For parents on the fence about vaccines

This essay is for parents who are torn. They want to protect their kids from disease, but are extremely worried about the possible bad side effects of vaccines, and they are not sure whether or not to take those risks.

That was me, when my oldest kids were young. I was torn. I trusted my doctor about some things, but not others; and I knew the diseases in question were dangerous, but the possible side effects also seemed very dangerous.

Every time we went to the doctor, I had to make the choice over whether or not to vaccinate; and every time we went, I was overwhelmed by all the bad things that might happen if we did.

So we got some of the vaccines, but not all. Sometimes I would cry almost as much as the kids, when they got their shots. If I was especially torn, I would take the safer, neutral route and just decline. I couldn’t get myself to choose things that might turn out to be dangerous, so I just opted out of choosing. The choice was too awful, so I decided not to make it. It just seemed safer that way.

Now we all get all the recommended vaccines. I am still aware of the possible risks of some vaccines, and I’m not happy about them; but I’m no longer torn.

What changed? I sure wish I could remember. All I recall is that, one day, it became crystal clear to me that, no matter what I did, I was making a choice. When I said “no” to certain vaccines, I was making a choice. When I told the doctor I’d rather opt out, I was making a choice.

There was no safe, neutral middle ground in opting out. When I decided to opt out of vaccines, I wasn’t perching safely on a fence, avoiding possible dangers and perils and ruin on both sides. When I decided to opt out, I was choosing a side with very real possible dangers and perils and ruin. Opting out didn’t feel like a choice, because I wasn’t doing anything. But it was a choice all the same, because disease is real. It was a choice, and my choice had consequences for my children and for the community.

It wasn’t like piercing ears, where I could decide the risks were too great, and simply leave those ears alone. It wasn’t like going on a roller coaster, where I could decide the risks were too great, and simply step out of line and go about my day. It was more like being aware that people are occasionally injured by seat belts, and choosing to opt out of strapping my kids in when I drove. This is not a neutral act, even though I’m not doing anything. Deciding not to vaccinate meant that I was making a choice to expose my kids to serious diseases that could maim or kill them.

And I was making that choice for other people, too. My kids are, for the most part, strong and healthy, and have a very low risk of adverse reactions to vaccines. We’re not immunocompromised, we’re not getting chemo, and we don’t have allergies. We are in a group medically fragile depend on (and one of my children is now medically fragile, too). When I told myself I was taking the safe, neutral route by opting out of vaccines, I was really making a choice about the health and safety of other people — friends, family, strangers, kids at the playground, old women at Mass, the fragile child at the supermarket. Children like my child.

Now, if my doctor introduces a new vaccine, I read as much about it as I can from reputable sources, before I decide which choice to make. I talk to people whose judgment I have good reason to trust. And this includes the Pontifical Academy for Life.  CNS’ Cindy Wooden reports the academy said in 2017 there is a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others.”

Now when I take my kids to the doctor, I consider the possible consequences of getting each vaccine, and I also consider the possible consequences of not getting it — the consequences for my kids, for my family, and for the community, especially the vulnerable — and I ask myself if I’m willing to take responsibility for making that choice.

There really isn’t any such thing as opting out from this choice.  It’s our duty to take responsibility for the choice we make, to see clearly what we are choosing. If we choose not to vaccinate, we’re freely choosing to expose our kids and the wider community to diseases that can maim or kill. There isn’t such a thing as remaining neutral.


Image: CDC/ Amanda Mills acquired from Public Health Image Library (Website) (public domain)

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39 thoughts on “For parents on the fence about vaccines”

  1. I know I am coming in on this late. I am a mother off 7 babies who are all vaccinated. It never has been a choice or option for me. When my sainted mother was pregnant with me 45 year ago, 2 of my older siblings had chicken pox. I was born completely deaf in my left year. My mother lamented that there was not a chicken pox vaccine back then.

  2. It is a moral GOOD to reject, on conscience, products that are made from the bodies of babies ripped from their mother’s wombs, with the “parts” sold for pharmaceutical profit – as several of these vaccines are that some indiscriminately take only because someone told them to.

