Am I my brother’s keeper? or “Why should we care if other children are unvaccinated?”

Originally posted on Rational Catholic:

Michelangelo’s Pieta

There are few issues more contentious in modern parenting than the question of immunization. Whether protection against all of the diseases or none of them, or just a few so as to avoid giving “too many vaccines, too soon”, each parent grapples with the science and stories that frame the great vaccine debate.

Ultimately the decisions surrounding immunization have to be made by the parents of the children in question with as much discernment and factually accurate information as possible.

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Terrible dreams

I’m good at keeping myself occupied. I read a lot more than I used to and maybe I also write more (only recently). Grief is kept at bay. Sometimes it disappears altogether, when I find myself consumed in study of some fascinating subject. Infectious disease is apparently my favorite topic for lay reading. Weird. I used to be terrified by diseases of all sorts. My heart would race and my pupils would dilate when I read certain trigger words. Now, not so much.

Last night I woke up from a dream that my husband had killed himself. At first it didn’t faze me. In my dream I had these priorities and the first one was to find a job so I wouldn’t be thinking about it. I had piece of chewing gum in a blister pack that I dropped behind a girl on an escalator, and I was terrified that I would have to interact with her if I tried to get it, so I pretended I didn’t drop it. She saw it anyway, and picked it up to give it to me, smiling. It was so awkward because I couldn’t return the smile. I went back to my apartment and I kept thinking “it’s only been 4 months” since my brother died, and I had lost my husband now, too. My thoughts started to give way to total, blind rage, and I was trying to kill a woman who wanted to console me.

I had a memory of Seth, in a tan suit, standing behind the trunk of the car the way he always does when he’s getting the diaper bag and spraying on his cologne. The same sentiment came to mind that I’ve felt so many times since my brother died — “I didn’t let him know how much I appreciated him!”

Oh! It was agony. My mind was clouded with grief, drunken, fuzzy, half-conscious grief and I finally woke up.

Sometimes I forget how lonely I am. I keep my mind occupied because it insists, but then I isolate myself from other people. Even my family. I take my babies for long walks almost every day, and I love it, but there’s always a pang of sadness in knowing all that I have left to lose that I just couldn’t bear.

We Shall Remain and Edward Winslow’s Thanksgiving account

The account of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US is based on this paragraph from the journal of Edward Winslow, an Anglo-American pilgrim in Massachusetts.

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreation, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

Yesterday we watched the first of the 5 part series “We Shall Remain” by PBS as part of our Thanksgiving homeschooling lesson. There were a few side discussions about plague and salvation, but the video kept the attention of my almost-6-year-old for at least 20 minutes. I’m not going to quiz him on it or anything, but I just wanted to expose him to the backstory.

Several months ago we watched a dramatic retelling of Operation Auca, a missionary operation in Ecuador, in the movie End of the Spear.  I noticed that after we watched the missionary story, my son had a very strong notion of American Indians as bad people. I was looking for something that might be more neutral. The views of Indigenous people and Christian missionaries presented in this drama are quite different from We Shall Remain, but the latter documentary is crafted with another set of values and assumptions.

There are plenty of dramatic war and culture narratives about the relations between whites and American Indians in pop culture, like Dances with Wolves and Little Big Man. Unlike these other stories that perpetuate the myth of the noble savage, in the End of the Spear the notions of the redeemed savage or “white savior” and white cultural superiority come across without a hint of self-consciousness. We Shall Remain isn’t quite as stereotyped, but there’s something else. Maybe just so much foreshadowing. The story isn’t being told in its own time.

In We Shall Remain there’s a sense of the pilgrims as uniquely bad people–especially when they are pictured forcing the natives to adapt to their customs. It clearly fits with modern view of the white invaders, who accepted the help and friendship of natives as a form of trickery until they became more self-sufficient and then only sought to control their former allies. There is a scene that appears to take place in a church, where the native men are filing in and sitting in front of a possible clergyman (reminscent of prison or bootcamp buzz cut scenes in other films), and having their long braids cut. Their braids are swept away with an old corn broom, and as they walk off, each of the Indian men return powerful, condemning glares toward the man who cut their hair. The glares suggest that they already know the future that awaits.

The filmmakers clearly want to convey the distrust between these two peoples, but the distrust from the natives comes across as more justified defiance (because of their later subjugation?) whereas an earlier scene of women interacting shows the pilgrim women’s distrust of a cheerful Wampanoag woman as needlessly suspicious, even panicky.

