My Story About Leaving the Anti-Vaccine Movement, and Where I’m at Now

I’m going to take off my IBCLC hat and write this post coming from my own personal perspective, as a mom for 5 years, a nursing student, a laboratory technician, and an IBCLC. These last 6 years have shaped my opinions on vaccines, I’ve gone from being highly against vaccines to now being a huge advocate. I was anti-vaccine until late 2013 when I debated in the allnurses forum. It wasn’t until then did someone actually reach me, and you know how hard it is talking to someone with a polar opposite opinion than you, it’s like talking to a brick wall. That’s when I became “open” to new information. See this thread to view the actual conversation that opened my mind to vaccines New back-to-school worry: Unvaccinated classmates My username is “Ratlady.” In late 2013 I had two children, I was a lab tech, but I was not yet in nursing school or on my way to becoming an IBCLC. And I will be talking about my education that I’ve obtained through the years, it isn’t to brag or to say “I’m better than you” this is just what it took to change my opinion.

After marrying my husband on February 22, 2011, we conceived our first child. During pregnancy I researched everything, I became the type of parent that wanted everything natural, natural birth, breastfeeding, only feeding my baby organic baby food, and – not vaccinating. It all started when I visited the website Ian’s Voice. I was terrified. I talked to my husband who at the time was pro-vaccine, and he said, “That’s a one in a million chance, that won’t happen to our baby.” I was able to convince him to delay the hep b vaccine until the 2-week appointment, and it was with his insistence that our first child was fully vaccinated for the first 4 months of her life. When my daughter was 4 months old it was April 2012, and it was then that we lost a newborn child in our family after he was vaccinated with the hepatitis B vaccine. All I could say to my husband was “I guess it is really one in a million, huh?” And we stopped vaccinating.

This posed a problem. I was in the military and my daughter attended the daycare on post where it was mandatory that your child is up to date on their vaccines. After a long battle with the daycare and medical personnel from our health clinic, I was able to get a vaccine waiver that would allow my child to attend daycare, the only catch was she had to be up to date on DTaP and MMR. We really didn’t like that, but because the in-home daycares and private daycares off post were either too full, too expensive, or just plain sketchy, I HAD to keep her in this daycare. I loved the women that cared for my children there, they had cameras recording everything and I felt safe, plus it was right across the street from my house. We did have other battles about bringing my own baby food, throwing away my breast milk, needing a doctor’s note to omit juice, needing a doctor’s note to cloth diaper, and my son getting a 3rd degree burn on his stomach. Which was followed by a CPS investigation that put my son through invasive medical tests when the DAYCARE was the one that burned him and I was the one that reported it. Even going through all that with that daycare, the benefits outweighed all the bad. Plus, I’m still friends with the women that cared for my children. Meanwhile, I was still very anti-vaccine, the more I “learned” about vaccines the more I feared them, the more I was against them and refused to listen to anyone who didn’t think like me. I didn’t question anything, I ate it all up like it was fact. That’s the problem with fear mongering, they are good at it. They manipulate you as a trick to make it seem that you’re informed when you’re actually not. They are also good at cherry picking science to support their claims. Most people in this stage of their vaccine journey aren’t aware of any of this. Data is absolutely scary sometimes, especially when you’re unable to take it within the context it’s being used in. Not only that but some people are not trained to read medical journals, it takes more than reading the words, it takes understanding. And that comes from education. Even I thought that if it came from a medical journal it must be true, and it must be FACT. I didn’t take into consideration who wrote it, the date it was published, their references, what the data actually meant, or how this research was being used. To make matters worse, there are blogs out there that attempt to digest the material for you to tell you what it means, and more often than not, their opinions are infused into their writings. Not all blogs are bad. In debates about any topic, it’s pretty frowned upon to cite your source with a blog. That’s understandable, it takes the experience to be able to tell if a blog is credible or not.

Anyways… I was set to exit the military in 2014. So, I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I was already a lab tech with an associates degree, but the experience of birthing, breastfeeding, and mothering two beautiful children captured me and wouldn’t let go. It was then I decided I wanted to become a CNM, IBCLC. So I started doing my prerequisites to become an IBCLC, which also aligned perfectly with what was required to become a nurse. When I am driven, I get things done. In 2014 I completed 11 classes, finishing the required prerequisites for both IBLCE, and for nursing school, and I had a 4.0. When I obtained my associates degree in health science with a major in laboratory sciences I had already taken immunology and virology college classes. But back then I didn’t have any opinion on vaccines, I just trusted they were necessary and worked, I didn’t have any kids either. So in 2014, I took two anatomy and physiology classes, two college chemistry classes, human development, statistics, and nutrition. There were other classes but these were the relevant classes that influenced my views on vaccines. I then felt I had a pretty good understanding of normal human physiology, chemistry, and how to read statistics. I was still pretty quiet about my new views. Sometimes people become hostile when you change your views or make it known that you don’t believe the things you used to believe. Especially when you are still active in heavily anti-vaccine circles.

