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The Art of Managing Longleaf

I’ve been using the website Goodreads lately to keep track of my reading list. It is chaotic at times, since I keep adding new books when I’m only about one-quarter through the books on my “currently reading” list. For that reason, I’ve decided it’s a good time to pause and sum up my thoughts so far about a very special book I am reading called The Art of Managing Longleaf: A Personal History of the Stoddard-Neel Approach by Leon Neel, Paul S. Stutter and Albert G. Way.

indexI started reading this book as a guide for longleaf pine management, but the personal history part of the story, which takes up the first one-third of the book, has captivated me. It begins with the story of Leon Neel’s childhood in the Red Hills of Georgia. The hilly topography and erodible soils forced farmers to compensate by farming in patches, rather than broad swaths as they did in the prairies further west. He illustrates lessons learned with  his memories of dove hunting. His father turned the pigs loose on the peanut fields after harvest and they would messily break apart the peanuts, leaving plenty of leftovers for the doves. Then his father turned the boys loose on the doves, with shotguns frustratingly ill-equipped for the chore, he speculates, as his father’s way of having him improve his aim. Neel explains that was “…the way we learned about nature and land use through the experience of hunting.”

The narrative reads very much like the beloved land ethics classic, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry’s essays pondering the history of his native Kentucky.

Another recollection that piqued my curiosity may be of more practical use for today’s hopeful homesteaders. The southern families in Neel’s community grew sweet potatoes primarily for family use, rarely would they sell the sweet potatoes. The potatoes for home use were stored in sweet potato banks.

They would clear a piece of well-drained ground about eight feet in diameter, and then they would lay a deep mat of longleaf pine straw down. After they dug up the sweet potatoes, they stacked them up on the pine straw bed. Folks would use slash pine or loblolly if they had to, but longleaf was the most desireable straw because it made the most durable mat… Once they got the pile of potatoes in a conical shape, they covered them with another layer of pine straw… made a teepee-like structure with… anything that would shed water.

It would all be covered in dirt and the potatoes would stay cool and dry over the winter. It functioned like an above-ground root cellar, which would have air circulation and a slide-away door or contraption to get to the potatoes without tearing down the whole pile. I found this photograph of a sweet potato bank from the Horry County Museum in South Carolina.

sweet potato bankThis book has been on my reading list for a long time but it wasn’t until my father-in-law started showing enthusiasm for my idea to plant the property in pines that I decided to go ahead and buy it. I’ve slid away from my interest in natural history and homesteading over the past year as I’ve just had so many things going through my mind. This lovely book, part memoir, part practical guide, has been a pleasant way for me to refocus and, hopefully, be drawn back toward my love for and interest in the land and the cultural and natural history of the southern US.

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A crude poem about an Unlikely Mechanism

Doktor Shnabel von Rom copy

[My thoughts after a semester of studying antivaccine woo, EV-D68, Ebola, Anatomy and Physiology and Nutrition Therapy. The spooky character above is Doktor Shnabel von Rom. The Plague Doctor is the medieval version of today's HazMat suit. He's the guy you don't want to see. The beak holds aromatic herbs to keep away the miasmas.]

Unlikely Mechanism

We became ill by an unlikely mechanism.

Our hands and feet went numb.

We started smelling hallucinations,

But it wasn’t because of our bath products.

Neither because of our diets.

It was an unlikely mechanism, slowly poisoning us.

We struggled to speak as our larynges grew weaker, into dysphagia.

Sipping thickened liquids to try to stay alive.

Dehydration, rehydration. How will we survive?

I knew 6 people who died from an unlikely mechanism.

Their friends and family described the way their skin peeled,

Swelling, erythema, tingling sensations, followed by death.

We were all surprised.

We purged our homes of poisons, the mainstays of our normal lives

In hopes of warding off the toxic vapors.

We sat in sunlight by prescription.

We toiled to purity and back, and forth, and back, and forth.

Suffering, as our limbs grew weaker, into paralysis,

Lesions on our ventral horns. Gray matter.

We could not uncover the mechanism,

And simply saw that we were cursed.

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Christians, do not be complacent about vaccination

Pastors and religious leaders have always had an influence on public health. They are the shepherds of their congregations, and as such they would be remiss to fail in upholding basic efforts to fortify God’s people from the spread of infectious disease.

