Friends & Family Who Don't Vaccinate

Parent Q&A

Baby on the way -- managing friends who don't vaccinate Jun 12, 2019 (11 responses below)
New baby - grandparents don't want to get Tdap Mar 25, 2019 (32 responses below)
  • We are expecting our second baby later this summer. We have followed the recommended vaccine schedule w/our son and are planning to do the same for new baby -- however, over the last couple weeks, we've learned that the 2 neighbor families we have playdates with most often are both unvaccinated. Since the new baby won't get an MMR vaccine until they're a year old, and measles has been popping up all over the Bay in the last 6 months or so, we're wondering if that means we ought to keep baby away from those kids for the first year. We're comfortable w/Big Brother continuing to play with them since he's up to date on shots, but just b/c of how family/childcare dynamics are likely to work out, in practice this would mean considerably less time w/these friends for him as well.

    I'm explicitly not looking to start a debate about the pros and cons of vaccinating -- my spouse and I have our opinion, others have theirs. But we are at a bit of a loss with how to manage this mess.

    It seems like our choices are: 1) bring baby along to playdates and keep our fingers crossed, the same way we'll be doing at the park, grocery store, and other public places. 2) limit contact w/these families to times when Big Brother can go and baby can stay behind. Big Brother is still a little young for dropoff playdates (will have just turned 3 when baby arrives), and I'd also feel awkward being basically unable to reciprocate. Finally, I'd be worried about how to explain the change in routine to Big Brother (this would be a major reduction in time spent together, from 2-3 times a week to maybe once every couple weeks) especially in a way that wouldn't prompt resentment of baby for it being 'their fault.'

    Planning to ask the pediatrician at our next well-child visit and get her thoughts, but since I'm sure we're not the first family to encounter this conflict, I wondered if anyone out there had any words of wisdom for making things easier.

    I would put playdates with these neighbors on a temporary hold for a year until your baby is immunized, including playdates with your older child. No vaccine is 100% effective so even though big brother has all his shots, there is still a small chance he could bring something home if one of the neighbor kids becomes infected. You could explain to him how he is protected from bad germs because he got his shots, but the baby can't get the shot till she is one, so everyone in the family has to pitch in to protect the baby until then.

    My own kids are young adults, but when I was a kid, we didn't even have a polio vaccine until I was in 2nd grade, let alone MMR, hepatitis, whooping cough, all the rest. I knew kids who'd had polio and could only walk with steel braces that went from from their waist to their ankles. Some of these kids did not survive childhood. My siblings and I and most kids we knew got the measles, the mumps, the chicken pox. I remember the measles being pretty awful, but you knew you'd eventually get well because so many of your friends had been through it and recovered. But not every kid recovered.  My baby cousin got the measles and he developed encephalitis, which is one of the risks of having the measles. I remember being allowed to visit him before he died, and the shock of seeing a very sick baby lying very still in a bassinet is still with me. I was only 5 or 6 at the time.  We are very fortunate to have vaccines now for so many childhood diseases like measles.  

    If I had a baby right now I would be worried too. The measles epidemic is scary, and there are so many in our community who don't understand why it's so important to vaccinate. I don't think you need to be a recluse for a year, but I would definitely take precautions to avoid kids who are unvaccinated.

    If you’re trying to figure out how to talk to your neighbors and not feel awkward, there was a very recent very good thread on this about family members called “Grandparents don’t want to get tdap” that I recommend reading. 

    If you want some support for your concern and to know you’re not alone, here’s my anecdote. We were in a similar situation with two kids during the 2014-2015 measles outbreak. Our baby was too young to be vaccinated for measles and our older kid was around a lot of kids of unknown vaccination status. I didn’t ask every parent at the playground about their family’s vaccination status, but I did avoid interactions with families who I knew did not vaccinate. If the question came up, I made it clear that I didn’t want get into a vaccination debate, but I was not willing to risk regularly having my infant around unvaccinated people.

    I discussed my concerns with my pediatrician, and we decided that my young child’s risk wasn’t high enough to justify an early vaccination schedule, but it was high enough to boost my older child’s measles vaccine early. So I opted to do that. This meant more shots for the older child because he was still too young for the combo vaccine. So he got the short end of that stick.

    I have found that with multiple kids there are many times when the needs of one child will take priority over the needs of the other, and this has to be weighed and juggled throughout their lives for both big and small things. At this stage, the health of your baby may take priority over your older child’s play dates. Later maybe your older child’s school obligations will take priority over the younger child’s nap schedule (or not). The point is this is one of many times when you have to make a choice to prioritize one over the other. 

    Specifically concerning the risk of vaccine preventable diseases - there are many risks in your child’s life and you have to decide which ones you’re comfortable with. The probability your baby will get some vaccine preventable disease from your older child’s friends is low, but it’s there. Frankly it’s more likely that the baby would get flu or whooping cough than measles - both can be deadly to infants. But, riding in a car kills more kids than vaccine preventable diseases, and almost everyone puts their kids in a car without a second thought. There’s also a real risk to your mental health, stress level, and sense of community if you miss out on regular interactions with friends and neighbors and get fewer breaks from your older child during a hectic transition. 

    There’s not a right or wrong decision here, just the one that makes you most comfortable given the low risk combined with the potential trade offs and consequences. Do what makes you comfortable no matter what other people think.