In 2015, I received my acceptance letter to attend a highly regarded nursing school in my area. One of the first classes of my first semester was pathophysiology. That further solidified my understanding of the human body. I was eager to learn in depth about the immune system, inflammation, and how our body heals itself. Everything made sense to me. I also had been following a facebook page called Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes which refutes commonly heard pseudoscience distributed by anti-vaccine advocates. Reading how other people left the anti-vaccine movement made me feel like I would be leaving soon as well.
One thing that has become precious to me is autonomy. I feel like everyone has the right to do what they want with their own body and no one should control it without medical necessity. This is why I’m not a lactivist, I don’t judge women that don’t want to breastfeed. This is why I’m an intactivist and feel prophylactic surgery with no immediate medical benefit on a nonconsenting individual is a human rights violation and medical negligence. Some people will claim that I’m contradicting myself here, and that’s ok, human opinion is a complex thing and things get messy when you try and classify how people should act and think. What matters is it makes sense to me. I’m not here to debate pro-vaccine vs anti-vaccine. I believe the evidence that says they are safe and they work. I also believe that vaccine injuries exist. I believe that adverse events are minimized by the medical community in the name of vaccine promotion. But it happens in all areas when people strongly believe the benefits outweigh the risks. I’ve recently written about breastfeeding activists dismissing a mother’s concerns in the name of breastfeeding promotion. We’re all guilty of it.

So this is where I am. I’m almost done with my first year of a BSN program and I am not part of the anti-vaccine movement anymore. Although in recent debates with anti-vaccine crowds it seems as though they’ve become more sophisticated in their knowledge and understanding of vaccines, it’s still peppered with pseudoscience and misunderstanding that simply won’t be fixed by trying to learn this stuff at home, by yourself, on the internet. It took a lot of college education and being taught by experts to change my views, and again, none of this is to brag. I’m simply stating that it took a LOT, more than one conversation on the internet, and more than scouring medical journals. I have to laugh when people tell me I need to “wake up,” I’ve woken up – twice. Once I was anti-vaccine and now I’m not.

As for my husband, he is still anti-vaccine and I don’t foresee him changing that view. Our kids are still minimally vaccinated, and I won’t force vaccines on them without my husband’s consent as they are his children too. But I’m also not ready to have that conversation with him yet. I feel my children are protected enough for now until we can have this conversation. This is something I’ve largely kept to myself, even despite sharing some things on facebook, and participating in discussions online. Research is still needed, scientists aren’t perfect and neither are vaccines. I feel the benefits outweigh the risks. I don’t believe in giving multiple vaccines in a single visit. I think spacing them out to more easily identify a reaction is appropriate and safe thanks to herd immunity.

For now, I am distancing myself from the vaccine debate, because we’re running into that issue once again when talking to someone with a different opinion is like talking to a brick wall and usually ends in the discussion turning ugly and personal. One thing I have gained from this experience is empathy. I can meet parents where they are. There are some situations where vaccinating others is a part of my job. Good thing I am in love with informed consent and autonomy. I will not be a nurse that pressures parents into vaccinating, I will not guilt them. I am more than happy to give them the reputable resources to help guide their decision and encourage them to talk with their doctor or NP. Paternalistic healthcare is so last century, parents don’t just believe their healthcare providers because they said it. We are not God. Research is not perfect. This is America and we are free to choose. We are privileged with herd immunity that allows these parents to take their time making these decisions so they can be informed. In other countries, people don’t have the luxury of abstaining from vaccines because disease runs rampant and they see physical proof that vaccines work and save their children.

I do not know everything. I learn every day. I firmly believe that it is okay to change your opinions based on new information. It does not make you any less of a person for changing your mind about a subject. For others that have had a similar experience, it can be draining trying to explain it to others. You don’t have to. You don’t need to save the world by sharing your new opinions or information. People will change their mind about something when they are ready. Debating online is a time suck, it consumes your energy and wastes your day. Most of these people are set in their ways and are only out to prove people wrong so they can feel good about themselves. They want you to fear something like they do, they want you to prescribe to their way of thinking as if it is the only right way of doing things. Hardly anything beneficial comes from those discussions, trust me I know!

I will end by quoting Maranda Dynda:

“It didn’t take me long to go from feeling silly to feeling foolish, and finally to feeling completely stupid. I had been duped. I was flat-out lied to. The cult-like world of vaccine refusal had grabbed me by the throat and taken me for a ride.”

See her influential article that helped me come to my current way of thinking:

I was Duped by the Anti-Vaccine Movement