates, as they affect only the family at hand. But not vaccinating your children could lead to the illness or even death of other children.

When Rachel Sarnoff, a well-respected blogger in the green parenting community and former head of Healthy Child Healthy World, came out as pro-vaccine, it gave me the courage to add my voice to such a controversial topic. In Sarnoff’s Huffington Post article (which also quotes the debate on my Facebook page), she says, “I believe that we can still support environmental health while remaining pro-vaccine. Isn’t the green movement about questioning preconceptions, seeking out good science and making better decisions?”

And this is where she hits the nail on the head.

At the crux of environmentalism is an unwavering belief in science.

We call out the climate change deniers who eschew science and we rally against the fact that only a small percentage of the 80,000 chemicals used in consumer products have been tested for their impacts on human health and the environment.

In the case of vaccines, the scientific analysis has been rigorous and transparent. The CHOP Vaccine Education Center breaks down each vaccine by ingredient with an explanation for any key concerns. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – some of those ingredients do look pretty funky. That’s why the ingredient analysis is so key. Because I am always concerned about bio-accumulation, I avoid many questionable chemicals in my daily life through my food, personal care and product choices. So if an inscrutable amount of formaldehyde, which exists in detectable quantities in the circulation of all humans, is necessary for the efficacy of a polio vaccine, I can accept that with a grain of salt (which is also a chemical by the way).

The argument we often hear is, “If everyone is so confident that vaccinations work, then why are you concerned about others not vaccinating? If they truly work, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

Yes, for the majority of people, these vaccines provide lifelong immunity. However, in some people immunity wanes or they become immuno-compromised later in life. Now, when the disease begins to reappear due to fewer people being vaccinated, those whose immunity has waned are now susceptible to the disease.

It makes sense to be skeptical of everything. Plastic leeches chemicals into our sippy cups but also saves the lives of premature babies in incubators. Antibiotics are overused and misused — but penicillin can still save the life of a child with pneumonia. Chemistry and modern medicine is not all bad. We just need to separate the facts. And believe me, I know how hard that is.

But here are some easy facts:

  • In 2013, the Journal of Pediatrics found no connection between vaccines and autism.
  • In 2011, the Institute of Medicine found no connection between vaccines and autism.
  • In 2010, Andrew Wakefield, who first proposed the connection between vaccines and autism, was stripped of his medical license for fraud.

I do believe that environmental exposures are linked to autism, and that is why I work so hard to minimize everyday toxins in the instances where I have some semblance of control. But I also believe in considering when the benefit outweighs the risk. It’s why I took anti-anxiety medication during pregnancy. It’s why I let my kids use the Purell at gymnastics class if I’m out of Clean Well. It’s why I will borrow some Coppertone sunscreen if my kids are getting burned at the playground and I’ve forgotten my organic SPF.

But when it comes to vaccines, our pediatricians are not trying to poison our children. They have seen the devastation of whooping cough and polio and tuberculosis firsthand.

  • Stacy De-Lin, MD, is a family medicine physician practicing in a low-income clinic in New York City: “I can promise you ‘big pharma’ has never given me a dollar or even taken me out to dinner. This is what is so confusing to us as doctors: What kind of monsters would we have to be to know a drug is dangerous and inject thousands of children with it each year? Every pediatrician and family medicine doctor I know vaccinates their own children. This is an important fact to consider as well.”
  • Anna Gallagher Tierney, MD, is a pediatrician and mother of three: “I receive no incentive to vaccinate – I get no payment whether you chose to vaccinate or not. My practice does not refuse those who choose not to vaccinate.  This is something I struggle with whether I agree or not. Vaccines are so fundamental to my practice that I wonder how a family would ever trust me about anything from the mundane like potty training to the judicious use of antibiotics, which I prescribe rarely and only when truly clinically indicated.”
  • It is also reassuring to see that Alan Greene, renowned pediatrician and author of Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care, minces no words on the subject: “Immunizations save lives. Immunizations remain one of the greatest discoveries in human history, having saved innumerable lives and prevented measureless suffering.”

The World Health Organization presents some of the myths and facts about vaccines here. The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has also created an extremely informative website on the history of vaccines.

Opting out of vaccines has serious consequences for all of our children on a global level. Let’s take a look at the facts and allow modern medicine to save lives.

Infographic courtesy of

Paige Wolf is a Philadelphia mom and author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Children in the Age of Environmental Guilt. This post is adapted from her blog, Spit That Out!

Categories: MomSpeak