    This is a tough one, and only you can make the risk-benefit analysis as it applies to your family.  Personally, the fact that vaccine preventable diseases are coming back is terrifying and I felt such relief when my youngest got the last whooping cough vaccine and recently when he finally got his last MMR vaccine.  I went as far as to give my youngest the booster early since I live in the Bay Area where many don't vaccinate and the risk of MMR seems to be increasing.  Personally, I would allow outside playdates with those unvaccinated kids if they are completely healthy at the time, but not allow those kids to come into my home where the air does not circulate as well and they might interact with the baby until the baby at the very least has the first couple of Tdap vaccines protecting it from whooping cough, and then allow limited exposure until the baby gets the MMR vaccine.  It is unfortunate, but protecting the baby is worth it even though I fully realize that the risk is small, but it is preventable risk which makes it different than getting a baby into a car which is necessary risk to take.  I would tell the other family the truth that the uprise in those illnesses makes you worry for your baby and you are keeping it isolated as much as possible and you cannot expose the baby to unvacinated children with the outbreaks happening in our area.  They should understand as long as you don't come across as judgmental but rather make it about only protecting your baby and not their decision as it applies to their kids.  Good luck.  

  • Our first child is going to be born any day now.  His paternal grandparents don't believe in immunizations and don't want to get a Tdap that our pediatrician is recommending for all the grandparents (must be within the last two years).  It is a very delicate situation, with their physician saying they don't need to be immunized and us feeling they need to honor our choices on how to protect our child.   They want to come see the baby a month after he is born.    Any thoughts on how to handle this? 

    Honestly--you just say no. Whether or not they want to get the vaccination is up to them, but whether or not unvaccinated friends and family are in close proximity to your newborn is up to you. I think you (and by "you" I mean your husband, who needs to handle this given that it involves his parents) just kindly let them know that you respect their decision, but it means you will need to plan a time for them to meet the baby after he finishes the DTaP vaccine series at six months. In the meantime you can FaceTime or otherwise let them connect with him from afar. Then stick to it. Pertussis isn't something to mess around with.

    I'd be very blunt, and say that without the vaccine they will not get to see the baby, period. The tdap is not to protect them, but the baby, and in the end you are your partners are the gatekeepers. If they think not meeting their grandchild is less important than taking a shot, their loss. 

    With you presumably getting vaccinated my understanding is that it should help protect baby for 2 months after they're born, but I understand your concern and would side with your instincts. If they don't want to comply with your wishes you may want to ask that they postpone a visit until after baby can be immunized. 

    Whooping cough is no joke:

    Good luck.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How to deal with parents who don't vaccinate

May 2014

I sincerely apologize for bringing up a hot topic on this board. I'd like to say in advance that I'm NOT looking for responses about whether or not to vaccinate or to drum up a debate about the pros/cons to vaccinating. My question is how to handle things when you find out someone, maybe even a friend or parent of one of your kids' pals, isn't vaccinating their child?

I am increasingly angry that the Bay Area is becoming a hotspot for not vaccinating and I get really riled up just remembering back to when my 2 year old son was less than a year old and unable to have all his shots, and how vulnerable I felt knowing that so many anti-vaxxers live in this area.

The other day I was meeting up with a pregnant friend and our toddlers at a park that we often go to - I overheard a random mom talking about how their ''chicken pox party apparently didn't work because little Sprout didn't contract chicken pox as planned.'' I got super angry inside (as someone who nearly died from chicken pox in my teens and who barely escaped being held back a grade due to missing nearly 8 weeks of school from the illness) and immediately worried for my pregnant friend in case the woman's child WAS carrying chicken pox but just hadn't shown the signs yet. We stayed at the park but I felt weird, both because I was irritated at the person not vaccinating and also annoyed with myself for feeling like such a zealot.

Another woman that I'm acquainted with through an informal mom's group once asked if any of us could recommend a pediatrician that ''wasn't strict about vaccinations'' because they didn't trust Big Pharma. Our group got really quiet and no one said anything other than, ''no, sorry'' and I sat there with that yucky feeling as if I had not spoken up when a racist comment was made or something like that. Afterwards, I felt even more uncomfortable because once she left we all said ''can you believe she isn't vaccinating?'' in sort of mocking way. Yet none of us said anything to her face so it felt pretty juvenile.

I'm not the type of person to refuse to hang out with people who don't think the same as me (e.g. religion/political differences), but I declined an invite to the non-vaxxer's child's bday party even though I like their family and knew my child was statistically safe due to having all his vaccines. I noticed many of the other moms from that group didn't go to the party either, and I feel bad that the mom probably doesn't understand why we got standoffish. I just can't think of her the same way again, and while I feel really strongly about this issue, I don't want to get in a big offensive argument either. I guess I'm looking for gentle ways to approach this topic with people I might know - is it hopeless to even try because the issue is too hot?


Dear Nonconfrontational, Thank you so much for asking this question. As a mom who read everything I could get a hold of before deciding not to vaccinate my child, I'm really grateful to know what you are thinking. So many people do what you described your moms group doing (avoid non-vaccinating friends and family, and snicker/comment behind their backs). I was, and still can feel, really hurt by the family members who would not spend time with my son (or even tell us directly that that was why...) I was most hurt because I heard second hand from a different relative, who also shared that my son's cousin was included because she was vaccinated.