Cotton_MatherThe first well-known pastor to act on the subject of innoculation was Cotton Mather. Yes, the Cotton Mather, who also directed the horrors that were the Salem Witch Trials. While his legacy in the witch trials remains fairly common knowledge, the part he played in introducing variolation into the US is lesser known. Arthur Allen has carefully documented this history in his book Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver. During the 1721 smallpox epidemic, Mather began writing fervently to doctors in Boston to find one who would perform a procedure known as variolation. He was convinced that this procedure, uncommon in Europe and thus far unused in the US, would be the only way to stop smallpox from spreading wildly through the population. Variolation, which involved taking the fluid from the pustules of an infected person and scratching it into the skin of the person to be innoculated, was much more dangerous than modern vaccines and the science was virtually untested except in a few published cases. Mather learned of the practice from an African slave, who claimed to have been innoculated against smallpox as a boy.

As people today are prone to argue that vaccination causes harm and poisoning of the body, and undermines faith in God as Divine Healer, so did Mather’s counterparts argue in protest of his urgings. Indeed, this is where the first claims were made by people opposed to innoculation, and some of these same arguments still persist today in discussions about vaccines. Nevertheless, through Cotton Mather’s persistence, his smallpox legacy is a truly victorious one. Smallpox was eradicated from the globe in 1976 through mass innoculation programs, particularly after the practice was improved and made much safer. Smallpox itself was a highly infectious disease that killed at least 1/3 of the people who fell ill. Thanks to the fiery insistence of a puritan preacher, we no longer have to worry about waves of smallpox sweeping through our communities.

Outbreaks

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The vast majority of parents in the US vaccinate their children for most illnesses. This includes parents representing most faith groups. Amish people are one group that has made news in recent decades for disease outbreaks due to low levels of vaccination in their communities. While the Amish lifestyle is strict, the shunning of some technology is a community restriction meant to maintain a focus on God, and does not preclude vaccination. A 2009 study of community member’s attitudes revealed that most Amish do vaccinate to some extent, and among those who do not, they cite the same fears and concerns as those that persist in mainstream society. It is not necessarily unique cultural or religious beliefs that lead to unvaccinated Amish children.

In 1979, a polio outbreak occurred that included Amish persons from 4 different states. This was the last outbreak of wild poliovirus in the US. The CDC concluded:

The 1979 outbreak demonstrated both the tremendous progress to date in achieving protection of the U.S. population but also the fact that polio could find a way to reach the remaining pockets of susceptible persons in the country. In addition, the outbreak made clear the necessity of taking a global approach to polio…

At the heart of this issue is the fact that, if not for those pockets who resist vaccination, illnesses that spread only through human populations could potentially be eradicated by strong vaccine efforts. That would be the end of the disease, and of the need to vaccinate. Smallpox is gone. Polio and measles could be gone.

The polio-free status the United States has enjoyed since 1979 comes at a cost… [vaccine-associated polio] should be reduced substantially as a result of the recently adopted sequential IPV-OPV schedule. An estimated $230 million also is spent each year to maintain the high levels of polio vaccine coverage. Once polio is eradicated from the planet, polio vaccination can be discontinued…

The fact that vaccination carries a small risk only serves to underscore the benefit of eradicating the disease. It does not make sense to avoid a very small risk of vaccination by allowing the return of very devastating illness and disease. It does make sense to work to have these diseases eliminated in this generation– not to allow pockets to emerge for outbreaks to erupt– so that the next generation will have no need for the vaccine.

Many Amish were convinced after the 1979 polio outbreak that vaccination was worth it. It was a small outbreak but it led to 15 cases of paralytic polio. Many of the Amish who chose to be vaccinated during that outbreak did so after seeing these results, and knowing that what might be a mild illness for them could be spread to someone for whom the illness would be deadly. In his book Amish Society, John Hostetler documents (p. 324):

In the case of the polio outbreak, after a series of visits by health officials, the Amish arranged for mass immunization in their homes and schools. The objection to polio immunization was finally overcome when a lay member argued that the Amish would not want to be the cause of other persons getting the disease.

Much more recently, in 2014, several unvaccinated members of an Amish community returned from mission work in the Philippines carrying the highly contagious measles virus. In June of 2014, NPR reported that many Amish families who had not vaccinated their children for a number of reasons were choosing to be vaccinated because of the great burden of the measles outbreak. It started in April, when a nurse identified measles in one Amish family.

“The rash. They had the conjunctivitis in the eyes, their eyes were red,” she says. “They don’t want the light, they sit in the darkened room, wear dark glasses. I mean they were just miserable. High temperatures, 103, 104 temps. So this was the measles.”

