I Asked My Mom Why She Didn’t Vaccinate Me

By Virginia Hughes, February 6, 2015, BuzzFeed News

People are always shocked to learn that I wasn’t vaccinated as a baby. I’m a science journalist, after all, and studied neuroscience in college. I believe in science, and science is unequivocal about whether babies should be vaccinated: They should be.

But my parents weren’t so enamored with mainstream scientific authorities. We lived in a small town in rural Michigan, where my mom had also grown up and where everybody knew everybody else’s business. We nominally had a family doctor — Dr. Burris, an osteopathic physician — but I don’t remember ever going to see him as a kid, or ever being sick at all. (Once when I was 5 or 6, according to my mom, I came down with a bad cold, and my nanny threatened to quit if my parents didn’t take me to a doctor. So I went, got antibiotics, and was fine.)

I didn’t realize that being unvaccinated was odd until grade school, when my parents had to sign a form saying they objected on religious grounds. When I was 16, I had to get a tuberculosis skin test in order to volunteer at a nursing home, and at 17, I had to get a series of shots so that my college would let me live in the dorms. Otherwise, though, it rarely came up.

I haven’t thought much about my vaccination history until this week, while covering the measles outbreak for BuzzFeed News. I realized that I’d never actually asked my parents why they didn’t vaccinate me or my younger sister.

I knew it wasn’t because of the (now thoroughly debunked) link between autism and vaccines; that research didn’t make headlines until 1998, and I was born in 1984. I figured my parents’ choice boiled down to their politics, which were of the conservative/libertarian/small-government variety. They were those people who refused to give Social Security numbers to anybody, for any reason. With a handful of like-minded friends, they created a group, called “Citizens for Improved Government,” and published a newsletter taking aim at what they saw as an overreaching city government and school board.

It was fitting, I thought, that they refused state-mandated vaccinations, the most pervasive and successful public health strategy of all time. But I didn’t know for sure. So I emailed my mom to request an on-the-record interview, and she readily agreed. After some small talk, we got around to the Disneyland outbreak.

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