It is really important that you do what feels right for your family, and what feels honest to you. That might mean politely (just as you did in this question) reaching out to the people you encounter who you feel are wondering ''what happened?'' That might not be every person in the street though. Feel them out. Ask, ''do you mind if I talk to you about your decision?'' and if they get defensive or say no... Keep it moving. But if people are as open to non-confrontational dialogue as you are, go for it. Make it clear that you don't want to offend, or even make the person feel judged. Share your point of view frankly and kindly. And then LISTEN. I once read a study that said that people who talk to people who see the world differently actually improve their mental processing ability, because you are firing neurons you don't usually use when you consider the other side's thinking. I suspect if you have a conversation with a few of the people you feel drawn to address it with, you might come to a place of peace around this issue, and not feel so vulnerable and angry when you encounter them. If that's your goal, go for it. If your goal is to get everyone to vaccinate their kids, I'd say maybe getting some help to sort through and process your anxieties, fears, and past traumas might be a better use of your time.

I'm sorry you had such a terrible experience with chicken pox, and I hope your family stays safe. Oh!... My other honest advice based on what I've read would be: You should make play dates with the non-vaccinating families, and go to those chicken pox parties. Why? Because not all vaccinations provide full immunity to all people, and you want to know NOW if your kids aren't covered. Otherwise they may, like you, get chicken pox in their teens when it is dangerous and super harmful. I had chicken pox young (when our bodies can handle it, and it was annoying, but not deadly). If that makes your anxiety shoot thru the roof, maybe you could just take your kids to get tested to see how protected they are. Maybe that will lessen your sensation of feeling vulnerable, scared, imposed upon. Reading your thoughts make me think about my choice more carefully. I hope my words do the same. Best of luck, and health, to you and yours.

Warmly, Grateful Non-Vaxer

my fully vaccinated child got pertussus and missed loads of school in kindergarden because at least one family (confirmed) whose child was in the class did not get that shot. I was furious (to say nothing of worried about both kids as well as my child who was under 2 and a newborn sibling of another child in the class). These children cannot be avoided at school and can definitely make other kids sick. My only advice is to avoid them if you can when you have a choice - like you did with the birthday party. And if I heard the chicken pox reference and my kid was playing with that child I would have been out of there. I have given out many copies of the vaccine book written by Dr Sears son - which is good - and I have refered to it when the topic comes up. The people I have met who admit to not vaccinating often feel as strongly as you do (and I do) about the topic so I really don't think there is an opportunity to change minds. And the child that started the pertussis outbreak in my son's class - one parent works at a large health care organization in a promiment policy related job. love my vaccines

I asked BPN this same advice after my kids were born and I realized that I could do absolutely nothing about the choices people in my community make that I know are bad for our community. But then I realized that that's exactly it - we feel powerless and helpless, and it makes us angry. We can't protect all kids - from cancer, from parents who make bad choices, from stray gunfire, from bicyclists who speed through crosswalks, from rape culture...all the things that make me feel powerless. I get angry, but all I can do is live my values and share them with my children, and hopefully through my own work in education be effective in helping others. And surround myself with parents who I do like. It's okay not to like to accept parents in your social circle with whose choices you find fundamentally wrong. Also - have hope. I do think that these vax trends are just another extension of mommy wars and female power/guilt tripping and they are on the way out. Or, at least, I hope. Helplessness makes me angry

This is really a tough one! I have actually avoided seeking out a formal ''Mommy Group'' because anti-vaccine practices in the Bay Area are a real concern for me. It seems that the tension you're describing comes partly from everyone trying to be polite and non-confrontational. I believe that, as an adult, you should be able to calmly express your views and concerns with the person(s) who don't vaccinate, and do it in a factual, non-hostile way. They may or may not be offended and your relationship with them is likely to change (for better or worse), but you will be advocating for your family, your child, and yourself. If the lack of vaccination is truly a concern for you, and your open stance on it is a deal-breaker for the other Mom, then everyone can move on accordingly.

If you do bring it up with her (or him), do so privately and in person, without kids around if possible. Express that it is a personal concern for you and your family, and any other concerns you may have about their anti-vaccine lifestyle (i.e. disease exposure at parties, exposure to expecting moms in your group). I believe that you can say what you need to in a calm, caring way - whether or not they take it that way is purely up to them. Calm & Factual

I think you just have to be willing to speak up. I am not vaccinating my son and I also feel passionately about it. I would be completely ok with another mom letting me know she didn't want to spend time around me and my family because of this choice. If it was me being avoided or left out I'm sure I would make up all kinds of other things that would actually make me feel bad if left to my own devices, knowing it was the vaccination thing would be a relief. Maybe the more you speak up, the easier it will get, something like, ''hey, I really enjoy you and your family but I feel so scared and protective around disease and because you have chosen not to vaccinate I need to decline the party invitation.'' As far as being out in public and over hearing others, your best bet is to figure out a way to self soothe, because there's more and more of us who aren't buying into it and that's not going to change. Although I still feel so confused about why you wouldn't want to be around unvaccinated children if your kids are vaccinated... Seems like it would be the opposite... Buildingimmunity

I think one answer is: Be very matter-of-fact about it. ''Can you recommend a pediatrician who isn't strict about vaccinations?'' A: ''I'm afraid not. We're happy with our pediatrician, and we see eye to eye with him/her on vaccinations.'' No judging or going into why you prefer it that way. Party invitation: ''I won't be able to come to the party.'' That one preferably without explanation, just repeated ''sorry, it's just impossible''. If an explanation is demanded (say, the host asks afterwards, upon realizing that you didn't have other plans) ''it was just impossible. Little Sibling is just too young to be vaccinated, so we avoid gatherings like these until he is older''. Stranger with chicken pox at the playground? I have no idea how to handle that, either. - I'm not saying I am always able to come up with a matter-of-fact comment. Often, I have not said anything and then later felt like I failed to speak up. Worried, too

Thanks so much for bringing up this question! I deal a lot with these types of issues in my day job, so I have a couple suggestions based on my own experiences. First off, everyone has to choose the best way of dealing with this sort of issue that fits their comfort level and personality, as well as be conscious of the occasion - i.e. not everyone appreciates a play date turning into a science lesson. You'll probably get a lot of responses, so consider which one will work best for you. Below is how I usually handle these types of issues.

