Over the 14 years I’ve been running BellyBelly, I’ve connected with a huge number of parents and parents-to-be.
I’ve read their countless stories and opinions – both for and against a range of topics.
And, no matter whether I agree or disagree, I always listen – with curiosity and without judgement.
There’s so much we can all learn, simply by listening.
Vaccination is one of those topics.
The Anti-vaccination Movement
The ‘anti-vaccination movement’ is really nothing new; it’s been around for almost as long as vaccines.
In the 1800s, there was public criticism of the smallpox vaccine. People objected for the same reasons as they do today, on the basis of scientific, religious, political and sanitary concerns.
In Victorian England, in 1853, The Vaccination Act introduced mandatory vaccination of infants. There was immediate resistance. Parents demanded the right to control their bodies and those of their children. Anti-vaccination organisations were formed and anti-vaccination journals made an appearance.
Today, there are many parents who have serious concerns about vaccination.
Some might become involved in raging debates on social media, just like those who are pro-vaccination. But plenty of people behave very differently on social media than they do in real life.
Introverts become extroverts, and those with social phobias feel safe and ‘let it all out’. A small percentage with hardline beliefs take extremist positions, at both ends of the spectrum. Many have poor communication skills, and because they are so outspoken, they become representative of their communities – even though they only represent a small percent.
Most members of the community go about their lives peacefully, and quietly hold on to their beliefs. They prefer to remain private and not get involved in heated issues.
Many parents who choose not to vaccinate don’t identify themselves as ‘anti-vaxxers’ (you’ll find out why a little further down the article). Either way, these parents are often misunderstood, misrepresented, and judged with a level of criticism unlike any other group of parents.
They feel no-one will listen to their real concerns.
They feel as if the whole situation is a dead end for them.
All the while, the media portrays them as “dodgers” and “crackpots” rather than concerned parents.
What would you do in the below parent’s sitution?
Would you class them as a “dodger?”
Even the World Health Organization has a statement about adverse events with vaccines.
“Adverse event following immunization is any untoward medical occurrence which follows immunization and which does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the usage of the vaccine. If not rapidly and effectively dealt with, can undermine confidence in a vaccine and ultimately have dramatic consequences for immunization coverage and disease incidence.
Alternatively, vaccine-associated adverse events may affect healthy individuals and should be promptly identified to allow additional research and appropriate action to take place.”
“There is no such thing as a “perfect” vaccine which protects everyone who receives it AND is entirely safe for everyone.”
So, why would I want to provide a voice for a group the media, the politicians and medical associations would rather keep quiet?
Those Who Don’t Vaccinate Don’t Have A Chance To Have Their Say
I know plenty of genuine, loving people who do not vaccinate. They have legitimate concerns, but they are attacked and ridiculed simply because of their questions or doubts.
The way most of the government and media respond to some of the gut wrenching stories is simply disgusting. They try to shut people down with hideous name-calling and aggressive behaviour and bullying.
Those tactics never win any battles. Instead they turn concerned or fearful people into angry people who will fight for their beliefs. Nothing will ever change until they decide to listen. Maybe the reason they don’t listen is because once they do, they might realise they will have to do something about it.
Recently, a mother shared her story after bumping into Australian Health Minister, Greg Hunt, who was speaking at an event.
“As I left the venue there were six or so passionate, courageous mums standing outside with a multitude of signs, including some vaccine injured. When Greg Hunt exited the building he was greeted and asked a multitude of questions. One of the mums told Greg Hunt her daughter had been damaged by vaccines. His response was to get a medical exemption. He looked surprised when he was told she was unable to and the only exemption is anaphylaxis. Does the Health Minister NOT know his own policies?”
As a quick side note, if your child has issues with anaphylaxis or other vaccine reactions, an article explains:
“While many people, including medical professionals, have been led to believe that reasons for medical contraindication to vaccination must be consistent with the very strict guidelines set out in the Immunisation Handbook, the Handbook’s disclaimer in fact, expressly states that exemptions are “subject to clinician’s judgment in each individual case”.”
“This confirms that a clinician is not to treat any said guidance as superior to their own judgment, especially considering “The Australian Government Department of Health does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information” contained in the handbook.”
