Having a baby doesn’t change the facts on vaccines.

I normally avoid sharing personal details and information about my family publicly on social media. This post is going to be one of the rare exceptions.

When my Dear parents post went viral a few years ago, I heard from a lot of people who opposed vaccines demanding to know whether I had children, and insisting that if/when I did, I would come to understand how evil vaccination was. I found this line of argument irritating because the vast majority of parents understand how beneficial vaccination is for their children and their communities, and appreciate that they are able to save their children from diseases that were once significant threats to their health and safety.

What’s really interesting to me is how much this statement reveals about the way an anti-vaccine or vaccine hesitant (I make a distinction between the two) parent thinks. The overwhelming scientific evidence showing the safety and efficacy of vaccines will not suddenly change just because someone becomes pregnant. Instead, this argument shows that the person making it is not taking that evidence into account at all. He or she is relying on emotional reasoning, selectively listening to “facts”, arguments, and people that support a predetermined decision (to delay vaccination or not to vaccinate at all), and ignoring everything that contradicts that decision. This is a cognitive process known as motivated reasoning, and we are all prone to it. However, the consequences resulting from employing motivated reasoning to buy something we don’t need and to make decisions like whether or not to vaccinate should be obvious. Allowing the voices of anti-vaccine advocates to frighten you into delaying or forgoing vaccinations could potentially cause great harm to your child and your community.

So now I’m having a baby. My partner and I are very excited, happy, and nervous about what will change in our lives. But do you know what has not–or will not–change? My understanding of science, my trust in my doctors’ expert opinions, and my commitment to fully vaccinating my child on schedule.

We shared our news on Facebook, but I forgot to set the privacy of the announcement to “friends only”. (If you friend me on FB, please don’t be offended that I don’t accept your request; I post a mixture of public and private content and I try to keep the latter for family and close friends). Amid the happy congratulations, I began to get some other types of comments.


This went on for a few days, until I gently pointed out to the person posting that it was a bit rude to spam someone’s pregnancy announcement. To their credit, they apologized and deleted the thread.  It was a jarring, to say the least, and another good reminder that my policy of keeping personal details private is there for a reason.

I’m about to break that policy again when I say (without going into things too much), that for several reasons my pregnancy is classified as “high risk”.  One of the things that I learned very early on as a result is the shocking amount of bad information that exists out there for expectant mothers. For me, this has led to a general policy of simply staying off of internet parenting groups entirely. (Obviously that’s not a solution for many mothers, as they find the support and community valuable). If I do have a question (as I did the other day about whether a city I’m traveling to soon is a Zika risk) I take it straight to my doctor’s office, either in person or on the phone. Tara Haelle and Emily Willingham’s book The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource  has also been incredibly helpful. I hope other parents will find it useful too.

To those parents who are trying to sort through the contradictory information thrown at them, you have my complete sympathy. But I encourage you to recognize the value of expertise over emotion in making important decisions (this book is next on my reading list). Understand that while most parents who are vaccine hesitant are simply frightened and misled, many of the loudest voices arguing against mainstream scientific consensus are making money by deceiving you.

If you are looking for resources to help you talk to your vaccine hesitant friends or family, here’s a guide that Colin (an expert in negotiation) wrote.


41 thoughts on “Having a baby doesn’t change the facts on vaccines.

  1. MaGaO April 8, 2017 / 10:59 am

    Here’s to hoping your pregnancy happens with no problems.

    • Jennifer Raff April 8, 2017 / 11:03 am

      Thank you! So far, everything has been good. I’m grateful that I have excellent doctors.

  2. doritmi April 8, 2017 / 11:00 am

    It was having my first child that got me on the journey that taught me about vaccines safety. So I agree completely having a baby doesn’t change the science. But it can pull people’s attention to the topic, and it’s a vulnerable time for someone who doesn’t already have a solid background – a time when you can get caught in misinformation.