I typically have an A, B, C approach. For example with the friend at the mom's group you could non-judgmentally dig for a little more information (i.e. why don't you want to vaccinate?) and when told "I don't trust big pharma" you could respond with "why?" and when told "they are only after money" (most likely response) you could respond with "what are you afraid will happen to your child?" and then listen to the response (see how I just diverted the conversation from ''big pharma'' to the real issue ''health of child''?)

If the response is a) autism, you can talk about how the study that demonstrated a link was found to be of poor value and retracted, and if you wanted to dig in a little more you could get into how "we were all taken for a ride on that one" and how now the study is used in introductory biology courses as an example of how not to conduct a scientific study (true story!). If the response is b) "I just don't trust them", you can say, "well, I think there is a lot of research demonstrating how effective vaccines are outside of who is manufacturing them - little sprout got his/hers the second he/she was able!" If you want to pull out the big guns you could also do c) "I almost died of chicken pox as a teenager - can you imagine?? Chicken pox?? Everyone thinks it is so harmless! So I can't imagine not vaccinating my kids, yikes!" and if you want to get dramatic you can move to a discussion of the Berkeley student who just rode the BART for a week straight this past semester with the measles potentially infecting thousands of people (including old people and yes, unvaccinated babies) and can you imagine if your child was on the BART with him? No thank you!

This all drives the point home, but keeps the target moving - i.e. I'm not saying that what you are doing is criminal, rather what other abstract people out there in the world are doing is just wildly crazy in my mind given what I know and my personal history. Never get into a debate and don't directly shame the person you are talking to. It's good though that you are wanting to speak up. Doctors, public health folks, scientists and even babies all over the Bay appreciate your willingness to say something :D M

My daughter was injected at birth with harmful things at the hospital. It had nothing to do with her health. I wish they were as concerned about it as me. They were concerned about many things that did not help my daughter and they had to be pretend it was for her health. Because of this experience nobody could ever convince me to vaccinated. I love talking about it. We do have the highest infant mortality rates in the world because people like me don't talk about it. Problem is nobody ever really asks me. I understand you don't like confrontation. Maybe you can say that before you confront a parent who doesn't vaccinate and trust they will make the confrontation as painless as possible. You can prepare yourself mentally like how you prepare a child to get a shot. confrontational

This really is a sensitive subject. I was recently in a similar discussion on Facebook (much easier, because it's not face-to-face!) and I tried really hard to not be condescending, dogmatic, argumentative, etc. I don't know if I succeeded--I've not had much contact with this person on FB since. Her argument for not vaccinating was that she was ''going with her gut,'' and there's just no way to have a rational discussion with that kind of response. BTW, this FB discussion came about because there was a recent outbreak of whooping cough at her children's school (Utah), and her non-vaxed son was given the choice of prophylactic antibiotics or missing three weeks of school. So even if you hate ''big Pharma'' you're still faced with enforced antibiotics. Why not just get the dang shot?!

Also, regarding the local pediatrician's office who is ''open to non-vaxers'' there is a practice with offices in Oakland and Berkeley who has this reputation, but it might be worth letting your non-vaxing friend know that those docs are very pro-vax and that the only reason they agree to see non-vaxers is that they hope to educate them about vaccines. Unfortunately, some parents may see their openness as tacit approval of non-vaxing, but that's really not the case. This could be one prong of your rational, calm discussion when sharing your opinion about vaccines. I have a personal stake in the issue too, having had a child who was on chemo for 3 years. Had he been exposed to someone with chicken pox, measles, or whooping cough, he likely would not have survived. Vaccines protect children like that. My blood is starting to boil--best that I sign off now! Rational mom

I agree with you on not exposing children to non-vaxx'd kiddos. I think being respectfully honest with them and explaining why you're not spending time with them is the way to go. As in ''thank you for the invitation, and while I respect your right not to vax your kids, I value my children's safety way too much to expose them deadly illnesses.'' I think if folks hear enough true stories such as your experience with the chicken pox, perhaps they'll realize this fad is very dangerous and not to be toyed with. Perhaps if enough of us isolate them from any sort of social activities, schools, etc., perhaps they'll actually take more effort reading medical research rather than listen to Hollywood starlets. Julie

Oh Boy, do I know about stirring that hornet's nest! I publicly shamed a close friend after her FB query about finding a vax-lenient pediatrician. My action damaged our relationship, and required work on my part, including publicly copping to the emotional damage I did, to recuperate our friendship. Ironically, in a good way, this dust-up put our friendship on a path to deeper and more genuine communication. In the case of newer situational friendliness, I might not be so reactive -- or so willing to make an effort to recover from the social-emotional fallout.