Not long after the hair cutting scene, it’s portrayed as incredulous that Indigenous people at that time could have had any authentic experience of conversion and salvation by Christ. A narrator reads from a collection of testimonies by natives who had converted to the Christian faith. One man mourns the loss of his hair, sees this as idol worship and asks for repentance. There is not much discussion of these “praying Indians” except as subjects in a dramatic and definitive shift of power. Of note, historical evidence seems to suggest that the women were more accepting of Christianity than the men, and the women’s story is not being told in this narrative. That is remarkable, since the Wampanoag are known to be matrilineal, but even in this historical revision the focus is the same as most cultural histories: men, power and war.

This is where End of the Spear is more charitable in its treatment of individual experiences, in my opinion. It shows the very real conflict between an indigenous women, Dayuma, whose convictions puts her at odds with her own people. There is a struggle within the family. They believe she is dead, and have trouble accepting her when she returns. Eventually she succeeds in converting them and it becomes a missionary success story.

I suspect that the reality of native peoples converting to the Anglo traditions, as with all things, is more nuanced than the broader tale we tell of cultural assimilation and power struggles. I don’t doubt the power struggle was influential in this history. Power differences always are. But this was just one area of Wampanoag history where the narrative seems to match modern views so much that it comes across as a polemic revision, rather than a full and fair re-examination of that time. Perhaps it is simply too biased towards the modern view of the conflict… because we all know what happens next.

This is a lesson in how people, their beliefs, and their culture, can be simplistically portrayed as either good or bad, depending on who is telling the story. History, like science, is always vulnerable to subjective interpretations.

I am looking forward to finishing the series, anyway.

Why I chose to delay vaccines with my first, and why I won’t do that again

When I was expecting my first child, I was introduced to the anti-vaccine movement. I was intrigued by the information I was reading, especially the speculations that there wasn’t sufficient science on disease ecology and the assertion that we were somehow cheating nature in a way that would come back to bite us. I was an undergraduate student in biology, and I had plenty of curiosity, but very little knowledge to evaluate these claims.

Yet, I knew that there were benefits to vaccination. I wanted my kids to have these benefits. After all, everyone I knew had been vaccinated as children and as a result we were not getting the illnesses that vaccines were designed to prevent. I found a book at my library by Dr. Robert F. Sears, “Dr.Bob,” called The Vaccine Book. This book offered a compromise between what seemed to be two conflicting positions. Since I read it in 2008, it has been criticized and many of the points he made have been refuted. Dr. Bob has agreed with most of the criticism, but he still stands by his alternative schedule.

I wasn’t aware of the criticism, so the book influenced my thinking about vaccines for the first 5 years of my son’s life. The thing that most appealed to me in Dr. Bob’s alternative schedule was the reassurance that I could vaccinate my child on a slow schedule and it would maximize safety with no significant, added risks. I thought Dr. Bob was using good evidence to support his schedule. His discussion about diseases and the statistical likelihood of a child suffering a complication from a disease vs. suffering an adverse reaction to a vaccine supported my ultimate decision to delay my first child’s vaccines. After all, Dr. Bob insisted that as long as a child stays home (out of daycare) for the first two years and breastfeeds during that time, the child will probably not need to be vaccinated. Not only did I take this into account in choosing whether to vaccinate, and when, but I also altered my lifestyle to meet this important 2-year mark, making sure my child would never have to go to daycare or even to a babysitter.

On paper, the alternative or delayed schedule looks very neat and practical. It appears as carefully designed as the normal schedule. And it’s customizable! You can pick and choose, and spread out the vaccines as you’d like. This is very appealing and it is compatible with this insistence among the anti-vaccine movement that “not one size fits all” and you, the parent, can maximize benefits and minimize risk by looking at the data for yourself.