  3. Nanea April 8, 2017 / 11:16 am

    Congrats on your good news, Jennifer. May your pregnancy be as risk-free as possible!

    (… and I’m sure you’d rather forgo vacations than vaccinations… 😉 )

  4. Darbi April 8, 2017 / 12:06 pm

    Congratulations! That is wonderful news.

    It’s good you are staying off the boards. I help people have babies, and the first thing I tell them is to stay the hell off the internet. It’s depressing and can annoy/scare the crap out of people, even ones like you who absolutely know better.

    My only issue came when my mother, who is a physician, and amazingly good at her job (which is not related to vaccines), started going “well, your sister’s generation has so many more problems with autism, and it has to come from somewhere” and then telling me I probably should delay some or whatever. After reading the science at length, I called her back and yelled that she was endangering her grandson with her pseudo-expert advice (PREGNANCY MADE ME VERY EMOTIONALLY VOLATILE).

    Here’s one question I have that I have the most trouble with. I wonder what you say to people about it. The science is not in question, and I have been calmly but firmly talking to anyone who will listen about it for years. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and we have alarmingly high rates of noncompliance from the “it’s not natural” crowd. I have no problems talking to anyone about it, because it is a potential life or death issue for many (two of my “fake” children went to a school that had 60% vaccine noncompliance. 60%. My child’s school is at 30% or so — including those who delay — which is still wayyyyy too high).

    What I have the most trouble with is the avalanche of anecdotes from broken-hearted parents. When people say “What about these people? Do you think they are lying?”, I don’t know how to respond, because generally I do think they are probably mistaken (although I don’t think most are lying). I do admit there are an awful lot of them. People who say “my child was fine until the day after their vaccine, and then the light went out in their eyes” are the most difficult for me, because I don’t lack compassion for people whose children are struggling or hurt. But they’re experience doesn’t change the science, which is so overwhelming. How many studies now, because of all these anecdotes, trying to link vaccines and autism? Last I checked, the subjects had reached the millions. And nothing, no link, ever. What do you say to these people?

    • Chris April 8, 2017 / 12:37 pm

      “I help people have babies, and the first thing I tell them is to stay the hell off the internet.”

      That is so very true. Fortunately most women have good pregnancies and healthy babies. I was not one of those, but I have enough background in statistics to not share it to everyone as a “norm.” Fortunately the next two babies were perfectly fine (one is getting married!).

      “What I have the most trouble with is the avalanche of anecdotes from broken-hearted parents.”

      I now have a solution for you! Tell them to help find out more about the genetics and to be one of the 50,000 families being recruited by the Simon’s Foundation! Have them go to https://sparkforautism.org/ and sign up.

      They know the various gene variants that cause about half of the cases of autism. They want fill in the “unknown” part of their pie chart, which is at the 35th minute of the following video:

  5. Darbi April 8, 2017 / 12:13 pm

    *their. Geez.

  6. Chris April 8, 2017 / 12:43 pm

    Hooray! Congratulations. All I can tell you is that no amount of reading about pregnancy, newborns and children will prepare you for the unique situations that will happen to your family. Just roll with it.

    And avoid driving too much until after you get over being sleep deprived during the first few weeks.

  7. Chris April 8, 2017 / 12:55 pm

    By the way, I live near a large research university. I was actually in the audience of the presentation in the above video, I had to walk five whole city blocks to attend. Many of the parents of the children my kids interacted with are brilliant, and there tends to be certain expectations on their children. Oh, I have stories!

    Since my oldest was non-verbal when he was three, I decided to not be the uber pressuring parent I had planned on being. My younger children benefited from reality smacking me full in the face. So no foreign language classes for toddlers, no “Better Baby” flash cards (they were a thing in the early 1990s), no toddler Suzuki music lessons and no competitive preschools.

    Childhood should be a journey, not a competition.

  8. ebolainfo April 8, 2017 / 1:02 pm

    Interesting indeed. Vaccines are 100% safe and effective? Then why does the CDC need to lie about their MMR studies?

