WHITNEY: Eliminate ableism from vaccination debate

As long as they’re happy and healthy, right?

That’s our refrain when we surrender to those aspects of parenting beyond our control.

That’s what’s on my mind as the vaccination debate comes to a head in America. We’re all striving for happy and healthy, so how can our means of obtaining these statuses diverge so drastically?

Sure, happiness is hugely subjective, and our definitions of happiness are bound to be wildly different.

But health seems to be a pretty objective thing, something we can qualify scientifically. We can know for a fact whether or not we’ve “achieved” health because we know what it looks like not to be healthy, even if unhealthy comes in many forms.

Take measles, for example. Without question, we can agree someone infected with the highly contagious disease is not healthy. They exhibit a high fever, a cough and runny nose, and a bodily rash.

But what about a child who’s been vaccinated against the disease, injected with chemicals and portions of the measles, mumps and rubella viruses? Well, chances are incredibly high that they’ll be as healthy after receiving the vaccine as they were before.

The only side effects recognized by the Centers for Disease Control are headaches, mild cold-like symptoms, joint or abdominal pain, or a fever. Other slim-chance side effects include blood in the urine or stool, pneumonia, inflammation of the stomach or intestines.

Autism doesn’t make the list.

That’s the elephant in the room, isn’t it? A lot of the conversations on vaccinations eventually circle back to autism, which makes me cringe because that “science” has been debunked and that argument, however flimsy, is fraught with ableism.

I think a lot of parents whose children are on the autism spectrum, or who live with other disabilities, would tell you such a diagnosis isn’t the end of the world and it certainly isn’t a negation of the healthy end of the “happy and healthy” deal. It must suck for these parents to hear their children’s diagnoses used as evidence of the “horrible atrocities” that can come from vaccines, especially when science has dispelled the link.

Disabled children can certainly be healthy, and their lives shouldn’t be used as a feather in the cap of your anti-vax argument.

Without wrongly dragging autism into the debate, there’s reason enough to be wary of vaccines. Seizures, Guillain-Barre syndrome, intussusception, and nerve dysfunction are all noted side effects of vaccines listed in pamphlets provided by the drug makers themselves — all risks you assume in hopes of keeping your child healthy in the long run.

Measles itself is also a bad enough thing to survive, and the complications and their effects — deafness, brain swelling, death — are not worth the risk. If your child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease, I guarantee you’ll never say the words, “Well, at least we never vaccinated. That really would’ve been a bad decision.”

You’re within your rights to make decisions for your children and family that mesh with your values and beliefs. Do your research — there’s more to say on this topic than I can possibly contain to this space — and make a choice for your family. In fact, that’s your chief responsibility as a parent and, in any other situation, I’m going to support and defend your right to make any decision you think is right.

But if you’ve opting out of vaccines, I can’t say that I’ll stand behind you on that choice. Sorry. I’m still striving for healthy, and I’m happy with the choice I’m making.