In practice, I’ve found the alternative, customizable schedule to be needlessly frustrating. It’s difficult to follow if you aren’t one of Dr. Bob’s own patients. Delaying some vaccines has actually been shown to increase risks without increasing benefits. Vaccines are meant to be given as early as possible to protect children at ages when they’re most vulnerable to certain germs. His schedule does not maximize safety, and it’s not supported by evidence. Instead it is an emotional compromise that he claims is meant to encourage distrusting, or in his own words “non-compliant parents,” to vaccinate their children in a way that suits them, as opposed to leaving their children unvaccinated. His presentation of the risks of disease vs. adverse effects of vaccines is flawed. He has since admitted that he shouldn’t have used VAERS data to point out the risks of vaccines, because that data is voluntarily reported and not always reliable. Safety studies are required to assess the frequency of side effects, and the latest comprehensive safety study found “few health problems are caused or clearly associated with vaccines.”

Even though the most recent version of his alternative schedule looks much like the recommended schedule, except with twice as many visits to the pediatrician’s office, many people I know still adhere to a pick-and-choose method. These parents, like myself, study available information about the vaccines and diseases, individually, to make their choices. I don’t know anyone who actually follows Dr. Bob’s alternative schedule. The important point to make is that delaying vaccines for any reason that’s not medically indicated simply isn’t supported by any evidence. This article sums up 5 reasons to avoid “spreading out” vaccines, which include lack of evidence, increased risk of errors, additional trauma, more exposure to germs in the doctor’s office, and prolonged vulnerability.
The Vaccine Book has misled many parents. It misled me. Continue reading Why I chose to delay vaccines with my first, and why I won’t do that again

A Moral Duty to Vaccinate?

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Not long after I wrote my last post, I read the blog of another Voices for Vaccines parent advocate who is also a Christian. She laid out her thoughts and offered a rather forceful conclusion– Christians have a moral duty to vaccinate themselves and their children. I was glad to find her post Worship of the “Natural” & Why I’m Pro-Vaccine, because she touched on some points that speak to me personally, having been antivaccine and still preferring most things wholesome and unadulterated.

The people who are anti-vaccine are generally in love with all things “natural” and organic. They worship nature. I’ve listened as Christians make the argument that God made our bodies a certain way, totally skipping over the parts of the Bible where we’re cursed. In fact, the Bible does not speak highly of “natural” anything. At best, it’s neutral and at worst, it’s damned to hell.

I can identify with this. I came from this place, and I am now very prickly about the subject. Of course, I still love cooking with fresh, whole ingredients but more for the creative process and simple nutritional benefits than for any other reason. Healthy food is good, but it’s not magic.

So while I readily identified with that statement, I kind of glossed over the issue of moral duty when I posted this to my personal Facebook page. To me, yes, it is a moral duty to vaccinate your children both for their own protection and for others. But I didn’t come to that conclusion just by reading another blogger’s words and nodding along. My husband and I have been considering this issue for the past year. I am often the one reading the science, and together we work through the Scripture.

It would be wrong to say that God does or does not directly demand a certain behavior from us regarding vaccination. However, this doesn’t mean we can be flippant about the subject. It’s not merely a preference like choosing homebaked bread vs. store-bought. Vaccination is not a lifestyle choice. It’s a healthcare decision, but it’s also a public health issue. By nature, the government’s recommendation for people to vaccinate compels us to consider this as a social duty. Only a concern more urgent than that social duty, such as the risk of imminent harm from the vaccine, can justify relief from that duty. A social duty is not necessarily a moral one, but as the author of the blog post I mention above pointed out, vaccines are an issue of life or death. If we consider ourselves pro-life Christians because of a moral duty to protect life, then we must examine our attitudes about vaccination with that level of seriousness and not with a less rigorous “Christian liberty” defense. On the subject of Christian liberty, Sinclair Ferguson points out:

We are given liberty in Christ in order to be the servants of others, not in order to indulge our own preferences… “We … ought … not to please ourselves… . For even Christ did not please himself ” (Rom. 15:1–3). There is something devastatingly simple about this. It reduces the issue to the basic questions of love for the Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to imitate Him since His Spirit indwells us to make us more like Him. True Christian liberty, unlike the various “freedom” or “liberation” movements of the secular world, is not a matter of demanding the “rights” we have.

Christ died for us. He suffered miserably for our sakes. He lived again that we might follow him in faithfulness. Aren’t we compelled to go so far for each other, and for Him, if we must? Well, vaccines aren’t anything like that in terms of the commitment, and with them we can only help protect our brothers and sisters physically, not spiritually. Yet we cannot shrink away from these very basic responsibilities too easily.  I think it is fair to say with what I have laid out, then the only remaining issue in my mind is whether a person who refuses vaccines is doing so because the risk of harm to themselves is truly greater than the duty to act in accordance with efforts of public health. Far be it from me to make that judgment on someone else’s behalf.