Like you, I feel strongly about this issue. My daughter is fully vaccinated and followed the standard schedule, and I would never not vaccinate. That said, my girl plays with friends who have limited vax profiles in the conventional sense. It is an issue that we parents skirt around; they know my choices regarding my daughter's health, I know theirs. I never point "I told you so" fingers if their kids get the sick (and they are lucky to have really healthy kids). BUT if mumps measles etc came ripping through the San Francisco public schools I hope I would act and speak more forcefully with these friends.

Recently I have started to initiate conversations with my daughter's friend's parents about guns - another difficult but really important conversation as far as public health and safety goes. I let other parents know that we do not have guns (our house is safe for their kids in this respect), and that gun safety/avoidance is important to me. I don't need people to tell me if they have guns, I respect and understand their privacy about that. BUT, I want families to understand why I restrict my daughter's playtime/space with their kids to OUTSIDE of their house. If they do not have guns, and I am satisfied that their home is generally safe, then the kids have more options. If they do have guns, and are willing to reveal that, then I would appreciate a fuller discussion about safety and security measures they have in place. This is not intended as a judgment on them and their choices, but an important line for me. I have not had this second part of the conversation yet in a really meaningful way, but it has started.

It's hard, especially at that point when you are getting to know a new family. Also, I have not had the conversations I need to have with my own daughter about this, which is the more important conversation. I'm haltingly learning how to do this. My daughter is there is a whole set of important conversations coming down the canyon straight at us like the wildebeests that trampled Mufasa to death.

I'm not signing my name, but my good friend knows who I am if she reads this.

I thought I had recently read something showing that giving anti-vaxxers more information doesn't help, giving them scare stories doesn't help, but the one thing that makes a (small) difference is saying that giving vaccines is another way of protecting their child, like putting him/her in a carseat. So maybe say something along the lines of, ''Yeah, I know the chances of him getting mumps is really small, but the odds of getting in a car crash is really small too and I wouldn't dream of driving without my baby in a carseat.''

For the woman who asked about a pediatrician who didn't require their kids to get vaccines, I might have said (to her face) something along the lines of, ''Well, my pediatrician doesn't force you to keep strictly to the schedule but like most doctors she wants your kid to get vaccinated to help keep him healthy.'' Because some vaccines are better than none, right?

If my kid were fully vaccinated and there was no one at home we needed to be careful about (new baby, friend having chemo, etc.), I would have sent him to the party. As you say, there are plenty of people around here who haven't been vaccinated and your child has probably come into contact with lots of them. If I still couldn't stomach him going, I would have told her why.

The only thing I ask about before a playdate or party at a new person's house is whether there are unsecured guns in the home, partly because I want this to be seen as a normal question and partly because my kids were 3 and 4 at a playdate at someone's house, there was a loaded gun on the floor of the closet. ''What could have been'' still gives me nightmares. Similarly, your experience with chicken pox might have made you extra sensitive to people purposely exposing their kids to chicken pox and otherwise not protecting them with vaccines. Anon

Hi I'm just going to answer a small part of your question. If you have a good friend who You decide not to visit with due to vaccination differences, it would be nice to tell them. No need to lecture, just say ''we like you but are uncomfortable having play dates because your child is not vaccinated.''

I'm one of those moms (my son has a lot of other health challenges, so we've had to delay it). And I know I would like to know if friends were staying away for this reason. That being said, anytime we are not feeling well, we steer clear of places with tiny babies or pregnant mamas. Otherwise, try not to freak out. I'm not sure that there are further precautions you can take. And the anxiety probably won't help. Sorry you are feeling anxious

I think that you are doing a pretty good job with gentle approaches to dealing with anti-vaxxers just via keeping your thoughts to yourself or protesting by not attending social events with those people. However, I think that you could feel much better and more empowered by actually sharing some of your underlying feelings, in particular your anxious and worried feelings. I don't think that you will be well received sharing your rage, because people will immediately become defensive, but people can usually tolerate less threatening feelings, like worry.

You can say something like, ''I get so worried when I think that your child may be exposed to chicken pox. It's just that when I was in the 8th grade I nearly died from it''. Said in a gentle tone, most people will say ''Oh my gosh, really?'' and then you can share your experience, and how it led to your views on vaccines. As long as the other person does not feel threatened, they can probably share with you a little bit about their views. Maybe they or someone they know almost died from a vaccine, which may give you a bit more empathy. Maybe the person that did not trust big Pharma was given a drug that caused a life threatening illness or event that would help you to think ''wow, that's horrible!''

The other way to gently approach people is by disarming them. You can do this making yourself out to be the odd-ball. Kind of like saying ''I know I'm sooo old fashioned, super anal, but I'm just a total follower of the rules! It's weird, but if a doctor says that Billy needs a vaccine, I don't even question it. I just figure that I'd rather be safe than sorry. What about you? Aren't you scared that your child will catch something or spread it to someone else?'' You actually may need to bend over a little bit more with the disarming, but I think you get the point.

All this is just to be able to gently approach people so that you can converse and share your ideas, rather than having to stifle them. Hopefully, by conversing you will realize that you have 'your truth' about vaccines, and they have 'their truth' against vaccinating. In medicine, THE truth often has not been fully elucidated. Keep yourself open to learning and evolving too! Anon MD

How to deal with parents who don't vaccinate?

