In an op-ed New York Post, Kristen O’Meara talked about her past life as a vaccine-denying mother who insulated her world by reading anti-vaccine books and websites.
O’Meara bought into the classic theme, i.e., vaccines are linked to autism in children, ADHD and even allergies. She even found a pediatrician who was willing to enable her belief system.
“I got absorbed in the anti-vax culture and secretly thought of myself as being superior to others,” O’Meara wrote. “Parents who vaccinated didn’t have my special investigative skills. As far as I was concerned, they didn’t stop to question and were just sheep following the herd.”
“Speaking of herds, I knew that the great reduction in diseases had a good deal to do with clinical vaccinations,” she continued. “I just thought: ‘Let someone else take on the risks of vaccinating.’ It was a very selfish viewpoint because I had the best of both worlds. I knew that my daughters had a low risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases — precisely because vaccination is effective. I had faith in herd immunity while questioning its very existence.”
But everything changed for the 40-year-old Chicago mom when all three of her children contracted the vaccine-preventable rotavirus, a painful and potentially deadly disease that affects the small intestine. Before the rotavirus vaccine was introduced in the U.S., the condition caused about 2.7 million cases of severe gastroenteritis in children each year with almost 60,000 hospitalizations. It killed an average of 37 people yearly.
“I’ll never forget the look of fear on my daughters’ faces as they suffered intense pain and diarrhea that lasted for three weeks. I’ve no idea where we picked it up, but the horrific experience proved that, even living in a highly vaccinated population, we were vulnerable. Thankfully, we pulled through with a combination of rest and rehydration.”
Faced with the reality of a health crisis affecting her children, O’Meara began to research vaccines with a more open mind, this time seeking out sources that she knew weren’t guaranteed to reinforce her waning belief system.
“Then I started researching the intentional bias of the anti-vax reports,” O’Meara wrote. “I wondered what would happen if I looked for confirmation of the efficiency and safety of vaccination. I read several books by Paul Offit, the co-inventor of a lifesaving rotavirus vaccine — who’s an indispensable purveyor of truth — as well as “The Panic Virus,” a logical, comprehensive argument for vaccines by Seth Mnookin.”
In June of last year, O’Meara finally “let go of so much fear.” She switched pediatricians and got her children caught up on their vaccines.
“Sadly, I lost my best friend over the issue. When I shared with her that I’d changed my mind, there was an instant feeling of tension. Our relationship didn’t immediately end, but it went downhill from there. Perhaps she thought I was judging her.”
Regardless, O’Meara is proud of her ability to cast aside her anti-vax beliefs – a rare accomplishment for those caught up in the pseudoscience bubble.
“If I can make even one anti-vaxxer think twice, speaking out will have been worth it.”