When one family was asked why they had not vaccinated, the father responded

“I guess there was no scare to us before… I guess we were too relaxed.”

All of the community’s activities, including their worship, were interrupted for months as the disease spread wildly. As of September of this year, 377 cases of measles were reported in Ohio despite more than 8,000 unvaccinated people choosing to be vaccinated in response to the outbreak.

Measles-Cases-616pxThis year has seen a total of 594 cases, mostly in unvaccinated people, resulting from 18 separate outbreaks caused by unvaccinated people bringing the disease into the country.

The recurring themes here are that concerns about vaccination are valid, and in religious communities they can be especially troubling as we sort through our views of obligation to God and to our neighbors. These diseases, though, are far from benign and evidence shows that we can hold some hope of eradicating serious, debilitating, life-altering and even life-ending illnesses by preventive measures– by vaccination. Vaccines work best before an outbreak, and as the Ohio measles case shows, mass vaccination after an outbreak has limited benefits. People who are exposed before vaccination will still fall ill. People who are exposed between the time of vaccination and the time that it takes the body to produce antibodies may still fall ill and spread the disease to others.

It is not wise for Christians to grow complacent, following the example of Hollywood’s elite. Let’s heed these examples that God has given us, the wisdom of those who have suffered this before us, and take measures to prevent the next outbreak.

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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.

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Brief seasonal updates and an explanation about vaccines

This year we had to pay someone to do the bush hogging. Our neighbor who has been cutting hay for the past 4 years has been swamped with work and presumably doesn’t need the hay. Now it’s all lying around in the fields… so much hay, and it’s thick Bahia, too.

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There we are, hiding behind the trees (from the blazing sun.)

I even had to have my garden cleared because by the time I was ready to get out and do garden work, too many thick woody weeds had grown up. I was deeply discouraged, but trying to remind myself that this is just the nature of managing land. Like with anything, you can either give the garden a regular dose of maintenance, or let it sit around and have a major cleanup at the end of it all.

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You may be wondering why I’ve been posting things about vaccines so often. To be frank, I am very concerned about people refusing vaccines. Vaccines are extremely safe for most people, and effective against the diseases they are designed to prevent. This is shown not just because of one immunologist, or epidemiologist, or one organization or corporation or university saying so– but because of a wide agreement among all of these people and among those who are directly working with patients. There are a few outliers within these groups who disagree. There are a lot of parents who want to believe that it’s safer and more natural *not* to inject their children. I understand these concerns. It doesn’t change the facts.

With my first child, I was in that camp. I was terrified that giving him shots was a decision that would harm him or even kill him. Going through the process of getting my degree, I had to read a lot of scientific papers and show that I could accurately comprehend the points that were being made. Anyone who has done this in an academic setting knows that it is not simple, especially when you haven’t developed the skills and haven’t practiced it frequently. This changed my views. I reexamined the evidence. I did my research and then I did even more research after gaining experience in the process of researching. Inevitably, I found that many of the things I wanted to believe emotionally were simply not in the science.

I don’t mean to say that academics are the only people who can read and understand scientific papers, but it is something that takes a lot of work and an *objective* approach. For example, if I assume that all pesticides are always bad and always harm honeybees, it would be hard for me to accurately read a paper that carefully documents the methods and results, and concludes that some pesticides are actually beneficial or neutral for honeybees. I might not even read that paper. Instead, I’d go and find a paper that confirmed what I already thought. Maybe in that second paper, the methods weren’t as carefully documented as the first paper, and maybe the results weren’t fully disclosed. That’s a confirmation bias. It’s widespread in vaccine discussions. Just read the history of this recent event with the “CDC Whistleblower.”

There are other problems with vaccine misinformation, too. One of them is cherry picking. I liken this to the rather lazy way of teaching high school writing. The teacher insists that students cite their sources, so the student develops a thesis and writes his or her paper, then goes and finds blurbs and sentences from various sources that match what the student said, and slips it in the “works cited” or bibliography page. This does not show a lack of creativity or intelligence. It’s actually quite creative. Yet, it *is* intellectually lazy, and potentially dishonest (depending on the writer’s awareness about what they are doing.) High school students are taught to write persuasive essays where the focus is on the writing and rhetoric, not the research. It is a shame, in my experience, that this persists often beyond college.