I think you just deal with it. There are plenty of parenting related things to get riled up about -- spanking, yelling in public, allowing kids to eat crap, etc. Guess what? You just deal with it. Not everybody parents the way you do and while vaccinating may seem like the most simple thing to do in your life, other parents will have different opinions. And you just deal with it.

I wouldn't even get into a discussion about it unless you are very close friends with them. It isn't worth it. You aren't going to change their opinions and they won't change yours. So just let it go.

I have to say that your whole post shouted out that you are pretty pissed about people making different choices than yours. And to me that indicates that there may be a deeper something going on there. Is it lack of control? Is it feeling that you can't control your child's environment? Something to think about. Good luck. Tons of people don't vax their kids in the bay area -- even in public schools (waivers are easy to get signed), so figure this out because you'll be dealing with it as an issue for a long time. piedmontmary

My suggestion is to say something to other parents if you don't want your child to be exposed to unvaccinated children. Even if your children are vaccinated, it can be a problem, as the vaccines rely on herd immunity. I know a Berkeley family that caught Pertussis in this situation. To my mind it is one thing to say, ''You should immunize your children,'' and another thing to say, ''I don't want my family exposed to unvaccinated children.'' anon

I think you should be honest about your feelings with this woman rather than snubbing and alienating her because she has different choices than yours. Perhaps then you might find respect for her choices. If you don't think that talk is worth it then you should simply tell her why you are choosing to not associate with her. my2cents

You ask a good question, though a controversial one. I have struggled with this one myself. I find not saying anything in certain situations is profoundly unsatisfying. I'm a health care provider and I feel like if I heard friends or acquaintances saying stuff about another health care related issue that was just profoundly wrong, I'd speak up and correct them without hesitation. But living in Berkeley, I find myself reluctant to do this often when it comes to vaccines. What works for me sometimes is to speak up first. Like if I'm in a conversation and I think it might head in the vaccine direction, I might proactively bring up the fact that I'm ardently pro-vaccination and let them be the ones stuck deciding whether to speak up or let it go. For example, if a bunch of moms are discussing our pediatricians, I'll say ''I love our pediatrician. She's very bright and great with the kids. Plus the practice is well organized and very much evidence-based when it comes to vaccines. So there aren't a bunch of unvaccinated kids running around in the waiting room.'' And before my kids turned one, I did turn down invitations for playdates, or birthday parties with kids I knew were unvaccinated. And I told them why: ''I'd love for Johnny to have a playdate with Billy sometime, but we have a baby under one at home, and I'm not comfortable with the risk of her being exposed to something deadly since Billy is unvaccinated.'' Yes, they probably thought I was an overly anxious pain in the ass, but it felt good letting people know that there were actually potential serious consequences to others as a result of their decisions. Now that both of my kids are fully vaccinated, this isn't really a good excuse, so I don't say it anymore. Ultimately, I often keep my mouth shut. People have a right to make stupid decisions. I'm sure some of them judge some of my parenting decisions; I'd just as soon not hear about it. I think they feel the same way about me lecturing them about vaccines. Unless it makes sense to work it into the conversation matter-of-factly, I don't bother trying to convert them to my side; there is research showing that in some cases being presented with the facts can actually make people MORE likely to dig in their heels and refuse to vaccinate their kids anyway. Frustrating, I know. Ultimately, I find that there are other things that annoy me about the non-vaccinators and we don't end up hanging out outside of school anyway. Thank you for vaccinating

I know exactly how you feel. The non-vax of kids is a big issue with consequences bigger than so many people understand. I also find myself, depending on the situation, biting my tongue for fear of losing friends or heck, even status within a social group.

Here is what I have found to be extremely helpful: information. Lots of it. Lots of factual information that you can spout off at a moment's notice. Whenever I meet someone who is humming and hawing about whether to vaccinate or how much to delay, I reccomend the book 'The Panic Virus' by Seth Mnookin. If you haven't read it yourself, get your hands on a copy of it. The book goes in depth into the the history about how paranoia around vaccines came to be. (Maybe get a couple copies so you can loan it out to people...) Reading this book really helped me feel more confident in my information on the issue, which empowered me: I hesitate far less to speak up when someone brings up this hot-button topic.

Another strategy I use (and this applies to ANY controversial topic), is that I simply start asking the person a question or two about why they have chosen the path they have chosen. If they say something that is clearly based on non-factual ''information,'' I would then say, ''I don't mean to sound pushy, but wanted to put it out there in case you're interested in learning more about vaccines, you may want to read 'The Panic Virus'....'' Then (and specifically in your case) I would go on to say that...''when I was a teen I became seriously ill with chicken pox and missed almost an entire semester of school recovering...'' And I might even add... ''Also, I'd be concerned about being around women who are pregnant since contracting it is life-threatening for them AND their baby...'' I always feel it's important to include, ''for all of these reasons and for the protection of our community, I have all my babies/kids vaccinated.'' Whenever I feel like I'm perhaps overwhelming people with information that they may not have been ready to hear, I find that people are understanding if you add a phrase like, ''I hope I'm not coming across as pushy, I just thought I'd share my thoughts since I have been directly affected by a preventable disease and I know that it gets tricky with all this contradictory information coming at you at once.''