I do have one last point to make and it is this: there aren’t really two sides on this issue. There are the facts, and there are the fears. The provaccine side is where the scientific consensus exists. Potential reactions are carefully scrutinized to ensure that, while some people still do have reactions, very very few serious reactions occur. When the risks are too high, the vaccine is pulled off the market. The antivaccine side exists primarily as a place where the gaps of science are filled in with speculation. Yes, there are heart-wrenching stories of purported vaccine injury, and only those families and their doctors can truly know the accuracy of those. These families are suffering. Yet, there are some extraordinary cases where such stories have been woven with apparent intent to deceive.

When it comes to the facts, there are many decades of evidence of effective vaccines thwarting millions of deaths and serious illnesses worldwide– suffering we never had to hear about because it didn’t take place. Science demonstrates the clear causal link between pathogen and disease, and the clear association between public vaccination efforts and drastically reduced incidence of disease. What science has also shown is that the vast majority of illnesses attributed to vaccines, in internet forums and elsewhere, aren’t even associated with vaccines, much less caused by them. Vaccines cannot and should not be the scapegoat for every illness for which a cause has not been found. They have done too much good to have people scared away because of misunderstood tragedy, fear and speculation.

Updating my ebook

There’s all kinds of drama going on in the ebook publishing world, so I feel like it’s a good day to think about writing projects.

I am going to be working on an update of my One Acre Homestead ebook soon. By December, it will be 2 years since I published it, so perhaps a 2-year anniversary book release would be appropriate. My gardening style has changed and I’ve incorporated a few new tricks into my practice to make the work easier for myself, since I’m working alone with not one but two kids now. I have a little bit of insight and a few more stories to tell that I think would be worth including.

Admittedly, I stopped reading reviews on Amazon a long time ago. I find it really distracting to read what people have to say, and really confusing in some ways. I have seen a few reviews that were stellar, but made me wonder did this person actually read my book? And then there are the really bad reviews that make me think this person definitely didn’t read my book. Then there are those that are honest, thoughtful, fairly critical and very helpful. At one point I wanted to be on Amazon commenting on all the reviews and revising my book in response to the critical comments. I realized there was no way I could be that kind of author, so I left it altogether.

I’m not a proliferative author. I simply can’t compete with some of my homesteading-author mentors in terms of how much finished product I can produce from year-to-year. There are people who do this job far better than I do, and I only hope that my occasional blog updates and my ebooks have served to inspire enough folks for it to matter.

So for the updated edition, here are a few considerations:

-I am thinking about leaving the current version available as-is and creating a 2-year progress report that will be published as an entirely new book, rather than updating the current book. I’m in favor of this option, actually, because in the world of self-published ebooks it just makes sense to have more content available. The drawback to this is that a lot of what I wrote in the original book, especially my personal philosophies about things, has evolved tremendously in the 2 years since I wrote it (although the most recent revision on the published version was around March 2013).

-I want to include a testimony about my family’s faith journey and our time with my brother here at the homestead and the tremendous loss that we’ve felt since his death.

-I want to make a general update on the growth of the gardens, the expansion of the self-sufficiency plan, and an honest review of what has and has not worked for us.

-Finally, I need to talk about homeschooling! I tipped my hat to this subject in the last book, but since we’re really launching in that direction this year and have already begun some instruction at home, I have a lot more to say on this subject.

So if you’re interested in the update, stay tuned.

Should I vaccinate my baby?

Should I vaccinate my baby?

Many parents have been asking this question lately, and the simple answer I have for you is YES! (Unless, of course, your child has a medical contraindication.)

Go ahead and watch the video, or jump below to see why I think vaccines are so important.

Here is an example of the typical childhood vaccine schedule according to CDC recommendations:

Birth – Hep B

2 mos- Rotavirus (oral), IPV (Polio ), DTaP (Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis), Hep B, Hib & PCV

4 mos- Rota, IPV DTaP, Hib, PCV

6 mos- Rota*, IPV, DTaP, PCV, Hep B

12 mos- MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) , Varicella (Chickenpox), Hep A

15 mos- DTaP, Hib*, PCV

18 mos- Hep A

4-6 years- DTaP, MMR, Varicella, IPV

*There are two Rotavirus vaccines, only one requires a 3rd dose at 6 mos. There are also two Hib vaccines, administered on slightly different schedules.

