by Melina Norman-Hicks
Antivaxxers hate to meet me. When I tell them that I am a “recovered antivaxxer” they often refuse to believe it. I get accused of being a paid shill, and I even lost friends for changing my mind. I guess antivaxxers can’t stand the thought that they could be wrong.
I was brought up in a very pro-vaccination household. My mum was a nurse and I consider myself an intelligent, well-educated woman. But despite having a science degree, I would still get sucked into the anti-vaccine vortex.
I Fell for Anti-Vaccine Misinformation
As a very protective new mum, I wanted to do everything perfectly. My husband was anti-vaccine and expressed concerns about my plan to vaccinate our beautiful baby daughter. I also had some anti-vaccine friends who sowed seeds of doubt into my mind.
All of my daughter’s vaccinations went more or less as they should, with mild fevers and pain at the injection site (and restlessness for a couple of days). I hated this, but knew it was necessary. Yet around the time my daughter turned one, she seemed to get sick after some routine vaccines. She had extremely high fevers, nonstop vomiting and crying, refused to breastfeed, and was very unhappy.
This really frightened me. I was horrified at how miserable my baby girl was, and I tried to research vaccine side effects to see if this was normal or if I could somehow make it better. But I couldn’t find anything useful on standard health websites.
Soon enough I ended up at a health food shop which recommended a high dose Vitamin C powder to detox her from the “vaccine toxins.” They also gave me the phone number of the Australian Vaccination Network, a major anti-vaccine organization. The lady I spoke with sent me some information and sold me a book on natural parenting.
I was devastated by the thought that I could have damaged my precious child with these supposed ‘toxins.’ Flooded with guilt and fear, I vowed to never vaccinate myself or my family ever again. I subsequently had two more children and steadfastly refused all vaccinations for them. The boys were robustly healthy and rarely got sick. My daughter, however, was sick all the time and caught every bug going around. I attributed this to vaccines.
Over Time, I Began to Question Anti-Vaccine Claims
After a few years, I started to become disenfranchised with the anti-vaccine movement. When I properly researched many of their claims, it turned out that they were lies or, at best, half-truths. Often the studies they used were very low quality and/or taken out of context. I started a master’s degree and learned how to properly dissect research reports, separating quality research from noise. There was no way I could hold on to my delusions about vaccinations.
Years later, I learned that my daughter had a medical condition called cyclical vomiting disorder (or abdominal migraines). Her condition wasn’t properly diagnosed until she was a teenager. It was a relief to finally have a real answer for why she’d gotten sick. I’d been blaming myself for so long: trying supplements, exclusion diets, water filters, naturopaths, and more. I feel foolish in retrospect, but fear is how the anti-vaccine movement hooks you in. Parents are told their decision to vaccinate caused their child’s disability or illness.
When my youngest child was diagnosed with autism, the anti-vaccine groups claimed it was caused by vaccination. And yet, he was completely unvaccinated.
I saw a friend’s child develop Heinrich Schlocken Purpura, a kind of blood vessel disease, because she got chickenpox. I read stories of pediatricians who refused to see unvaccinated children because of these harms.
I realized how insane it was that I continued to put my faith in doctors and hospitals, while acting like I knew better when it came to vaccination. I tucked my tail between my legs and put all my kids on a catch-up vaccination schedule. I’m completely happy with my decision and so glad I woke up to the truth. I regret falling for misinformation, but if my story helps anyone it will be worth it.
Melinda Norman-Hicks is the mum of 3 beautiful children and lives on the Gold Coast in Queensland. She has a bachelor of science and masters of social work. 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 Noah at [email protected]. We depend on real people like you sharing experience to protect others from misinformation.