Learning about the benefits of vaccinations the hard way

Gavin and Tara Hills are Canadian parents of seven children who had been frightened away from vaccinating all of their children ages ranging from 10 months to 10 years because of all the alarmist rhetoric they read on the internet.

She writes that she had long mistrusted the medical system and the pharmaceutical industry and became worried about the vaccines they had given their first three children. So they stopped vaccinating.

“We stopped because we were scared and didn’t know who to trust,” she writes.

Gavin says they heard so many frightening things about vaccines from so many people that they decided that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

“There was enough smoke that it alarmed us. We got scared, so we decided to hold off on vaccinating until we learned more. But then we stopped there, much to our discredit,” he said.

For six years, he and his wife were on the fence about vaccine safety, so chose to hold off on vaccinating until they understood the issue better.

But they continued to be troubled by their decision and the Disneyland outbreak scared them into investigating again, speaking to experts, reading the literature, and questioning their belief that the scientific community, the pharmaceutical industry, and the government were all colluding in one big conspiracy to force unsafe vaccines on the public.

Then last month, after finally getting all their questions answered, they changed their minds about vaccines and had even set up doctors’ appointments to get their kids caught up on the shots they had missed. Hills and his wife, who were fully vaccinated as kids, were also planning to get any booster shots they needed.

But it was too late. Just before they got the vaccines, all seven of their children contracted whooping cough and now the whole family is quarantined. Tara Hills has blogged about their experience and the irony of their situation is not lost on her and it would be wrong to indulge in any schadenfreude at their plight. She says that two of her children are getting better while four are getting worse.

Thanks to reader WhiteHatLurker, I learned about the effort in Australia to discourage parents from getting exemptions from the requirement that their children get vaccinated. They are doing this by denying them a child care rebate and other benefits.

Under current laws, families with children who are not immunised can still receive annual childcare rebates and other benefits if they have a personal, philosophical or religious objection.

Mr Abbott said the rules would now be tightened to only allow a small number of religious and medical exceptions, but he would not say how much the move was likely to save.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said he only expected a very small number of families to be exempted from the Government’s new policy.

Mr Morrison said parents seeking a religious exception would need to be registered with their church or similar organisation.

“That’s the only basis upon which you can have a religious exception, and there are no mainstream religions that have such objections registered so this would apply to a very, very small proportion of people,” he said.

While this still allows for religious exemptions that I think should not exist, at least they are limited in scope. But what I found interesting was that this was proposed by their conservative prime minister Tony Abbott and supported by the opposition party leader Bill Shorten who said ” “We believe fundamentally in the science of vaccinations and we fundamentally believe that policy should be made by the best evidence and the best science”.

This agreement by opposing parties on the basis of established science is something that has almost disappeared in the US where all it takes is for president Obama to propose something or for some kook to yell “My freedom is being infringed!” for the two parties to immediately polarize on opposite sides and then nothing gets done.


  1. Hank Tholstrup says

    The Australian law is probably some improvement -- not least because as you say it conveys that there is a consensus between normally opposing parties. But it only addresses one end of the non-vaxxer spectrum, namely the poor/disorganised families on welfare who don’t end up getting their kids vaccinated. The wealthier kooks who disdain vaccination are not affected by the new law, since they aren’t eligible for the government rebates anyway.

  2. mnb0 says

    “For six years, he and his wife were on the fence about vaccine safety, so chose to hold off on vaccinating until they understood the issue better.”
    Eh? They needed more than six years for understanding better how vaccination works?! Where do they live? Google “how vaccination works” (for the theory) and “testing vaccines” and you get all the information you need!

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    mnb0 @ # 1: Google …

    Not a reliable way to find medical information if you lack a well-educated crap detector.

  4. says

    Kids who contract preventable diseases end up costing society far more in the long term than just a disease. Once again, 28grams of prevention was worth 454 grams of cure.

    This really merits labelling such parents as child abusers. In this case, the parents have finally gotten the message so I would give them a warning but continue to monitor the family. In others, society needs to hold these people accountable for their actions.

    mnbo (#2) --

    Researching requires a willingness to hear differing views. Absolutists (e.g. creationists) don’t want to hear or learn, so they actively avoid reading anything and anyone who disagrees.

  5. Holms says

    But what I found interesting was that this was proposed by their conservative prime minister Tony Abbott…
    It’s actually very surprising to see Abbott reduce religious exemptions at all, given that he is highly pro-christianity in many other areas of governance. Perhaps he doesn’t mind eliminating this one as his catholicism doesn’t have a conflict in this particular area.

  6. raven says

    There is currently a whooping cough epidemic in my local schools on the coast.

    OTOH, they are used to it. This has been happening every year for a while.

  7. sigurd jorsalfar says

    This really merits labelling such parents as child abusers.

    It’s pretty hard to label them as child abusers when the law allowed them to do what they did.

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