    Why do vaccine makers have legal immunity from the 0% chance of harm that their products will cause?

    You have total faith/confidence in medical opinion? Some skepticism would have saved the lives of the some of the 250,000+ that die every year from medical errors in the US!

    Once you accept the premise that the CDC/FDA collude with corporate interest, then questioning their policies is the natural step. Who are the biggest beneficiaries of the increasing vaccine schedule for children?

    Is there a moral hazard when a profit driven industry is legally immune from harm their products could cause. Le us be charitable and pretend the failure was a manufacturing lapse and not an inherent flaw of their product?

    Big Pharma has been caught committing fraud, the CDC has been caught committing fraud!

    • Chris April 8, 2017 / 1:16 pm

      “Interesting indeed. Vaccines are 100% safe and effective?”

      When and where did Dr. Raff make that statement? I don’t need to address the rest of your cobbled up regurgitation of anti-vaccine tropes, I just want you to post the link and direct quote of Dr. Raff making that claim.

      • ebolainfo April 8, 2017 / 2:07 pm

        You are right, J. Raff did NOT make that assertion in this post. Her exact statement was:
        “The overwhelming scientific evidence showing the safety and efficacy of vaccines…”

        So do you concede the point that vaccines are NOT 100% safe? As as they are NOT totally safe, why give this industry NO incentive to improve safety. They don’t need to bother, do they?

        As for “regurgitation of anti-vaccine tropes”. Again interesting,

        Chris was motivated to reply to my post as “regurgitation of anti-vaccine tropes” but did not offer any refutation of CDC and vaccine manufacturer fraud.

        Chris, please answer this question: Cui Bono from the increasing vaccine schedule?

        I am anti-vaccine unlike others that argue for “safer” vaccines. As long as the industry has the ability to sell any concoction it labels as a vaccine, I will reject it.

        You want to engender confidence, Let the vaccine makers stand behind their product. Accept full commercial liability for the potential harm – even if marginal – of their products.

        That refusal to accept full commercial lawful liability and responsibility for their products (vaccines) refutes and condemns any claim or assertion of its safety.

        • Chris April 8, 2017 / 2:22 pm

          “So do you concede the point that vaccines are NOT 100% safe?”

          I cannot concede a point I never made. Though I will suggest that you actually click on the link that is in the quote you used (it is why the text is a light blue):

          Then provide the direct quote that said any about 100% safety. I am ignoring the rest of your goal shifting nonsense until you provide the evidence that anyone with a clue has fallen victim (like you have) to the Nirvana Fallacy.

          • ebolainfo April 8, 2017 / 2:52 pm

            Seems to be personal (ad hominem) as opposed to dealing with the issues.
            I will let the fair-minded reader decide if public evidence about the integrity of the vaccine manufacturers and the CDC warrants reasonable concern and skepticism of their claims of safety or effectiveness.

            • Chris April 8, 2017 / 3:13 pm

              So you cannot find any instance of someone who is actually informed claiming that anything on this planet is 100% safe or effective. So you start using terms you do not understand.

              The main issue that you fail to understand is that of relative risk. Nothing is 100% safe, but some things are safer than other things. For instance measles is very dangerous due to causing encephalitis in one out of a thousand cases, and pneumonia in about one in ten cases:
              The Clinical Significance of Measles: A Review

              Does the present American MMR vaccine have that many complications? It is a “yes” or “no” question, if the answer is “yes”, then you need to be prepared to back it up with valid scientific literature.