So I grew tired of it, and I have grown tired of conspiracy theories. I haven’t become complacent. I’ve just gotten to a point where if I learn something new and exciting, and especially something alarming, I’m more likely to demand meaningful evidence.

I’ve been thinking about how this is going to change my gardening style. Admittedly, Round-Up became a part of my no-till growing last year and it has been very helpful. I didn’t use it this year because I was pregnant, and now I am nursing, but as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I also had to bush hog my weedy garden this year. Last year I magically melted those weeds. Just saying.

I don’t want to deceive anyone. I’m a lot less “crunchy” than I once was. More practical, perhaps. More cautious, but not completely jaded.

My faith is much stronger and I am so very thankful just to be where I am.

Countdown to “Vaccines – Calling the Shots” on PBS

Originally posted on Shot of Prevention:

PBSCallingTheShotsAnother great vaccine documentary is set to air this month.  That’s right!  Mark your calendars and set your DVRs!

Vaccines – Calling the Shots will premiere on Wednesday, September 10th from 9-10 pm ET (8 pm CT) on PBS NOVA.

Vaccines – Calling the Shots” is a special production which examines the science behind vaccinations and takes viewers around the world to track epidemics.   The film explains why diseases, which were largely eradicated a generation ago, are returning to the United States.  It also explores the risks and consequences of opting out of vaccines, and identifies parents who are wrestling with vaccine-related questions.

This brief preview provides a glimpse of what this new documentary is all about:

Help Generate Awareness About this New Documentary

Vaccine hesitancy and refusal is often rooted in the proliferation of immunization misinformation.  However, educational films like “Vaccines- Calling the Shots” can help separate facts from fears.  Therefore, we ask for your support and participation in getting the word out about…

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Our first homeschooling year

We are registered to homeschool! In Louisiana, registration is simple. There are 2 options 1) Register as a non-public school not seeking approval or 2) Register for a home-study program. The first option is preferred among homeschoolers, especially those with younger kids (older kids have some benefits if the second option is chosen.) We went with the first option this year, although my son is still below the compulsory schooling age.

My plan with the curriculum this year is just to explore his abilities. We are using the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington. This has been a great approach for us and I definitely recommend it as a starting point for phonics teaching. We had some trouble early on, so we took about a month break and came back to it. Now he is doing great and we’re able to get through the lessons rather quickly. He sounds out words on his own all the time and in some ways he is outpacing the lessons in the book. That is fine by me!

We are also reading McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer, which is an old teaching text used in the early 20th century and now available for free download. The pictures and reading are more interesting to me than modern early readers. I am using this as an intro into language arts. We plan to use another Jessie Wise book, First Language Lessons after we get through some of these other books.

For math, we’re doing Singapore Math Primary Level 1A and I like it enough that we’ll move on to 1B to finish this school year. There is memorization involved for basic addition and substraction, but it also introduces addition and subtraction tricks that will easily transition into algebraic concepts later on. He has done well with it so far, and is almost half-way through this 1st grade equivalent math program. 

Our fun homeschool/homestead science project this fall is a cover crop experiment that we are doing for Anna at Walden Effect. I have no garden plans of my own other than greens, as usual, so I’m excited to do a little project like this and hopefully gather some helpful info to contribute to the homesteading community. The project is for her book update Homegrown Humus. Thanks for the opportunity, Anna!

We’re not following a curriculum for the rest of his early subjects. Instead, we’re participating in a program this year called Classical Conversations. At the Foundations level, which is where my son is, kids are introduced to early music and art concepts, as well as memorization of timeline facts and a few historical events. Memory work is considered the foundation of the “grammar” stage classical teaching according to The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers. I know some modern educators detest the memorization approach, but classical instructors recommend it for younger kids because it gives them the vocabulary needed to weave concepts together later on.

So we’re doing all of this, and I’m taking a few university classes myself this year. Seth is pastoring at our small church and spends so much time studying the Bible. The little baby girl stays sweet and content, as long as her demands are met.  We’re hoping to make another trip to see my family in Virginia before the year is out.

I’m sure we will be busy.

The Wild Homestead

Oh yeah, another thing I want to do is come up with a more realistic name for my blog and homestead.

I created this blog with its off-the-cuff name in 2009. I was thinking something along the lines of incorporating homesteading with natural elements in the landscape, a basic permaculture practice, but the “Wild Homestead” sounds silly to me now. So that’s another thing I’m going to resolve by the end of this year.

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!

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

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