Also keep in mind that there are quite a few people out there who may believe they are making the cool/alt choice, but are easily swayed once they realize that the very friends they are spending time with are Pro vaccine

I don't have an answer, but I want to work together to find one. For years my ''strategy'' has been to get in massive fights with anti-vaccinators. A friend of mine from high school is one and she's convinced she harmed her child by getting him vaccinated. She's in emotional pain and I made it worse. On the other hand, we are now on the verge of a serious health crisis as a result of non-vaccination, so the strategies we have been trying ... are clearly not working. We NEED to find some common ground, some points of agreement, to work together and find out what's gone wrong... Looking forward to other answers and to working together to find some kind of compassionate approach to this humongous issue.

Seems like a better way to approach this, in order to avoid all of the hot-topic issue arguments that you mention, would be to ask about how to deal with fellow parents who hold beliefs/practices that you are opposed to or make you uncomfortable. I think that the key point here is becoming comfortable in stating your opposition when necessary, if you feel the need (as in the case of the moms group you mention) or making your own decisions to not forge friendships with kids/families that don't vaccinate if that makes you uncomfortable.

For what it's worth, I have the opposite challenge. I hear a lot on social media and in the community from people who are, like you, appalled at parents' choices not to vaccinate. I find it difficult to speak up and say ''hey, I'm not 100% on board either.'' I didn't not vaccinate, but delayed my kids' vaccinations and chose not to vaccinate for chicken pox. I have read a ton on both sides of the issue and encourage you to do the same if it's an issue of great concern. anon

I tend not to discuss this with other parents. People have reasons for their beliefs and I believe the chances that you can change them are near nil. So we play outside at parks as best we can and wash our hands before eating and when we leave public places. Vaccinate yourself and your kids and then hope for the take things in stride. J

Make sure your kids ARE vaccinated. - Whooping cough (Pertussis) is on a sharp rise in California.

Today I received a notice from my kids school say a child has a confirmed case of Whooping cough and to make certain all family members have been vaccinated or treated. Whooping cough kills - There are already two confirmed deaths.

If you are a parent who doesn't vaccinate against Whooping cough take a look on YouTube at the videos of kids who suffer from Whooping cough - It's a killer.

Our public school with county heath officials in not allowing any student to attend school in the Fall without proof of pertussis vaccination.

If you are a non-vaccinating parent you should know the county health department can and does quarantine homes for pertussis and other diseases such as measles.

Yes vaccines aren't perfect, but watching a child who was not vaccinated die of a killer disease such as pertussis is just devastating. ANON

My children are 30 and 26. I really feel for you folks who are around non-vaccinated children. When my kids were little, the struggles would have been how much tv to expose them to or how much junk food they got at friends' houses. Or head lice. What a dilemma! I also believe this is a trend, ie the philosophy of Jenny McCarthy and other Hollywood-self-proclaimed-experts. I don't get it myself. All you have to do is travel a little to an underdeveloped country, see the doctors and parents who are pleading for these vaccines in order to protect their beloved children. And here, we over-indulged people turn them away. Go Figure. If I were a young parent today, I would not expose my children to non-vaccinated children either. former mom

It's a very serious question and unfortunately most of the time the response isn't like most of the ones you got, it's similar to the one signed ''confrontational''.

I think you can be non-confrontational and say that you each made different choices and that because they involve health and could affect your child you cannot hang out. I would think most people would appreciate the truth instead of wondering what happened.

I am originally from Europe and frankly i am shocked at the level of the conversation relating to vaccines in this country. There are moms all over the world who would do anything for access to these vaccines so they can stop loosing half of their kids, the way our great grand mothers did. Eradicated diseases are making their way back to this country so while you might not want to be confrontational it's your job to protect your kid. I am kind by firm on the subject. It's my kids, my decision. anon

I think reading up on the origin of the no-vaccination beliefs is a good idea. Then, be as non-confrontational as possible about getting the information you need to protect your children. Getting chicken pox early in childhood is not necessarily a good thing. My siblings and I had chickenpox before the age of two (this was before the vaccine). Since then 2 out of the three of us who had chicken pox have had shingles before 55. It turns out that a risk factor for shingles is chicken pox in early childhood. So, by protecting your child now, you are presumably protecting them when they are parents themselves. My child had to have some vaccines delayed because of health issues, and I really appreciated those whose children were fully vaccinated. We didn't spend time with those who weren't until later. mom of a healthy child

I have never thought about restricting my children's contact with unvaccinated children, even as babies I allowed them to hang out with any and all children, some of whom I knew were not vaccinated. One idea would be to not probe people about whether their children are vaccinated. If you don't know their status, you may be less inclined to worry -ignorance is bliss.

As far as vaccine promotion, I think our society, including the medical community, is sending the wrong message to new parents. Vaccination is the ONE and ONLY thing we can all do to strengthen our communities. Vaccination isn't about protecting our own individual child, it is about protecting other people's children -such as those with weakened or compromised immune systems and little babies who are too young to receive all the shots. It's about protecting the elderly and future generations. I think vaccination is the most communal, democratic, and sacrificial action we can take as individuals living together in society. The ''choice'' shouldn't be about protecting our own children, it should be about protecting others. Too much ''me, me, me'' in our society. let's change the message

1. Someone being afraid of a pandemic - of preventable disease - is not a neurotic having an irrational need to control others' behavior. To attempt to frame it that way is frustrating and shows a complete lack of empathy.