              • ebolainfo April 8, 2017 / 4:01 pm

                Ah, finally, we now have “relative” risk. There is a “relative” risk to giving a healthy child, teenager or adult a medical intervention.
                Now that we both agree that vaccines carry a risk of harm, why do the CDC and vaccine makers not state clearly and openly that giving a healthy (illness free) child a vaccine has a risk.
                We then compound this risk by DEMANDING increasing numbers of vaccines. At least 10 different vaccines before 4yrs old for a healthy child.
                MERCK’s own MMR documentation lists adverse effects:

                “ADVERSE REACTIONS

                Body as a Whole
                Panniculitis; atypical measles; fever; syncope; headache; dizziness; malaise; irritability.
                Cardiovascular System
                Digestive System
                Pancreatitis; diarrhea; vomiting; parotitis; nausea.
                Endocrine System
                Diabetes mellitus….”

                Other links about MMR Study fraud by the CDC.
                Boom: another vaccine whistleblower steps out of the shadows

                CDC Autism Whistleblower Admits Vaccine Study Fraud

                • MaGaO April 8, 2017 / 4:30 pm

                  And here we go again. Adverse Effect Reports are not valid scientific evidence. They are included as CYA. This fallacy has already been debunked several times.
                  iReport is user generated content, not checked. If you even cared to go beyond the video and read the updates you would find this:
                  “CNN PRODUCER NOTE CNN iReport is the network’s user-generated news community. This story, which is about a study from Dr. Brian Hooker about the alleged link between vaccines and autism, was initially pulled for further review after it was flagged by the community. CNN has reached out to the CDC for comment and is working to confirm the claims in this iReport.

                  UPDATE, August 28: “Translational Neurodegeneration,” which published an article about Hooker’s findings earlier this month, has removed the article. Read more about this story on CNN.com.”
                  By the way, “CNN.com” links to http://edition.cnn.com/2014/08/27/health/irpt-cdc-autism-vaccine-study/index.html where you will find that the article was removed “because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions.”
                  Also, why do you link a blgo when the original news is available? “Let’s be charitable” (remember?) and think you didn’t notice it was there: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-376203/Former-science-chief-MMR-fears-coming-true.html
                  “Dr Peter Fletcher, who was Chief Scientific Officer at the Department of Health, said if it is proven that the jab causes autism”
                  IF, So your “BOOM” whistleblower has no real evidence to support a link (let’s not even talk about a causal relationship) between MMR and autism.
                  Is this the quality of your sources?

                • Chris April 8, 2017 / 4:35 pm

                  It was a “yes” or “no” question on whether the MMR caused more harm than measles. You basically said the MMR is more dangerous than measles, but failed to provide real evidence.

                  Please read all of the words. You need to provide actual evidence the MMR causes at least encephalitis at a rate of <one in a thousand doses, and pneumonia for every ten doses. I don’t see those numbers in your answer

                  By the way, none of those links are valid scientific literature. Next time just post the PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers showing the present MMR vaccine that has been used in the United States of America since 1978 causes more harm than measles.

                  “Now that we both agree that vaccines carry a risk of harm, why do the CDC and vaccine makers not state clearly and openly that giving a healthy (illness free) child a vaccine has a risk.”

                  The problem is that statement is false. The actual risks are noted clearly on the Vaccine Information Sheets, with actual numbers, listed by severity and rate:

                  By federal law these must be given to the parent before the MMR vaccine is administered. The fact that you did not know this is an indication that you don’t understand the laws, statistics and science on this subject.

                  Which brings up the next question: Why should we care about what you think?

                  • ebolainfo April 8, 2017 / 5:42 pm

                    Oh dear…misrepresenting my position. Did you not use the word “relative” risk. There is a risk as documented by MERCK and the CDC.
                    You will contrast MERCK’s adverse statement (my link) with the CDCs (your link).
                    I am a layperson with concerns about the integrity of the FDA, CDC and pharmaceutical industry.
                    I need no deep “expert” knowledge to comprehend fraud, moral hazard, collusion or belief in authority/experts.
                    The state (govern-mind) provides cover for a medical intervention with risks for a currently healthy person.
                    “The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a federal program that was created to
                    compensate people who may have been injured by vaccines”
                    Is it reasonable or rational to protect a product maker from the “safety” of their product? No it is not!
                    A lay person asks the question? Are these people telling me the truth? Are they hiding any issue with their product? Who has more to lose if they are wrong? What is in it for them? How much money is in it for vaccine makers, docters, hospitals,. investors? Does the market size/profit potential pervert a true desire to help, heal people?
                    Well if you believe the vaccine makers are altruistic, great. Line up and be ready to take the increasing vaccine interventions.
                    If you KNOW that money can and does pervert, then skepticism is the rational response.

