Skip to content

by Heather Simpson

After so many years of being anti-vaccine, I came to believe that being anti or pro-vaccine fell on an all-or-nothing scale. It was all black or white and there was no in between.

I came to realize the all or nothingness of the anti-vax and wellness community when I posted online about my daughter’s strep infection and how we were treating it with Motrin, Tylenol, and antibiotics that her doctor had prescribed. 

You would have thought, based on the online response from my anti-vax community, that I had spoon fed her literal poison. They were horrified. They just couldn’t believe I could be anti-vaccine and also use straight up science-made medicine.

So when I started to become pro-vaccine, I assumed that line of thinking was how the science and medical community thought as well. Which was really overwhelming to me. Let me explain.

I got to a point where I wanted to be pro-vaccine. After years of living life believing vaccines were the literal cause of all health issues ever, and after years of building a following based on those beliefs, I was exhausted. Constantly going against the grain and standing up against the overwhelming evidence to the contrary is not the walk in the park I tried to make it look like.

I was tired of living in fear of tetanus all the time. I was so flustered about my daily tetanus freakout when my toddler played outside. It was a ridiculous part of my daily routine. I was getting icked out by a lot of the stuff I was seeing in the wellness community. The things my scientist and doctor friends were saying actually made sense. They were breaking down every argument I had, and I started realizing I was standing on a house of organic and dye-free cards that weren’t going to hold up much longer.

I wanted out of it.

But I wasn’t sure if I wanted out of it all at once.

In fact, I was pretty sure I didn’t. I wasn’t ready to jump on board with the CDC schedule and I wasn’t sure about a handful of vaccines. After the things I learned, I felt confident in the polio vaccine, Hib, and mostly the tetanus shot. 

But that was about it. 

And I was so bummed about it. I really did feel like both communities had to be all or nothing, and I was now in no-man’s land. If I was going forward with a few vaccines, that meant I wasn’t anti-vaccine. But if I wasn’t going forward immediately with all vaccines on the CDC schedule, that meant I wasn’t pro-vaccine. And if I still had overwhelming anxiety about it and hadn’t instantly conquered years of overwhelming fears and false beliefs, I must still be anti-science.

I felt like such a fraud. I was now in no-man’s land with nothing but anxiety and no one that could relate to me. 

Why can’t I just become pro-vax and stop freaking out and trust science and the schedule? Who does this? No one. You’re weird, Heather. Stop being an anxious fraud. Get it together. 

I was talking to one of my friends, Jess, who had spoken with me during my anti-vaccine days and stayed my friend even though she was a very pro-vaccine nurse. I told her how I wanted to be pro-vaccine, but that I just couldn’t fathom jumping on board with everything immediately and having no fear at all. 

What she said shocked me and completely changed the course of my life.

Dealing with my fears.

She told me I already was pro-vaccine by making the choice to start vaccinating at all. Even with just a few vaccines at first. She also told me that most pro-vax parents experience anxiety on or before shot days. It’s just part of being a parent. She told me none of this makes me anti-vax. That by trusting science and taking a step forward, I was pro-vax. 

It rocked my world and made me feel normal, which is something I really never felt as an anti-vaxxer. I felt normal. My anxiety was normal. I could go forward vaccinating even though I was freaking out. I knew the science, but my feelings didn’t care. My years and years of false beliefs did not care about the science at all. 

If you’re deciding to vaccinate after being anti-vaccine, I cannot stress this enough: Feelings can continue to be just as strong as before, even when you make the cognitive decision to go against them and vaccinate anyway. Once I accepted this, everything got easier. Giving myself the grace to be freaked out was what I needed to move forward.

When my daughter got her first shot (yes, just one single shot because that is the only thing I could emotionally handle at the time) I was a mess. I had to have my mom go with me and I cried. I cried before and during and after.

And I repeated the science to myself that I knew over and over and over. But I was still a mess. I was worried, I was scared, and I saw every belief I ever had about vaccines causing everything bad in the world flash before my eyes as the needle poked her. My feelings were screaming at me even though I knew I was protecting her from polio

And she was absolutely fine.

You’re allowed to be scared.

But giving myself the permission to feel everything I felt as an anti-vaxxer, while logically moving forward with everything I had found out about science, was the solution I needed. Had someone told me the only way to be “pro-vaccine” was to jump ship with no fear and to immediately be on board with everything, instead of progressing into it slowly and very fearfully, I would have stayed anti-vax. 

If you find yourself in that spot, I encourage you to let yourself feel anxious and freak out and have the panic attack you 100% deserve to have after being in the anti-vax world. But please, keep moving forward with what you know. Not what you feel. Those feelings are probably going to hang around for a while, sometimes even after you begin vaccinating. Welcome them in for a cup of decaf coffee and let them stay until they are bored. (And they will get bored when they see nothing happening and everything being fine.)

Even if you start with one single polio shot, just start. Just move forward. You’re making the best choice for your child, and your feelings will catch up. You can become pro-vax, pro-science, and be hesitant and scared and a mess. All those things can be coexistent. Just keep moving forward.

Heather Simpson is a former anti-vaxxer and current advocate for vaccination, speaking at seminars, webinars, and training events across the US. She co-leads Back to the Vax, a safe space for former anti-vaxxers to get support, and is currently in the process of publishing a book detailing her journey. Her story, like all others on this blog, was a voluntary submission. If you want to help make a difference, submit your own post by emailing us through our contact form. We depend on real people like you sharing experience to protect others from misinformation.

Back To Top