The schedule may vary depending on your pediatrician.

Here is the typical vaccine reaction: nothing happens.

Some children have a mild fever for a day or two. Some other reactions are mild and fairly common. The CDC provides information sheets for the common and uncommon side effects associated with all vaccines. You do not need to read the package insert to find the scary hidden risks of vaccines, because there are no hidden risks. The package insert is primarily a legal document consisting of mandatory language required by the FDA. The adverse reactions listed on the insert include all reported events that occurred during the trial period, gathered from the the tens of thousands of children who were in the trial. These may include things like car crashes, drownings and other events, including illnesses, with no relationship to the vaccine. These were things that simply coincided with the trial period.

Many of these vaccines are meant to protect infants specifically, and that is why they are recommended so early. All of these vaccines combined introduce much, much less antigen (the part that stimulates the immune system) than what newborns are exposed to on a daily basis. This is enough to prevent life-threatening illnesses. For those wary of conventional medicine, preventive vaccination is less invasive and carries fewer risks than treatments for even the mild complications of the diseases that vaccines prevent. These diseases may cause complications that require a long course of antibiotic treatments (either for the disease itself, or secondary infection) or hospitalization. Then, of course, there is the risk of the disease getting even worse.

Perhaps you have considered delaying vaccines, getting only some shots, or skipping them altogether. Did you know that delaying vaccines may slightly increase the risk of moderate side effects and doesn’t offer any benefits to the child? That’s what I did with my first child, because I didn’t have access to good information and there were people eager to take advantage of my initial hesitation about vaccines. I’ve since caught him up on his recommended vaccinations, and you know what? He’s fine. Now his newborn sister has a little more protection from these diseases until she can get her own shots.

A lot of parents have been led astray by people like Joe Mercola (Mercola.com), Sherri Tenpenny, Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com, Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccination Information Center (NVIC) (an anti-vaccination advocacy group funded by Mercola and formerly known as Dissatisfied Parents Together), and the many autism groups that have invested their efforts in finding a link between vaccines and autism. They raise funds in order to promote this deception. Most of these people and organizations generate substantial incomes from perpetuating the myths of vaccine harm.

Many independent bloggers have also jumped in to speak on the issue, including a particularly vocal stay-at-home-mom called “Megan” at LivingWhole.com. Megan has argued that God opposes vaccines (with very bad exegesis), but advises you to disregard your pastor if he disagrees with her ill-informed opinion– because, she says, he’s been paid off. There are also parents who have banded together to form blogging communities, like the Thinking Mom’s Revolution, who are willing to consider information from sources with no credibility in order to try to promote and normalize their personal decisions not to vaccinate.

Is it really profitable to promote an anti-vaccine agenda? Absolutely! Millions of dollars have been made selling alternative treatments for autism based on myths that vaccines were the cause. Alternative practitioners and businessmen like Mike Adams make money selling herbal and vitamin concoctions to treat illnesses supposedly caused by vaccines. Sherri Tenpenny refers to a lab company, for which she is “Medical Director,” that sells titer tests that costs hundreds of dollars, are not reimbursable by insurance, and  parents typically have to interpret the results on their own. Dr. Bob Sears has sold millions of copies of his book featuring an alternative vaccine schedule that has never been studied, and answers questions (presumably for a fee) as an expert in several web forums, but he does not check the validity of his statements and recommendations. None of these doctors or practitioners will take personal responsibility for the decisions you make based on their disinformation.

So yes, websites that promote “news” and “science” stories that buck the system are often selling something. Unfortunately, these claims aren’t based on real science but creative, nonscientific reasoning that may be convincing but lacks a true understanding of human immunology. Often there is a spiritual component to these therapies and explanations of disease. Most are based on new-age philosophy or even on the hallucinations of a single man, like Rudolf Steiner, who views illness as an essential part of childhood. From these philosophies emerges the idea that vaccination interferes with nature, and that disease strengthens the immune system. A study in the Phillipines, where these diseases are endemic has suggested that vaccinated children have better test scores. Avoiding disease, not catching it, appears to have a protective effect on children’s development.