                    • Colin April 8, 2017 / 5:52 pm

                      I need no deep “expert” knowledge to comprehend fraud, moral hazard, collusion or belief in authority/experts.

                      That’s a fascinating mindset; it seems tailor-made to protect beliefs that are not well supported among the community of experts. Especially if you accept the word of conspiracy theorists when it comes to “fraud, moral hazard, [and] collusion.”

                      Again, vax makers aren’t legally immune from damages. Suits based on defective design allegations have to go through the vax court, and vax makers pay all the damages awarded by that court via an excise tax; without the tax, they could raise their prices to make more profits and thus every compensable vax injury reduces those profits.

                      And for all the other possible claims a parent could make, they can and do go to regular court. This includes failure to warn and fraud claims; if there was adequate science supporting a vax-autism link, for example, that would be a no-brainer case. There isn’t, so those cases are sure losers.

                    • Chris April 8, 2017 / 6:23 pm

                      You did not even know the Vaccine Information Sheets existed. That is something that has been given to parents for almost thirty years. You don’t even have a casual understanding of any of the issues.

                      So I see absolutely no reason to believe anything you say.

                      And as far as money goes: where is the logic that says it is cheaper to let a kid get sick with a high chance of pain/misery/injury/hospitalization than to give them two MMR vaccines? I know that you have no clue about the logic terms “more than” and “less than”, but I will leave this for you to peruse: Economic Evaluation of the Routine Childhood Immunization Program in the United States, 2009

                • Maddy April 8, 2017 / 9:01 pm

                  “why do the CDC and vaccine makers not state clearly and openly that giving a healthy (illness free) child a vaccine has a risk.

                  MERCK’s own MMR documentation lists adverse effects:”

                  Why indeed it does. What is not clear or open about the manufacturer putting information about risks right there, in their documentation? Not that that’s the section you should be looking at, mind you.

                  “You will contrast MERCK’s adverse statement (my link) with the CDCs (your link).”
                  Yes, there’s a contrast because you’re looking at different things. Your information does nothing to shed any light on relative risk because you haven’t listed them alongside the risks of measles and mumps and rubella.

                  “A lay person asks the question? Are these people telling me the truth? Are they hiding any issue with their product? Who has more to lose if they are wrong? What is in it for them? How much money is in it for vaccine makers, docters, hospitals,. investors? Does the market size/profit potential pervert a true desire to help, heal people?”

                  A lay person also asks “Hmmm, isn’t the vested interest of medical insurance companies to pay out as infrequently as possible? Isn’t this goal helped by ensuring the good health of their customers as much as possible? And don’t they absolutely and unequivocally endorse vaccination?” Maybe there’s something to that.

    • Colin April 8, 2017 / 5:49 pm

      The CDC doesn’t lie about vaccine studies. If you’re referring to Vaxxed, you’ll find articles on this blog where we examined their claims and why they’re false–including lies Wakefield told me to my face in an interview.

      And vax makers do not have legal immunity. This is an urban legend spread by anti-vaxers and believed by way too many people. Parents can and do sue vax makers; I can provide citations for you if you want.