    1. It is absolutely true that vaccines should never have been prepared using cell lines derived from aborted fetuses. (They are not “made from the bodies of babes.”) However, the Pontifical Academy for Life says that parents may or even must use these vaccines, when no ethically-derived ones are available. The National Catholic Bioethics Center explains it this way:

      Some parents worry that it
      seems immoral to vaccinate their children using vaccines made in this way.
      The Pontifical Academy of Life document reaches a different conclusion,
      namely, that even when a vaccine is
      made from aborted material, and
      when no other form of that vaccine
      exists, parents may indeed vaccinate
      their children. In fact, in many instances, parents should feel a strong obligation to do so, considering the gravity and severity of the diseases involved. The document also stresses
      that parents and others must apply
      pressure to pharmaceutical companies to reformulate their vaccines in
      lines from non-objectionable sources.
      If such alternatives already exist, parents should request that their doctors
      try to use those vaccines instead.
      Why, then, may parents morally
      choose to vaccinate their children
      with vaccines derived from aborted
      material if this is the only source
      1. Because by doing so, they are not involved
      in any illicit form of cooperation with the
      original abortion. Many Catholic experts
      concur that cooperation today is not
      really possible in an event that was
      over and done with many years ago.
      Because the abortion occurred long
      ago, and for reasons completely unrelated to vaccines, it is untenable to
      conclude that vaccine recipients today somehow cooperate in the original abortive event.
      2. Because any risk of scandal which may
      arise when Catholics use these vaccines can
      be reasonably minimized by various steps.
      Scandal can be caused by doing
      something which has the appearance
      of evil, even if it is not in fact evil.
      Those who choose to be vaccinated
      may provide the appearance of evil
      because of the remote abortion link,
      and others may take scandal from
      their decision. Traditionally, the remedy for this has involved educating
      those who might take scandal by, for
      example, explaining:
      the facts about vaccines
      the lack of any illicit cooperation on the part of the
      the parents’ frustration (even
      anger) regarding the lack of
      alternative, morally-derived
      the upright intentions of the
      parents and their concern for
      their children’s health
      When this education is coupled with
      efforts to pressure pharmaceutical
      companies to reformulate their problematic vaccines in morally acceptable
      ways, the issue of scandal diminishes
      and moves into the background.
      3. Because vaccinations are critical to preventing very serious, life-threatening diseases,
      and to safeguarding large segments of the
      population from cataclysmic outbreaks and

        1. Here’s a good explanation from Rational Catholic:

          In order for a vaccine to work, it must contain an antigen–something that makes the immune system take notice and mount a defense. This antigen comes in the form of killed or weakened viruses or bacteria (or pieces of these). To prepare a virus (or bacterium) for a vaccine, it has to grow somewhere–a place where the antigen will be weakened so that it cannot reproduce in our bodies and make us sick. Cell lines are one such growth medium for these antigens. Think of a cell line as being similar to the soil where our potatoes and our carrots grow.

          Two cell lines are currently in use in the United States. WI-38 was developed in 1961 and MRC-5 in 1965. Those cell lines are derived from two different aborted fetuses, neither of which was aborted for the purpose of making a vaccine. Because of the way the cell lines are manufactured, there is no need for new fetal tissue to make new cell lines.

          Our vaccines do not contain this tissue because the viruses are removed from the cell lines before they are placed in the vaccine, much the same way our potatoes don’t contain dirt.

          1. Let me translate for the benefit of clarity: cells were extracted from aborted human beings ripped (or maybe saline incinerated) inside of their mothers wombs to produce cell lines on which antigens can be regrown again and again and this goes into your arm.

            1. Well, as stated, the babies aborted were not done so for the sake of producing vaccines. As I said, it’s evil that this was done. I’m not arguing that. But you say that it’s a good thing to reject these vaccines because of how they are produced, and that’s now that the Pontifical Academy for Life or the National Catholic Bioethics Center have said.

              1. It’s natural to have an emotional revulsion toward these vaccines once you learn how they were derived. But we don’t make moral decisions, especially life and death decisions, based on feelings.

                1. I mean that we should not. Surely you agree that moral choices should be based on more than emotions.

    2. It isn’t a moral good to endanger the lives of many immunocompromised adults and infants by not getting your child vaccinated. How many humans can your child infect and possibly kill by not being vaccinated? Is that more or less than the two aborted fetuses who were used 40 years ago to derive these cell lines? How many children and adults and fetuses are killed each year in the US because of preventable diseases that people didn’t vaccinate for?

      1. Less than those who are and will be killed by the human experimenration “industry”: including human medical experimentation, cloning, human trafficking in “baby bodies” and human “parts”, gene manipulation of embryos and the yet unknown scope of diseases diseases therefrom, erroneous and failing vaccines which cause more disease than they prevent, destruction of “just embryos”, and outright slaughter of humans inside of their mothers for “our benefit.”

