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. 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. Worse, 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 entirely unvaccinated. His presentation of the risks of disease vs. adverse effects of vaccines is horribly flawed. He has since admitted that he shouldn’t have used VAERS data to point out the risks of 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. I don’t know anyone who actually follows that 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. 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