The Way Non-Vaccination Is Presented In The Media
In the media, and in politics, only one side of the vaccine debate is represented. Journalists and politicians deny requests to facilitate a balanced debate. They refuse to meet parents – even if there is proof of vaccine injury by a doctor or hospital.
Recently, an Australian politician called for the ABC to report on both sides of the vaccine debate.
Sky News asked Senator Burston whether media organisations should air both sides of the vaccination debate, to which he replied, “Absolutely”.
“I think any debate deserves equal weighting, irrespective of the topic, within reason, I guess”.
“I think they are entitled to their view and perspective as well, and what they see as perhaps some immunisation of children not being appropriate”, he said.
“I don’t share that view but I think they’re entitled to express that view”.
The importance of hearing both sides was echoed by ABC News Breakfast presenter, Virginia Trioli, when discussing the flu vaccine.
The media does a great job at creating division. They know it generates clicks, comments and views. The official media outlets have to find a way to stand out from the free media content we create every day, when we use our various devices to stream news stories and events.
Their advertising dollars, funding and jobs are at risk. To survive in the avalanche of free media, they must present whatever is most melodramatic.
In an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, titled, ‘Intense Targeting Of Antivaxxers Misguided: Most Undervaccinated Australians Are Adults, Experts Say’, an expert in communicable disease from UNSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Dr Menzies, was quoted as saying, “People love talking about vaccine-hesitant parents. The media and politicians love targeting them, but at the end of the day the numbers are not going to make much difference”.
The heat is well and truly on right now, especially since some of the team from Vaxxed have just completed their tour of Australia.
We Need The Whole Picture
Sometimes governments survey the public about their vaccination beliefs. Usually, however, we don’t see the full results. Parents also complain that the questions don’t allow for an accurate representation of their position, or are not flexible enough to allow them to explain the reasons for their decisions and actions.
Non-Vaccinating Parents – Survey Results
I decided to survey parents who no longer vaccinate their children – or never have done – so you can see the trends among non-vaccinating parents, and how they think.
I surveyed 217 parents, in Australia only.
- 32% were in NSW
- 31% were in Victoria
- 19.5% were from South Australia
- 12% were from Queensland.
Highest Level of Education
For a long time, we’ve been told those who resisted vaccination were the uneducated and poorer populations in society.
According to the research, nothing could be further from the truth.
Just recently, Channel 9 News ran a story that mirrored many other findings around the world: the biggest growth group for those who choose not to vaccinate are wealthier, university qualified professionals – even those in scientific fields.
Vaccination rates in some of our wealthiest inner city suburbs of Melbourne are not improving – they’ve actually dropped to a level of 85%.
Doctor Margie Danchin from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute recently spoke with Channel 9 about the challenges of “educating the educated”.
In case you don’t want to watch the video below, the key quote from Dr. Danchin is, “… Parents in these areas with higher levels of education actually have more concerns about the safety and the necessity of vaccines than parents with lower levels of education. So what we’re seeing, I think, is this cognitive dissonance between parents who are highly educated and many of whom actually have a background in science who are questioning the safety of vaccines.”
Of the parents I surveyed, how many had scientific or medical university qualifications?
- Almost 15% had a university-based science qualification: one was currently studying science.
- Just over 10% had a medical qualification; for example, as a doctor, nurse or midwife. A further three respondents were currently studying medicine.
That adds up to a quarter of respondents.
Research from 2009 found vaccination rates in higher-risk groups to be even lower than in the general population. Almost 60 per cent of professionals in medical or childcare roles opted out of their annual flu vaccine.
Are The Parents Themselves Vaccinated?
The latest research from the Medical Journal of Australia shows around 50% of Australian adults are unvaccinated. This figure is similar in the United States.
In my survey, 85% responded with, “I was vaccinated in the past, but I stopped vaccinating and am no longer up to date”. A further 12% were partially vaccinated and almost 3% were fully vaccinated due to work requirements, but wouldn’t vaccinate otherwise. Only 3.7% had never been vaccinated.