        We are ‘sowing the wind’, and…

        1. So you are not vaccinating because there are other moral ills in the world? Or you are not vaccinating because two aborted fetuses were used 40 years ago to derive some cell lines used for vaccines? Regardless of the abortions that are caused today by preventable diseases, either by the fetus becoming infected or abortions counseled for pregnant mothers who get mumps and other diseases? See my other response as someone who can’t be vaccinated against mumps.

          1. Ultimately our different perspectives come down to one of us calling human beings in utero a “fetus.”

            1. Nope. A fetus is the biological term for a human being in utero. The same fetus that an unvaccinated child threatens with death or deformity from a preventable disease.

              The difference in our arguments may be that you see the use of some vaccines derived from the tissue of aborted fetuses as precluding any current day vaccination. I call to your attention the active, preventable and ongoing deaths that non-vaccination causes among fetuses, infants, children and adults. So, non-vaccination is not a pro-life stance just because you don’t see the people you endanger, deform or kill by passing along preventable diseases.

    3. Given how strongly the Catholic Church opposes abortion, your claim of aborted fetal cells in vaccines smells strongly of BS. The pope himself has come out to let all Catholics know there is no moral danger in taking vaccines- just the opposite, in fact.

  3. I get my kids vaccinated for some diseases on schedule but wait on the vaccines for certain others until they’re older (past a certain developmental threshold). I know community immunity is important, but I don’t see how putting babies with as of yet undeveloped immune systems and developmental susceptibility to the stuff in the vaccines helps herd immunity enough to warrant the risk.

    1. I should add that our family is able to have me stay at home with the kids rather than put then in daycare, and if/when they go to school, that may change. Right now, for our circumstances, this approach is what we’ve discerned fits our family.

  4. I do vaccinate for most things; chicken pox being fetal-derived, I haven’t yet been convinced that the possible harm is proportional. But I do get why people are worried about it, given stuff like the issues with Gardasil.
    Details on that here:
    Found via Slate Star Codex:
    It would make it far easier for parents to trust vaccine makers if they (companies and meta-reviewers) didn’t pull stuff like that. If the industry would decide to be trustworthy with sexual-revolution-adjacent drugs (not just vaccines – the pill, anyone?), people would be more likely to trust them with other vaccines as well.

    1. As a Paeds nurse, I can categorically tell you that there are no real injuries from Gardasil. It is all an AV beat up. My self and colleagues from four major teaching hospitals in Australia, which is where anyone with the serious injuries they list would be seen, have not seen one. A study was recently done which came up with similar results.

      It is definitely better than having to go through treatment for HPV positive cancers. We would all like to think that our children are chaste until marriage and only ever have one partner, but that is unrealistic today. Even so, HPV vaccine should be seen as a cancer preventative move, rather than focusing on the sexual aspect. Even nuns have been treated for Cervical Cancer! And HPV can also cause cancers of the mouth, throat, penis and skin.

  5. All of my 6 children are up-to-date on their vaccines, and I am pro-vaccination. However, I watched half of the documentary Vaxxed on AmazonPrime (and now not it’s not streaming), and I bawled the entire time. No, we should not make decisions based on emotions, but I challenge every pro-vaccination person to watch that documentary (you can rent in on youtube currently). It is disturbing to me, because I see a connection to not being able to talk about something, making people feel like they don’t know what is going on with their own children, and money. It is so often about money.

    1. I’m sure Vaxxed is very affecting, but its director and star, Andrew Wakefield, has been stripped of his medical license and his allegedly groundbreaking research paper has been retracted. His entire career has been a blatant money grab and he’s been entirely discredited as a charlatan. It’s baffling to me that so many people accuse doctors of pushing vaccines for money, and yet never seem to notice that anti-vaccine crusaders make huge profits.

      1. Thank you for saying this. It should also be noted that Wakefield faked his data on that first terrible paper because he was an investor in a vaccine competing with the standard MMR. It was all about money, at least to Wakefield.

      2. I hear you on Wakefield, but the concerns about him were addressed in the film early on, and the accusations against him seem rather trumped up and exaggerated. I’m really and truly in favor of vaccinations, but I do not think it is a simple issue, and I do wish it was possible for all those who shout down the anti-vaxxers to give this film a chance. You’re not shouting down anyone, I’m just saying, so many are.

