I’ve heard a lot of parents who say that vaccines can be dangerous. Not so much that they can cause autism. I don’t believe that. But some of these stories about vaccines causing other health issues are really frightening. Give it to me straight. Are vaccines dangerous?
Short answer: no. And if you’re deciding whether or not to listen to the overwhelming consensus of scientists and doctors by vaccinating your kids according to the schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the short answer will suffice. It’s safe.
But, if you promise to vaccinate your kids anyway, I can provide a longer answer. There is some risk to every medical intervention. The only interventions that don’t carry risks are ineffective (we’re looking at you, homeopathy and acupuncture). In exceedingly rare cases, vaccines can cause severe allergic reactions and neurologic complications that can lead to death and debilitation. This isn’t a secret government conspiracy, either — the CDC maintains a list of conditions presumed to be caused by vaccines and The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has awarded nearly $2 billion over the past 25 years to parents who have been able to demonstrate that vaccines harmed their children.
Still, the risk is minimal. Vaccine Court pays out an average of 155 claims per year and —setting aside the fact that a legal win is not the same as establishing causation — few come in the wake of death or serious injury. Before the introduction of the measles vaccine, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths per year. The math here is not particularly tough.
It’s also worth noting that no parent has ever won a case in Vaccine Court by claiming that the MMR vaccine gave their children autism. There’s a simple reason for this: Vaccines don’t cause autism. Major public health organizations, courts all the way up to the Federal Circuit, and even the journal that published the fraudulent paper that initially set off the MMR vaccine scare all agree on that. Researchers recently studied 95,000 American children and were unable to find any association between vaccines and autism. I could go on.
So is it “at all dangerous” to vaccinate your kids? Sure it is. But your unvaccinated child is far more likely to die from a vaccine-preventable illness than from the vaccine that prevents it. So get your shots and don’t let the kooks put your family in danger.
I’m about to take a vacation with my wife and 1-year-old son to visit her in-laws in California. It’s going to be a crazy long flight and I am freaked out. Is there any way I can make sure my kid won’t cry on the flight? Or at least reduce the risk of disaster?
Charleston, South Carolina
Vince, I’m incredibly proud of you for sucking it up and taking your 1-year-old on this adventure. I think you’ll find that with a little planning and forethought things won’t be too terrible. In fact, you have something important going for you: your kid is not yet mobile.
The biggest consideration you’ll need to make (if you haven’t already purchased a ticket) is for the travel to work with your baby’s schedule and not the other way around. With a year under your belt, you should be pretty aware of when your kid is most sleepy, active, or cranky. You want to try and plan the travel time around when your kid is sleepy and not when they are most likely to be active and cranky. It’s also okay for departure times to be around feeding time, particularly if your child is breastfeeding. The comfort of feeding, as well the sucking motion, will likely help your kid stay calm and equalize the pressure in their head as you get up to altitude. An added bonus is that an airplane can act as a giant white-noise machine lulling a kid into la la land.
But given the length of your flight, it’s very likely you kid will wake up somewhere en route. That means you’ll need something to keep them busy. There are a couple of great ways to keep your kid distracted. One good tip is to bring a baggy of dry finger foods that require your baby to concentrate to grasp and put in their mouth. Think O-shaped cereals, here. Luckily, the resulting mess won’t be your issue.
Another tried and true method of baby distraction is to hit up a dollar store pre-flight and snag some cheap and novel baby-safe toys. Wrap them up individually in paper and dole them out, one-by-one, during the flight. Pack some tape in your carry on too. Because when the toys get old, you can tape them together. Thanks to where your baby is developmentally he’ll experience the mated toys as a completely new object.
Finally, don’t go crazy with making goodie bags for your fellow passengers. It’s a nice thing to do and all, but you’ve no need to apologize for being on the plane. If things get tough then you can always offer to buy your immediate neighbors a drink. Lord knows you might need one too.
I have come to the realization that I’m struggling with listening to my wife. It pisses her off. I get it. She asks me if I’m listening to her all the time and if I’m honest, sometimes it’s difficult. I get distracted. So how can I be a better listener?
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Listen up, Louis! You’re not a bad person or a terrible husband. Sometimes people just need some intentional practice to be good listeners. Hell, therapists have to go to school to really get it right. In fact, it’s pretty remarkable you’re copping to your poor listening skills at all. So, first things first: forgive yourself. It’s time to wipe the slate clean and start practicing.
Attending to your wife when she’s talking may take a conscious and exaggerated effort from the outset. That’s totally okay. You need to start making this a habit. So when she is talking to you or asking a question, then face her, make eye contact, and be present. If there is something you totally can’t pull yourself away from, or will continue to distract you as you listen, there’s no shame in asking for time. Just make sure if you ask for ten minutes, you get back to her in ten minutes. If she’s not willing to grant you time, understand that it must be pretty important.
It’s important to remember that listening does not require silence on your part. In fact, it’s a good idea to respond with some simple three-word comments: “I hear you,” or “that sounds terrible,” or “oh man,” are all appropriate things to say, depending on the circumstance. You don’t need to offer advice. And if you feel like you need to offer advice, but aren’t sure that’s the right path, you can always ask if your wife wants you to offer advice or just listen.
Finally, if your wife is talking about something you’re doing and it’s pissing you off, feel free to call a timeout so you can calm yourself. You can’t listen to anything when you’re angry. It’s also possible that what you’re hearing and what she is trying to tell you aren’t the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with asking for clarification. Repeat back to her what you’ve heard. Ask if what you’ve heard is correct and ask for clarification if it isn’t.
This is a lot to keep in mind, Louis. And hopefully, you haven’t drifted away during the answer. Did you? Louis? Hello?