The ‘Doctor Andrew Wakefield’ Factor
In nearly every vaccination debate, someone will play the Doctor Andrew Wakefield card. You’ve probably heard what the mainstream media have said, so if you are interested in hearing about all the major allegations, in his own words, you can see the clip here.
So, did Doctor Andrew Wakefield influence the parents I surveyed? Is he the reason they stopped vaccinating?
The leading response (69.3%) was, “No, I made the decision to stop, based on other sources”.
A further 29.3% of respondents answered, “No, I made my own decision to stop based on a vaccine reaction in my family”.
Parents are quite clearly not basing their decisions on Doctor Andrew Wakefield.
Alternative News Websites
The Natural News website has attracted a lot of negative media, and is often cited as one of the websites where ‘anti-vaxxers’ get their information. So, what did the survey respondents think of the Natural News website?
Almost 50% of parents avoid it because they think it’s inaccurate and unreliable, or they just don’t like it; 39% said, “It’s okay”.
Evidently, most parents do not rely on Natural News for all their vaccination research and information.
Do They Think Vaccines Can Cause Autism?
This is the age-old debate. Do non-vaccinating parents think vaccines can cause autism?
According to my survey:
- Yes, without a doubt – 40.5%
- I’m pretty convinced – 38.7%
- I’m unsure – 18.8%
- No – 1.8%
Another train of thought parents have as to what may cause autism is the body struggling to detoxify itself, which may be from vaccination or other sources. The MTHFR gene mutation has several variants and is quite common. There are thousands of peer reviewed studies about MTHFR and how it impacts important functions and processes in the body.
BellyBelly has an article on the MTHFR gene mutation, written by Dr Benjamin Lynch, about how MTHFR gene mutations may impact 1 in 4 pregnancies.
The graphic below from Dr. Amy Myers is an approximate representation of what is believed to happen with each mutation.
What Do They Think About Aluminium In Vaccines?
A more recent concern about vaccines is the inclusion of aluminium as an adjuvant. An adjuvant is a component of the vaccine designed to stimulate the immune system to respond with antibodies.
The reason for concern is this ingredient is a neurotoxin. It’s become so topical, a documentary called Injecting Aluminium has been produced.
Are the parents I surveyed worried about aluminium in vaccines?
Aluminium in vaccines “concerns me a lot” was the response chosen by 86.6% of respondents; 11.5% said, “concerns me quite a bit”.
The most recent study about aluminium in the body can be found here. It states:
“Aluminium has no known beneficial physiological action in the human body and some genetic polymorphisms predispose to a greater susceptibility to its adverse effects. Therefore, a strong case can be made for avoiding unnecessary exposure to environmental sources of aluminium salts, especially on the part of children, pregnant mothers and women of child-bearing age who may become pregnant.”
Specifically regarding vaccines, the study concludes, “The use of aluminium salts in medical products is a more contentious issue. While antacids are available which do not contain aluminium salts, the avoidance of immunisations which do not contain aluminium salts as adjuvants has wider political and financial implications. It would seem prudent to try to find an alternative to aluminium adjuvants as soon as possible and phase out their use.”
Another study helps to clear up the debate about injected aluminium compared to what babies naturally consume in breastmilk.
“Exclusively, breastfed infants (in Brazil) receiving a full recommended schedule of immunizations showed an exceedingly high exposure of Al (225 to 1750 μg per dose) when compared with estimated levels absorbed from breast milk (2.0 μg). This study does not dispute the safety of vaccines but reinforces the need to study long-term effects of early exposure to neuro-toxic substances on the developing brain.”
What Do They Think About Mercury In Vaccines?
This is another big topic of debate, especially in Australia.
In the past, thimerosol (from mercury) was used as an adjuvant. While it’s still in some vaccines in the United States, Australian authorities are adamant that vaccines in this country do not contain thimerosol. However, some argue that trace amounts can be found in some vaccines, and this is enough to cause damage.
- It concerns me a lot – 68.5%
- It concerns me – 20.8%
- Unsure – 3.2%
- No, I don’t think Australian vaccines contain thimerosol – 6.9%
How Long Have They Been Researching Vaccines?
I asked the parents how much time they had spent researching vaccines.
The top results were: eight years or longer (39.6%); 2-3 years (12.9%); 3-4 years (12.9%); and 4-5 years (11%).