Some honest parents have attributed vaccines to their children’s illnesses, or have had these suspicions confirmed by practitioners and doctors who have devoted themselves to the anti-vaccine cause. Such stories of “vaccine injury” can be disturbing, heartbreaking, and can definitely lead parents to questions their choices. However, these stories should always be considered with skepticism because many illnesses that occur during childhood coincide with the vaccine schedule by chance, and sometimes parents fears lead them to suspect vaccines simply because of the timing.

What is known for certain is that the diseases these vaccines are made to prevent do cause serious harm and even death, especially in vulnerable groups. For example, half of babies under 1 year old who catch whooping cough are hospitalized, and of those babies 1-2 in 100 dies, and up to 1 in 4 will have pneumonia requiring intensive care. Measles infection causes pneumonia (the most common cause of measles death), encephalitis and a fatal, late-onset condition called Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE). SSPE kills children who have gotten measles up to 10 or more years after the infection. These illnesses are deadly. That’s why we have a vaccine.

What’s worse, these illnesses are resurging after a period of time in which they were nearly eradicated in the US.  In 2014 California declared a whooping cough (pertussis) epidemic with 3 infant deaths so far, and there are outbreaks all over the US. Measles has reached a 20-year record level this year, with nearly 600 people infected and outbreaks in 20 states– all associated with unvaccinated individuals bringing measles into the US from overseas. Those are two diseases that have been controlled by vaccines and are still fairly uncommon compared to the time period before the vaccines. Some vaccines are fairly new, and the diseases have not yet been well-controlled. For example, skipping PCV (the vaccine for a bacteria that causes sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia in infants and young children) will most certainly leave your child exposed to disease.

Vaccines work

The pertussis vaccine works well, protecting about 80-90 children for every 100 children vaccinated for at least 5 years, although it is one of the least effective vaccines we have. If you catch whooping cough, immunity from the infection will not be lifelong, and that is true for the vaccine also. This is called waning immunity. Concerns have been raised that vaccinated people may be able to carry the bacteria without showing symptoms and spread it to others. This has not been shown in human studies. However, for this to happen in theory, they must be exposed to the bacteria. They cannot get it from the vaccine. The vaccine still protects most vaccinated individuals from the illness. So the best way to protect infants is to vaccinate them! Mothers can safely get this vaccine in the third trimester of pregnancy to help protect newborns too young to be vaccinated.

You may be worried that vaccines have been linked to autism. They haven’t. An incredible amount of research has been done on this issue, and there is one consistent answer that the evidence points to: vaccines do not cause autism.

Vaccines also do not cause SIDS. In fact, the incidence of SIDs is reduced among vaccinated babies, but possibly for reasons other than the vaccines.

Vaccines are safe medicine. Because of the level of regulatory oversight and ongoing use by nearly every pediatrician in the USA, vaccines could very well be our safest medicine. A comprehensive review of adverse events caused by vaccines shows that vaccines are linked to a few common reactions, like fever and temporary pain, and uncommonly to more serious reactions like a high fever or fever-induced seizure (which is also fairly common with any illness causing a fever in children under 5, and does not increase the lifelong risk of seizure disorders).

You may have heard about all of the nasty ingredients in vaccines. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a page addressing the reason for each of the ingredients in your vaccines: Vaccine Ingredients. (They have lots of other good resources about vaccines, too, if you care to look around.) You may be worried about the mercury-based preservative thimerosal specifically because you have read that it is associated with autism. It isn’t. The rise in autism had nothing to do with the introduction of thimerosal. Mercury had been used in medicine long before the 1930’s and its excessive use caused mercury poisoning, not the developmental differences observed in people with autism. The removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines has done nothing to reduce the rate of autism, which continues to rise. It was removed as a precaution because of the controversy, but it has never been shown to cause harm to children.

The important issue is that these chemicals are either present in trace (almost nondetectable) quantities, or quantities so low that they pose no risk of harm. Somewhat related to vaccines, science writer Tara Haelle has gone into detail about chemophobia– or the fear of mostly harmless chemicals in everything from cosmetics, to vaccines, to food products.

Perhaps you have heard that vaccine injuries are under reported. That is based on a misunderstanding of the VAERS passive surveillance system. The vaccine side effects that are listed on vaccine information statements are gathered from carefully designed research, not from the VAERS system. VAERS is designed only to recommend investigation of new, unforeseen side effects of vaccines. So the “1 in 10 will experience fever” and the very low risk of more severe side effects are accurately based on studies, not on self-reported VAERS reports.

