What you can’t see can’t hurt you?

Dear Doctor Ninja,

I Like most people, I’ve heard the vaccination debate rolling around for the last few years, especially after one of my favorite comedians took an anti-vax stand a couple of years ago. But it’s only now with my wife is 30 weeks pregnant that it’s feeling like a very real and personal decision we’re going to have to make for our child and family. This is our first child and we’re so excited but also worried. Both my wife and I were vaccinated as children but things feel different now. I’ve been reading about vaccination extensively but I still don’t feel confident about making a decision. Can you shed some light on the situation?

W. Orried

When I was a child, I got the chickenpox. I still have a scar on my nose from it. My mom calls it “proof” that I had chickenpox. Back then, there was no chickenpox vaccine.

We were a vaccinated family: Measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus, diptheria and so on. If there was a vaccine against heartbreak, my parents would have given it to me.

Whether to vaccinate your child against any particular disease is not only a personal decision for you, but a personal decision for your child. The question you have to ask yourself is, “What are the kinds of things do you see that make vaccination feel like a wrong or a right decision?” And more importantly, “What are the kinds of things you aren’t seeing that also make vaccination feel like a wrong or a right decision?”

My parents grew up in a time and country where polio was a reality. They had either friends or friends of relatives who lived with the complications of polio; unable to move certain parts of their body. Polio was present in their lives, not just theoretically, but in a concrete, experienced way, even if neither of my parents had the disease.

When asked, “Would you like to give your child a series of vaccines that would prevent them from ever getting polio?” my parents’ answer was confidently yes.

What you see today is autism. Chances are you know someone who is affected by autism or has someone close to them who is affected by it. Even if you don’t know someone affected by autism, the volume of vaccine-autism material on the internet is so overwhelming that it can create the vividness to make it real enough for you. Even if you never look at vaccine-autism material, you’ve seen autism.

A Google search today for “do vaccines cause mental problems”, comes up with over 64 million hits, the first two pages of which are about vaccines and autism.

A Google search today for “hospitalization of child for flu,” comes up with just over 1.2 million hits, and the first two pages aren’t even about kids in the hospital with flu, but when you should take your child to the hospital if they have the flu. In fact, the only way to find anything about a child in the hospital with the flu is to search “child dies in hospital with flu” which still only comes up with only 16 million hits.

Even if every case of measles, polio, or even every case of hospitalized flu was reported on the internet, it would never catch up.

For you, autism is real. For you, unlike my parents, polio is only theoretically real. Polio is only theoretically real for you because of a concerted effort to eradicate it. You would be hard pressed to find anything on social media about how polio affects anyone around you. You can tell something is really good at preventing something bad, when we forget that that bad thing exists. You can’t see what is no longer there. The bad boy/girl trope exists because you meet all the wrong people until you don’t meet the wrong one. Until then, to you, the world is full of undateable people. But “bad boys”/”bad girls” exist only because the good ones do too.

Your personal decision has very little to do with herd immunity, or the greater good, or even which of the differing opinions is true. You want the best for your child. That’s what loving parents want. You want to make the decision that protects your child and gives them every opportunity to be the person they want to be, whatever it is they want to be. Fear that you can see and feel is stronger than fear that you can’t see.

We all have blind spots when it comes to making decisions, and the key to making a good decision is to make sure that you’ve reflected not as much on what you can see, but what you can’t see, because it’s not what’s being shown to you. Because the fear you don’t see, if you could see it, would probably change how you feel about this very issue.

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