  9. Suz April 8, 2017 / 1:08 pm

    Congrats! Normally I probably would just stay a lurker, but I’m pregnant with my second and I have moderate risk pregnancy so the hormones are kicking in, I can’t sleep late at night… Summation: Congratulations and love the blog! I’ve been reading and enjoying since mid 2014. Favourite post was the one asking what would it take to change your opinion? Loved it, used it on myself to question my dedication to immunisation, and now I’m happy that it’s real and based on science. I use it to test my other fundamental thoughts and want to sell it to everyone I know.
    I vaccinated/immunised my 3yo on schedule, and will vaccinate this one, and I know the science but still, at the 18 month mark, I was afraid. Mostly because if all these questions shows one thing, it is that at the about 18 month mark, the autism symptoms become apparent…. but I suspect some of it was associated with the false hype.
    Good luck and I look forward to reading your blog in future.

  10. The Informal Matriarch April 8, 2017 / 1:29 pm

    Gah! This is such a hard topic. I have a cousin sitting in a wheelchair because of a flu vaccine injury, she almost died. And yes, her condition is on the list of possible side effects of the flu vaccine. I’m not anti-vaccine but I don’t agree they’re 100% safe for everyone. I know thousands of people get vaccinated every year with no issues and that’s fantastic. We need vaccines…totally. They’re not without risk though. Even my own doctor didn’t want me to vaccinate my daughter on schedule, he thinks it’s too early. I didn’t and I’m glad because she had a big reaction to one of them, not sure which one. I hope one day we find a better, safer way to do these things.

  11. stemusings April 8, 2017 / 1:30 pm

    Best of luck and thank you for being a voice of reason. Being a parent and a grandparent are amazing journeys as is the journey of being a good, informed citizen.

  12. lizditz April 8, 2017 / 1:39 pm

    I am so happy for you and the partner. And thanks for this forthright assertion of the facts about vaccine safety and efficacy. I do hope you sail through pregnancy and delivery, with a healthy baby at the end.

  13. drscottnelson2014 April 8, 2017 / 2:06 pm

    Congratulations Jennifer! May your high-risk pregnancy be boring, and do the things we know lower your risk- see your doctor regularly, get plenty of rest and exercise, eat your fruits and vegetables and don’t let the tenure grind stress you out!

  14. Steve Nickell April 8, 2017 / 8:11 pm

    Hey! How do you know someone is ant-vaxx?

    Don’t worry. They’ll tell you. They just. Can’t. Shut. Up. About. It.

  15. downhousesoftware April 9, 2017 / 12:11 am

    Congratulations! From an immunologist who is married to another immunologist who have a completely vaccinated child together, because – and the makers of Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and other scourges of humankind don’t tell you this- but diseases can be very harmful. All the best!

  16. Ann horsburgh April 9, 2017 / 8:54 am

    Congratulations! Wonderful news. I wish you an utterly uninteresting pregnancy and a lovely and snuggly maternity leave.

  17. Pingback: sueshan123blog
  18. Ang April 9, 2017 / 9:17 pm

    Congratulations! I wish you a most boring pregnancy!

  19. The Autism Dad April 10, 2017 / 12:55 am

    As a father to 3 boys with Autism, all of whom are current on their vaccines, I trust the science as well. I trust my kids doctors, as well as my own commonsense.

    Even IF vaccines were the cause of Autism, it would only be one cause, because kids that don’t get vaccinated are still diagnosed. That fact alone, seems to undermine the anti-vaccine argument.

    At the same time, it’s important to understand that vaccine injuries are very real. They’re incredibly rare and are the result of a genetic predisposition, but they are real.

    I always tell my readers that vaccinating their kids should be between them and their child’s doctor. Don’t let any celebrity or random website frighten you into making an ill-informed decision, that could put their child at risk of serious illness.

    Great read.. Thanks for having commonsense.. ☺

  20. theREALme April 11, 2017 / 6:17 am

    Stay strong!!! Always hold to your convictions. I work in PICU, and I have seen first hand what vaccinations can save a child from. The fact that you and your partner have this AMAZING, LITTLE, PRECIOUS GIFT (Much congratulations to you both!!!) should not only SOLIDIFY your thoughts on vaccines, but STRENGTHEN it, as well. Kudos to you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s