When antivaccinationists play on Mothering.com

Antivaccinationists irritate me, for reasons that should be obvious to regular readers. The reason is that vaccine-preventable diseases can kill. Contrary to the beliefs of many nonvaccinating parents, who downplay these diseases as being not particularly dangerous, they are dangerous. Of these, one of more dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases is pertussis. That’s why a story that popped up in my Facebook feed disturbed me so. Unsurprisingly, it’s on that other wretched hive of scum and quackery (with respect to vaccines), Mothering.com:

So, my almost ten month old started coughing and after a while, we suspected that it was whooping cough. When his cough suddenly changed from normal to not normal, we took him to our ped (which is pro-vax but isn’t pushy about it.) and he gave him some antibiotics in hopes it would help the cough.

My boy handles it really well. He gets really red, but he breathes through it and immediately after he’s like I want to play!

My husband is having a really hard time with this. REALLY HARD. The only thing he asked for our boy to get was pertussis because it is so scary! I resisted, since I’m the one that did all the research and while I showed him he just deferred to me, even though I urged him to do his own research so exactly this issue wouldn’t happen. We aren’t a team in it together anymore. He’s like “we should have vaccinated him, I asked for just ONE shot out of all of them” and then I reiterated ‘the its a cocktail’ info and he’s like then why do ALL of these doctors, all these highly educated people, think that they are beneficial? Is there some great conspiracy by ALL doctors?

This is child abuse, pure and simple. Because the mother mistakenly believes that vaccines are harmful and that pertussis isn’t such a big deal, she didn’t vaccinate, and the result is that her son is suffering. Clearly in denial of the severity of pertussis, she tells herself that he’s “handling it really well,” but then describes how he “gets really red” and “breathes through it.” Those of you out there who have ever had a cough so severe that it’s hard to breathe know how terrifying it can be. I’ve experienced it myself for—thankfully—brief periods of time. It’s terrifying. If it’s terrifying to an adult to have a cough so bad that he can’t catch his breath, how much more terrifying is it to a ten month old child?

To get a further idea of the self-absorption of the mother and her utter cluelessness with respect to pertussis, check out this passage:

Anyways. So he’s upset and I’m devastated that my boy is sick but I’m just kind of like, this is biology. This is natural. He’s going to be sick and we will deal with it and get help from our doctors and maybe even our hospital if it comes to that. He’ll get better and his immune system will be stronger. I hate watching him cough and knowing there is nothing I can do but at the same time I can’t protect him from everything. He has to live in this world and deal with germs. I won’t put him in a bubble.

The naturalistic fallacy strikes again. I suppose that to this mother it would be completely natural if her son were to die of pertussis because she didn’t want to vaccinate. Or if he were to get a secondary pneumonia and end up in the hospital on antibiotics or even on a ventilator, that would be completely natural too, except for the ventilator and antibiotics. I have a message for this mother: Nature doesn’t care about you or your baby. What’s “natural” isn’t necessarily best. Before vaccines and modern medicine, huge numbers of babies never made it to adulthood because diseases like pertussis and other vaccine-preventable diseases killed them. Your child’s immune system might not even be “stronger” after this. Even “naturally” acquired immunity to pertussis due to the disease is not necessarily lifelong.

I feel for the husband, too. I really do. First of all, he sounds as though he is at least semi-reasonable about vaccines because, reading between the lines of this mother’s account, it sounds as though wanted his son to be vaccinated and, failing to convince his wife of that, to persuade her at least to let their son be vaccinated against pertussis. He sounds as though he was not antivaccine but that he didn’t really want to fight with his wife over vaccinations even though he clealry realized that certain vaccines, at least, are very important. His wife refused, and, not wanting to make waves, he foolishly went along, probably knowing that he was endangering his son. Now his son is suffering, and so is he. No wonder he’s having a hard time! He’s clearly regretting his decision. Worse, because he’s the stay-at-home dad, a musician who works nights and weekends while his wife appears to have a day job with more conventional hours, he has to watch his son cough up a lung every day while the mother is off working. He is seeing firsthand all day every day the consequences of his wife’s decision, and he’s the one who has to deal with it far more than she does. He should really tell her that he’s not doing it anymore, that it’s her fault that the child has pertussis, and that she needs to take some time off of work and take care of the child. The mother keeps harping about togetherness and how they should “work it out together”; yet she isn’t helping. She’s off at work, leaving him to deal with a sick child that is the direct result of her irresponsible behavior while whining on Mothering.com about how he is having a hard time with this. Hell, yes he is! He should have a hard time with this.

