When, as a teenager, I first learned the story of Edward Jenner and how he developed the smallpox vaccine, I was entranced. I admired his good observation and the thinking that led him through the scientific process. I was, of course, already familiar with the idea of vaccination and the public health benefits it involves and my awakening to the history of the science further convinced me of the beauty of the idea .
Gradually I became aware of the anti-immunisation lobby and as a mother to very small babies and children (at the age of hundreds of jabs) I started to read on the subject.
Knowing that the anti-immunisation lobby was passionate about their cause I expected them to produce biased propaganda and I was frustrated by my own lack of knowledge to sort through it all (and how could I fully understand a branch of science that people spend whole careers in?)
Without the knowledge to fully understand but with the awareness that immunisation has saved thousands, possibly millions, of lives I was (and still am) uneasy about defying the prevailing wisdom.
The anti-immunisation people raise some good arguments: poor science and shonky testing are a concern, the presence of all kinds of heavy duty sounding chemicals in vaccines is a worry and there is plenty of circumstantial evidence linking vacciness to autism and similar mysterious dieases.
The accusation of shonky science is a case of their word against theirs and there is always argument in the scientific community so it's pretty hard to sort the wheat from the chaff with that issue.
Scary sounding chemicals are a similarly rubbish argument as far as I am concerned. Lots of everyday things have scary sounding names and anyhow, as a society we love chemicals, we surround ourselves with all sorts of dodgy stuff without a second thought so it is inconsistent to start worrying about micrograms of things, even if we do inject them into tiny infants. On this argument, again, we are at the mercy of the people who explain it to us.
The circumstantial evidence damning vaccines is, to me, the most serious but it is circumstantial and it is presented by a lobby group so there is a question mark over just how serious I should get about that.
For years I watched the debate, for years I wondered just what is the right approach and then one day the anti-immunisation lobby hit a chord with me:
The normal pathway of disease into the body is not via a needle into muscle.
Disease is normally introduced into the body through contaminated hands in mouths or on eyes. Sometimes it is introduced through droplet transmission (coughing & sneezing). On comparitively rare occasions it is introduced by blood to blood contact or sexual activity.
This idea that we are trying to stimulate the body's natural defences by a completely unnatural method of disease introduction is where the anti-immunisation lobby win me. It does not mean that I wouldn't immunise my child, it does not mean that I can't see the life saving benefits of vaccinations. It does mean that the science is flawed. It does give the lobbyists credibility. It does mean that I think seriously before vaccinating and it does mean that I will pursue other means of immune support.
With the release of the H1N1 vaccine I say no, my family will not be vaccinated. I will not cave to the scaremongers, I will not listen to my government's appalling accusations that if I refuse I put others at risk (others can get their jabs and if it's all as good as we are told they won't need my compliance)
I will trust in the protective power of the immune system, I will trust in good sleep and good nutrition, I will hope for good hygiene and in the event that we get sick I will believe in the resilience of the human body. I will believe that by not subjecting my family to genetically altered viral material, preserved in unpronouncable chemicals and introduced violently into the body, bypassing all early defence mechanisms I have given them their best possible chance of being healthy enough to fight off a bug that is admittedly very unpleasant but ultimately not usually serious.