When parenting, politics, and science collide

To be a parent in the age of social media is no joke. Parents are bombarded with information about the best way to raise their children, some factual and accurate, but it’s mixed in are half-truths, political agendas, and downright lies. It is no wonder that some parents are so confused about the safety of vaccines.

Parents look to science for answers, as science should provide us with proven facts and theories that have been tested time and again. And yet science lets us down, polluted by humans who promote their own agendas. Scientists like Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who admitted to making up data claiming that vaccines cause autism. A theory that was completely debunked has changed and shaped the way some parents make decisions about vaccines, promoting fear and potentially devastating the lives of innocent unvaccinated children.

Parents look to medical experts for answers, as physicians have years of training and incomparable experience of promoting health and well-being to patients—only to find outspoken physicians such as Dr. Robert Sears, who took it upon himself to create his own “alternative” vaccine schedule without a shred of evidence to back it, all the while instilling fear and mistrust about the safety of vaccines.

Parents look to our political leaders for answers, as they can see the big picture and have the power to effect positive change. And yet we are let down, time after time. The latest political news claims that Robert Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist, has been asked to chair a new “vaccine safety commission,” or a “commission on autism,” all under the direction of a president who supposedly supports discredited scientific theories regarding the safety of vaccines.

It takes only a few careless words from these scientists and politicians to destroy a parent’s faith in the medical community. If even a seed of paranoia or doubt is planted, a parent’s trust will be lost. When science and medicine and politics intertwine with anti-vaccine zealots who are promoting their own scientific and political agendas, innocent children will inevitably suffer.

Some parents follow their pediatrician’s recommendations about the safest ways to care for their children, trusting them implicitly. Other parents scour the scientific evidence about vaccine safety, researching everything they can get their hands on before even having these conversations with their doctors. And still others make up their own minds based on horror stories they have read on social media, fear-producing blogs, and lies they have been fed by so-called scientists and politicians.

As a pediatrician, sometimes I think the anti-vaccine community is a lost cause, too difficult for me to reach with scientific truth. Despite my great effort to convince them to change their thoughts, or at least listen to another perspective, I almost inevitably fail. But as a pediatrician, I feel I can best reach those who are truly seeking answers, those who struggle with the scientific data to determine the best way to care for their children. However, without the full support of the scientific and political communities, I feel at times as if I am in a losing battle, playing a game of tug of war that I can never win. Because my opponent is stronger, and louder, and has a bigger platform than I ever will.

But as a pediatrician, I refuse to give up. I will continue to fight to keep children safe from vaccine preventable diseases, to educate parents to the best of my abilities in spite of the loud voices beckoning to parents to believe the half truths and fear-filled agendas of the politicians and scientists. I will continue to fight for the health and safety of children because that is what I have been called to do.


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