On the other hand, as much as I hate to concede this, one of the commenters has a point when she says:

While I feel for your husband (and I really do! ) you asked him to research things so you could make a decision together…and he didn’t. Being mad after he abdicated responsability isn’t overly appropriate.

Yes, the husband did abdicate responsibility by letting his antivaccine loon of a wife run the show with respect to vaccinating their son. Indeed, I rather suspect that he knows her viewpoint is pure quackery but ultimately capitulated because he didn’t want to get into what would no doubt be a horrible fight. Instead, he appears to have been engaging in damage control by at least trying to persuade his wife to compromise on the one vaccine he thought to be the most important. Not surprisingly, because she is an antivaccine loon, she wouldn’t even throw him that little bone. In this, the father rather reminds me of Dr. Oz, who, as you might recall, admitted that his wife, a reiki master who is antivaccine, runs the show with vaccines, the result of which was that they did not receive the flu vaccine. Of course, the person the husband is mad at is probably himself for doing exactly that. What he could do to make up for it is to stop being such a wimp and confront his wife, demanding that once the child recovers (and, hopefully, he will recover) he receive all his vaccines to bring him back on schedule. Otherwise, the same thing is disturbingly likely to happen again with any number of other childhood diseases.

Meanwhile, the commenters on Mothering.com seem to think that vitamin C can be used to treat pertussis. Commenter after commenter expounds upon the benefits of vitamin C for shortening the course of pertussis, even though there is no evidence to suggest that it can. Advice takes the form of brain dead suggestions like this:

Get some sodium ascorbate from the healthfood store and give it to him in some water and/or OJ, until he gets loose stools – then you have reached his bowel tolerance. This can and will cut the severity of the illness.

This commenter then claims that, because the DTaP is not 100% effective the child might have gotten pertussis anyway, a sentiment echoed later in the comment thread:

I hope you find something your little man likes, and I hope he feels better soon! You can show your husband examples of fully vaccinated kids contracting pertussis, and maybe that would help him during this stressful time.

The stupid, it burns. Seriously, this is arguably the single dumbest argument that antivaccinationists make. Let’s do a little reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate why. Using this “logic,” one could equally well argue that:

  • Because people wearing seatbelts and young children riding in car seats still sometimes die in car crashes, seatbelts and car seats don’t work. Even with a seatbelt or car seat, you or your child might die anyway if you get into a serious crash!
  • Because people riding bicycles sometimes suffer severe head injuries after a spill or crash even though they are wearing their helmets, bicycle helmets don’t work. Even with a helmet you might still suffer a serious head injury if a car hits you.

I’m sure you can think of more examples. The point is not that vaccines are perfect. It’s that they greatly decrease the risk of the diseases they are targeted against, not that they are perfect protection. It’s not a difficult concept to understand; yet antivaccinationists like this woman keep parroting the same brain dead argument like the ones above.

Ultimately, the moderator shut down the comment thread. Sadly, it was not because of the levels of antivaccine views, quackery, and pseudoscience being suggested to the mother. Instead, it was because people from outside the impenetrable cozy antivaccine bubble of Mothering.com were trying to bring some actual science into the thread. This is completely unsurprising, as Mothering.com makes it very explicit that they are not there to “debate” but rather to support whatever dangerous quackery any mother wants to use on her child, particularly if it involves not vaccinating. I’m only surprised it took the moderator so long to protect the Mothering.com denizens from anything resembling reason, science, or medicine.