    2. I agree Vaxxed is a bad source, this is a better one:

      Written by a pediatrician who has been in countries where diseases we vaccinate against here are widespread, so he’s seen the effects first-hand of these diseases, but still doesn’t think all vaccines on the current schedule are nessesary (though he reccomends a few as ‘must haves’). Very balanced, researched book.

    3. And it is so often about lies. The lies in Vaxxed are numerous. Do not believe anything they tell you, as it is all made up by people like Del Bigtree and Sheree Tenpenny.

      As a Paeds nurse with 50 years of experience, I know what life was like before and after vaccines. My memories of disease death and damage are the stuff of nightmares. What is not, is vaccine damage, as I have never seen even one vaccine damaged child in my whole career. Yes, there are children who have febrile convulsions from a fever after the vax, but there are also children who get them from any fever, disease fevers included. They cause no lasting damage and the children grow out of them.

      The only serious after vaccine effects, are children who have a Mitochondrial problem, which leads to Epilepsy. These children will have the same outcome from ANY fever, as it is unpreventable, unexpected (since we don’t check every child’s brain at birth), and a bomb waiting to go off.

      If your child has an allergic reaction to the vaccine, it can be caused by many things, which could be any of the ingredients -like egg allergy from the Flu vaccine. If you have a family history of egg allergy, you can ask for testing or try desensitisation test doses of the vaccine, rather than assuming there will be a problem. Whilst a sad outcome, it is your family’s problem, not that of the manufacturer or anyone else. I have an allergy to a common drug. That does not mean that no one else should take it. This is what anti-vax people are asking you to do. Reactions like this are one in a million doses given, whereas injury from disease is one in a thousand children infected.

      Read the proper literature and look at all of the testing that has been done over the years which prove that vaccines are safe. They are only funded by BigPharma, because they have the labs to do the testing in and the money to do it (from all the other drugs they sell, not vaccines). No one is ripping anyone off. No one is “hiding” the data. No one is covering anything up.

      I promise you that my comments are real, not manipulated to make money from alternatives, which is what the AV brigade do. They are “in the field” experiences, not something I have read or been brainwashed about. I do not buy into conspiracy theories and I think for myself.

  6. Amen! Thank you for writing this! It’s not a neutral choice for those who can get vaccinated not to vaccinate. It imperils your children and the vulnerable among us.

  7. Dear Simcha
    Ten Thousand Thanks for making a very Catholic choice about vaccines. I say this as a retired health care professional and the Dad of a severely autistic Daughter.
    Vaccines and democracy are not perfect but they are the best approach we have right now.
    Kind Regards

      1. Michaela,
        It’s not the vaccinated that unvaccinated are putting at risk, it’s the kids that have autoimmune diseases or are undergoing chemo or for whatever other reason cannot get vaccinations. The more healthy people who don’t get vaccinations, the greater risk there is for these people who cannot get them of being exposed.

        1. Actually, I believe the unvaccinated can also put the vaccinated at risk. Vaccines are rarely (if ever) 100% effective. If a vaccine decreases the chance of those who are vaccinated’s getting sick when exposed to the germ by, say 99%, and if everybody is also similarly protected, they’ll practically never be exposed to the germ, and hence have virtually no chance of getting sick. But if lots of people don’t get vaccinated, exposure will be that much more common: e.g., 1% of 20% is a lot more people than 1% of 1%.

          Also, isn’t it the case that exposure to some illnesses – like whooping cough – can affect a baby in utero even if the pregnant mom was herself immunized?

      2. Michaela

        I am an example of how the unvaccinated pose a threat to the vaccinated. I had all childhood vaccines and then another round when I went to college and couldn’t find the acceptable records to prove vaccination for NY State.

        Despite this, the mumps vaccine didn’t take for me. I am one of the people who can’t be vaccinated against mumps, but who could get it. If that happens when I am pregnant, mumps causes horrific birth defects and my physician stated that in those cases, an abortion is what is pushed for.

        So, vaccination is a prolife issue. Keeping mumps out of the population means fewer parents whose doctors strongly recommend abortion. Look at the news of mumps outbreaks in the US. It’s not a benign choice that only affects your kids. It could end or disrupt the lives of others.

        1. That may be Rubella , also known as German Measles, which that Dr was advising caused birth defects such as congenital cataracts and intellectual disabilities.
          Mumps can cause infertility in men.
          Herd protection is why vaccines are given to males and female.

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