Leaving the Anti-Vaccine Movement

I can’t tell you how I became pro-vaccine without first telling you how I became anti-vaccine.

Picture 74When my oldest daughter was about four months old, I discovered “crunchy” parenting. I entered a world full of cloth diapers, “intactivism,” and home birth. I made a lot of new friends who shared my beliefs about peaceful attachment parenting, and I started to notice a trend – many of these same friends also didn’t vaccinate. I discussed it one day with a real-life friend, who told me I should look up vaccine ingredients, read the package inserts, and check out the adverse events reported on VAERS.

So I did a Google search for “vaccine ingredients” and was shocked by what I found. Could there really be all of these nasty-sounding ingredients in vaccines, I wondered? I went to the CDC’s website and found package inserts. I didn’t understand much of what I read, but it did sound pretty scary. I looked up the prevalence of diseases today and realized that nobody had even caught diphtheria for years! I was confused, and my daughter’s six-month check up was coming up. I opted out of vaccines then, telling the doctor I wanted to do some more research before we went any further.

However, my research was very skewed. I was going into it with preconceived ideas – my anti-vaccine friends had put ideas into my head, such as  not trusting government websites. I was forced to rely on whatever I could find while Googling, which were often websites like Mercola or whale.to. I even started “liking” anti-vaccine pages on Facebook – pages that I now understand masquerade as “information” centers. I got added to Facebook groups like “Great Mothers Questioning Vaccines.”

Even though all of my supposed research was coming from non-scientific sources, I trusted it.

Then I got pregnant with our second child and planned a home birth. My midwives were very supportive of my anti-vaccination stance. My second daughter was born at home, and for months I prided myself on the fact that she had never been “injected with anything.” I even bragged about how we didn’t take her to the doctor until she was six months old.

My friends, too, were supportive. They reassured me that my breast milk was protecting her from disease, and how she was a shining example of a healthy unvaccinated child. I was proud to have a sense of community with other mothers who shared my views and who cheered me on.

However, I’ve always considered myself a skeptic, and I began to notice how some of my anti-vaccine friends believed in some other things that I found, well, questionable. For example, several of my anti-vaccine friends posted about chemtrails pretty frequently. I’d never heard of chemtrails, so I did some research and quickly discovered it was just a conspiracy theory easily explained away by people who actually understood how airplane contrails work. I also noticed that skeptic pages I followed occasionally made jabs about “anti-vaxxers” and homeopaths.

It was a slow process, but I gradually began to question my own anti-vaccine views. I stopped posting about vaccines for several months and began seeking out real science that would show me the truth, either way. What I found shocked me.

Anti-vaccine people had told me countless times that safety studies on vaccines were extremely lacking, but I was able to pull up hundreds of studies with just a few PubMed searches. They had told me that better hygiene and sanitation had been responsible for the massive decreases in disease, not vaccines—but I was able to find graphs and information from the CDC proving this wasn’t the case.


I was told vaccines overload the immune system. “Too many too soon” was burned into my brain, but then I learned things like this:


In the end, I couldn’t continue to deny the science. It’s hard to believe now how easily I bought into everything I was hearing from the anti-vaccine crowd. It seems extremely obvious now: doctors aren’t evil, scientists aren’t trying to kill your kids with toxins, and vaccine researchers aren’t just trying to scam you out of your money.

When my youngest daughter was ten months old, I had finally made up my mind. It was time to start vaccinating again. It had been a two-year journey that took me from one end of the spectrum to the other, but at least this time I’ve got science on my side. Both of my girls are in the process of catching up on their vaccines now. They’re getting immunizations in the same order they would have gotten them at a younger age.

Both handled their first round of shots just fine, without even a fever. If it weren’t for the tiny bruises on their legs, you wouldn’t even know they’d just gotten shots. I’m proud to be a vaccinating mom now, to be giving my children the best shot at a healthy life.

The fallout from changing my views was pretty extreme. Within two weeks of “coming out” on Facebook about my new stance, I lost over 50 friends. People who had cheered me on and supported me through my home birth, who had told me countless times that I was an awesome mother and an inspiration, just dropped me like we’d never been friends at all. I was removed from groups and blocked by people I didn’t even know. I was accused of being brainwashed and told that my girls were going to get autism and have terrible reactions. It hurt.

I now view the anti-vaccine movement as a sort of cult, where any sort of questioning gets you kicked out, your crunchy card revoked. I was even told I couldn’t call myself a natural mother anymore, because vaccines are too unnatural. That’s fine. I just want to be the best parent I know how to be, and that means always being open to new information and admitting when I’m wrong.

I was terribly wrong about vaccines, and I’m thankful my girls never caught anything. I feel like I’m being more true to myself, now, as well. I’m not blindly following what others say, just because we agree on a few other things. I’m putting my trust in science, and discovering who were really my friends all along.

 Megan Sandlin is a 20-year-old mother of two. She, her husband, and her children live together in the Midwest. When not playing with her children, Megan blogs about motherhood and parenting.

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