How Strongly Do They Feel About Not Vaccinating?
It’s been said that it’s very difficult to change an anti-vaxxer’s mind. So, how hard is it?
I asked them how strongly they feel about vaccination.
- 60.8% said they felt so strongly, nothing would change their minds
- 34.5% said they felt very strongly, but would be open to research that proved them wrong
Are They Worried About Their Kids Getting Diseases?
I asked the parents whether they were worried that their child(ren) would get diseases that are covered by the vaccination schedule.
- 47.9% answered, “No, because I feel I can manage the symptoms with the help of a supportive doctor”
- 26.7% said, “I’m worried about being judged by medical professionals if I needed help”
- 19.8% answered, “No, because I feel I can manage the symptoms on my own”
- Only 5.5% had concerns about their children getting seriously ill
Do They Have Supportive Doctors?
When asked, “Do you have a supportive or non-judgemental doctor you trust to help, if needed?”
- 50.2% said they had a supportive doctor who wouldn’t judge them
- 24.8% said they did not have a doctor
- 20.7% said no, their doctor was not supportive
- 4% said no, their doctor was aggressively pro-vaccination
What Is The Worst Criticism They Have Received For Their Beliefs?
Those who choose not to vaccinate tend to cop a lot of criticism – some of it serious. I asked them what they considered to be the worst criticism they had received.
Around 39% found people to be judgemental sometimes; 38% had experienced strong criticism from friends and family; 13.4% had received abusive messages; and 4% had been threatened.
How Do They Identify Themselves?
Everyone calls them “anti-vaxxers”, but is that how they see themselves?
- Almost 70% identified themselves as pro-choice
- Almost 15% identified themselves as ex-vaxxers
- 12% indentified themselves as anti-vaxxers
Which Vaccine Concerns Them The Most, And Why?
There is extensive media coverage about the MMR vaccine and autism, but is the MMR vaccine the most worrisome for parents?
- 45.7% named HPV vaccines, such as Gardasil
- 30% said MMR
- 4.7% said DTaP
- 15% said “other”, which mostly consisted of all the vaccines, followed by any combined vaccines.
“All multi vaccines concern me greatly as I don’t have confidence that research has adequately explored the cumulative effects in sensitive/reaction-prone individuals”.
“The terrible side effects being blatantly ignored and not linked to this vaccine [HPV vaccine] and the lack of research on the impact on people’s reproductive system. MMR is a very close 2nd because of the dramatic change that most parents have experienced in their children after having this. DTaP is 3rd because of the way in which pertussis [whooping cough] can still be passed on”.
An article written by Doctor Neville Wilson contains many concerns about the HPV vaccine which are held by these parents.
Parents Are Trying To Be Heard
I want to finish this article with a story a mother shared about her frustrations.
“Years ago I was invited to do a radio debate on ABC radio – with Doctor Michael Wooldridge as the speaker for vaccines. He was the federal health minister at the time. I waited on the line for a long time, and eventually the producer came on and told me, “Doctor Wooldridge is refusing to debate you”. I said, “Please ask him what he is afraid of?”
She informed me they had been trying to convince him for 20 minutes, and what he agreed to was to allow me to speak for five minutes, and then he would come on. I had to agree, as it was that or nothing.
So I used my full five minutes, was able to answer all the questions, and was grilled by a very pro-vax presenter.
Then Doctor Wooldridge came on and said I was the most dangerous person, and needed to have my children removed from my care. He then presented a lot of fear mongering that was not backed up by anything.
At the end of the segment, the pro-vax presenter asked, “If Mrs. X is so dangerous, why doesn’t the government just give all the parents all the information themselves, and then people like this will go away?”
Doctor Wooldridge replied, “Our research shows that when we give parents too much information, they will not immunise”.
Finally, a MUST watch video, which would be the most important for our politicians to see, in order to hear a highly educated opinion on human rights.
Professor Mary Holland was educated at educated at both Harvard and Columbia Universities (graduated with honours), and is now a Director of a legal skills program at the New York University School of Law.
Speaking in front of the United Nations, she raises some very important questions which we should all be asking.