VAERS is not intended for research, although unscrupulous organizations/people have tried to use VAERS to show things like increased risk of miscarriage from the flu vaccine. The flu shot does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Catching the flu during pregnancy is linked to an increased rate of miscarriage and stillbirth.

If you are worried, consider the sources of information that have helped inform your fears in vaccines. Are these sources reliable? Where do they get their information from? Many anti-vaccine advocates rely on data from legitimate sources like the CDC, but then they present the data in a way that serves their own causes, usually by cherry picking things that show vaccines to be harmful, and obscuring the real harms of diseases or information that shows vaccines to be safe. The CDC and nearly every respected researcher in the fields of immunology, pediatrics and epidemiology agree that vaccines are safe and effective. Information from these sources that seems to show otherwise should be thoroughly checked, because often it is just being misused to promote an anti-vaccine agenda.

It’s National Immunization Awareness Month, so check back for more!

Celebrating June with flowers and blueberries

The Vitex is in full bloom. Yesterday I spotted a Swallowtail visiting the flowers. Usually the tree is buzzing with bumblebees, but hummingbirds and other pollinators stop by every once in awhile.

We had a full week of rain through Wednesday, so we didn’t mow anything at all and the grass grew thick. The wheelbarrow in the picture below was full after the first day of rain, and it just kept coming and coming after that. Even though I’m now close to 9 months pregnant (I can’t believe it!) I still occasionally indulge in lawn mowing since that’s one of my favorite activities. Plus, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and my husband just doesn’t give the lawn the same attention I do. That’s what I’ve been catching up on the past couple of days. Since the rain, the mosquitos are outrageous (yes, I did empty the wheelbarrow and every other pot and pan that I found collecting water). The heat is unrelenting during the day already and I have to be really careful to stay hydrated and not be out in the sun too much.

IMG_0412The blueberries have been ripening over the past week, so we filled a huge bowl, froze some of them, and the rest went into pancakes.

IMG_0415IMG_0417Because of the heat, we spend the hottest part of the day inside doing my son’s first grade lessons during the week. We decided to jump into the 2014 school year early, since I’m probably not going to be able to stay consistent for the first few months after the baby arrives. On Saturdays and during free time I’ve been reading a lot and trying to keep myself busy.

I’ve been thinking about my brother a lot lately, too. I have a couple of chapters of a book he started writing several years ago. I was trying to encourage him to self-publish. Re-reading it, I realized how much of it focused on the theme of depression and suicide plaguing his brothers in the Marines. He died from suicide 7 months ago (actually 7 months to the date on Memorial Day).

I’m hoping to add to his story a bit, and write more of the things he didn’t get to. We made so many videos with him while he was here, so he left a pretty good record of his thoughts. But, I know, there was so much he never got to say.

Take care, friends, and blessings to you all.

Polyculture greens

Greens are easy to mix in the garden. Mesclun is an obvious example, as you can buy these in packets pre-mixed. Some types can also be excellent for a naturalized bed, one that reseeds itself every year and doesn’t require much work on the part of the gardener. I gave a preview of my partially self-seeding polyculture bed, but now that it’s a little more mature, and in my opinion quite beautiful, here it is again:

polyculture garden greensThis bed has parsely (3rd generation), Red Russian Kale, Red Rib and Catalogna Chicory, Mayo Indian Amaranth, garlic chives (perennial), a few types of lettuce and green onions, Egyptian Walking Onions, and cilantro. I also have tomatoes in there that I didn’t have room for anywhere else. I just figured some of the other things would go to seed and die back about the time the tomatoes got big enough to start interfering. Not sure how that will turn out, but we will see.

We’ve been harvesting lots of wild blackberries this week, and a few Pineapple Guava flowers.

wild blackberries

Garden resident

IMG_0055A few days ago, I was digging in the garden and removed a piece of dirt that popped out in a big chunk. Underneath I saw the skin of a Speckled King Snake sliding through an underground tunnel. It looks like this creature is a new resident in the garden bed. Yesterday it emerged from the dirt to sunbathe beneath the kale and let me snap this nice photo. I suppose the snake is living in an old mole tunnel.

A blog about a simple, Christian, homeschooling, homesteading family.

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