Why one mom decided against vaccinations
Some parents believe that a child’s immune system will fight disease on its own but most medical professionals say it is very risky to hold back vaccines.
Catherine Lalonde works as an herbalist in the Montreal area, trying to help people use natural remedies to stay healthy. When she became pregnant two years ago, she began pondering whether she would turn to traditional medicine, namely routine childhood vaccines, to protect her baby from illnesses like the measles and mumps. She researched vaccines online and read books on the topic. Eventually, she decided against vaccines, believing that her daughter’s immune system would grow stronger and be healthier if it was allowed to fight off diseases on its own.
Lalonde also uses natural remedies for her daughter’s health and her family eats mostly organic and unprocessed foods. She regularly garnishes her meals with astragalus, a plant she credits to helping boost the immune system as well as fighting infections and temperatures. Lalonde says that when her daughter has a cold, she treats her with simple herbal remedies such as garlic vinegar and thyme tea. (Lalonde advises parents to seek professional help before eating unfamiliar plants.)
In Quebec, families are not legally required to vaccinate their children, even for entry into school. Statistics Canada estimates that 85 per cent of Quebec children have received all the recommended vaccines by age 5. It is not known how many of the non-vaccinated children come from families who oppose vaccines or who simply didn’t keep up with the recommended schedule.
However, Dr. Brian Ward, who works with Canada’s National Immunization Advisory Committee, says families who don’t vaccinate are thinking short-term about their child’s health. He acknowledges that there are very few cases of people contacting an illness like the mumps but he brings up the example of polio, which has not been seen in Canada for many years. Polio is still found in 27 countries that are less than a day’s plane ride away. “These diseases can be imported into Canada,” he says, adding that there are many public areas where diseases can spread, such as airports, markets, daycares and schools.
As well, this summer, Quebec saw an outbreak of measles, with over 600 cases being reported to the Health Ministry (usually the number of cases per year is 0 to 4). According to the ministry’s statistics, 66 per cent of the cases involved children ages 10 to 19 and 12 per cent of them were hospitalized. (For more information on the outbreak, visit www.msss.gouv.qc.ca and click on the section “Vaccination contre la rougeole.”)
Ward has worked in many under-developed countries where these preventable diseases have ravaged the populations. He said people living in these countries would not understand why parents would choose not to vaccinate their child. He adds that unvaccinated children may come to resent their parent’s decision later on.
“All of these kids growing up through childhood may be fine,” Ward said. “But then those kids go to CEGEP and want to do an internship in Bangladesh where these diseases exist.” Then they must scramble to see if they can receive the required shots before the trip.
In recent years, the decision to vaccinate or not has been complicated by the Internet, which provides easy access to information, but not all based on scientific research. For example, research done by British doctor Andrew Wakefield, supposedly showing a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, was cited frequently by groups opposed to vaccinations. Wakefield’s work has since been discredited by reputable medical organizations. To help families evaluate the information found on the Internet, the Canadian Pediatric Society has created a guide, available at www.caringforkids.cps.ca , called “A Parent’s Guide to Immunization Information on the Internet.” And click here to find out the regular vaccination schedule recommended by Sante et Services Sociaux.
Lalonde is not averse to vaccinating her daughter if her family decides to travel in the future or if there is new information to convince her to change her mind. Lalonde says vaccinations are a personal choice and parents need to be objective and research how vaccines work and what they do to the body. “I really feel I made a good choice,” she adds.
Families needed for vaccine study
The McGill University Health Centre-Vaccine Study Centre, located in Pierrefonds, is looking for families whose child is approaching his or her first birthday for a study on the Menactra vaccine, currently approved for children older than 2 years old to prevent meningitis (types A, C, W135 and Y). In Quebec, babies receive a meningitis vaccine at age 1, but it provides protection only against the type C infection. There are no costs involved in participating and children will receive their 12 month and 18-month vaccines through the study. For information, call the Vaccine Centre at (514) 624-7855.