2. Dismissing the concerns of vaccinating parents based on the idea that our vaccinated kids are safe is problematic because some of us have children who are immunocompromised (or we ourselves are immunocompromised). For example, a friend's child is going through chemo for leukemia. If he were exposed to measles, his death would be swift and sure -- and preventable. Also, vaccines are not 100% effective. Being vaccinated means you are more likely to be safe, but it is not a guarantee.

3. Herd immunity depends on a vast number of vaccinated folks to benefit the society as a whole. Right now, non-vaccinating parents are taking advantage of that benefit, which gives the illusion that their kids are healthy because they don't vaccinate, when in fact as herd immunity breaks down we will all, as a society, be much sicker. Please read my words and think them through before dismissing me as a loon.

Hi, Just wanted to give my perspective on how to talk with parents who aren't vaccinating. I feel that I really understand both sides-- and I do believe in evidence and science, not just going with your ''gut'' on something like this. I think the thing that makes it hard is that its hard to trust that any aspect of our medical or scientific establishment is doing ''true'' science, uninfluenced by money. This doesn't mean that everything those institutions say is automatically wrong.. just that I see why people have a hard time trusting. I believe that the vast majority of people working in these industries mean to do the right thing.. and yet, we have sky high cesarian rates, flame retardants in our carseats, millions of untested chemicals, plenty of treatments or chemicals or products that we were told were safe and are later found not to be.. and we know, that so often, the ones who get their data out there are the ones with money, not the ones with the truth. In the case of vaccines, I ended up choosing a somewhat delayed schedule, but have basically gone mostly with the scientific establishment on this one. But I think if you can understand why people don't trust the medical powers that be, you can have more empathy.. and still be able to state your own opinion. Its just hard that we don't have a medical system people can really trust.. I don't think it means that the people are dumb or bad, just that its really hard to independently verify everything.. and its hard to trust a system that has a lot of priority on profit. sympathetic to the people

Just wanted to put my 2 cents in since we just dealt with the whooping cough issue which is definitely rising in the bay area. My daughter 16 who WAS vaccinated got whopping cough. We don't know how, but have some suspicions. I totally am in favor of vaccinating but just know that you can still get ''it''. I do believe however that the whooping cough my daughter suffered through could have been a lot worse without the vaccine as a child. As it was, it was pretty scary, with one 911 call for an ambulance. If I knew then, what I know now, I would definitely say something in a nice way about play dates with non vaccinated kids. a believer

Vaccination-avoiders at my kid's school

Sept 2013

My husband and I have just learned that nearly a third of the kids at our daughter's school are unvaccinated (This is how we found out; you can look up your school too!

How do I deal with this? This is a dangerously low rate of vaccination. We already had a pertussis scare last year and I know there have been recent cases of measles in California. I'm pretty frustrated. I need advice on how to tactfully address my concerns with the school.

crazy mom who wants kids to survive to adulthood, go figure

Wow, I was horrified when I read your post. I was shocked to see some schools with 44-47% pbe's. it seemed like some private schools were the worst. So I looked up our local schools. Yeah, I'd highly recommend moving to a town that is not filled with crazy parents. San Leandro is great - just 0-7% PBE rates. Both public and private schools. I'd much rather have our kids go to these schools! And I want our kids to make it to adulthood, too. K

[Moderator Note] Actually The Principled Academy in San Leandro, a private school, has a 12% PBE rate, so it's in the top 10 for Alameda County.

If your kids are vaccinated, what are you worried about? Not gonna vaccinate my kids

but your kid is vaccinated, so what are you worried about? the unvaccinated kids are the ones at risk. or i am confused?

[Moderator note] No vaccine is 100% effective. A vaccinated child can still get the disease.

Perhaps you can launch an education campaign about why vaccination is so important. Perhaps you could discuss how we vaccinate against diseases that really won't kill or seriously maim our children such as chicken pox and influenza. Perhaps you could discuss the 75cent tax on all vaccines that go to compensate children who are seriously injured or killed by vaccines. I suggest a thorough education campaign on your behalf so you can really understand this Important issue and help educate those around you. I would start here on the CDC website... Actually vaccinate

My child attended a small private school in Berkeley that had a high rate of unvaccinated kids (as many as 70% one year). I didn't realize this until we had been at the school for a while. Had I known about it beforehand, we wouldn't have applied to the school. I did consider leaving once I found out, but in all other ways, the school was a very good fit for my kid, and he had only a couple more years before he graduated, so we decided to stay and hope for the best.

One year there was a chicken pox outbreak among a number of kids at the school. It worried me that there were moms at the school who were pregnant at the time, and several baby siblings as well who could not yet be fully vaccinated. The school sent out an email about the outbreak, but without useful information such as how many kids had it, and which grade they were in. Flu frequently made the rounds too, because people didn't get that vaccine either. It wasn't unusual for more than half my kid's class to be out sick at one time; some kids regularly missed school for a week or two.

I feel that the staff was irresponsible in not alerting parents to the number of unvaccinated kids at the school. If they had, families could be aware of the risks and make informed choices. I feel that I was kept in the dark in order to placate the parents who chose not to vaccinate. What if the school enrolled a child with a compromised immune system who could not receive vaccinations? Would they still conceal from those parents the fact that their child was at a much higher risk for disease than at other schools? When we enrolled, we were offered the personal belief exemption form when our child's immunization record was inadvertently left out of our paperwork, as though we'd appreciate this more convenient way of satisfying the immunization requirement. In retrospect I think that that this practice contributed to the high rate of exemptions at the school.

I did bring it up with some of the staff members, but I always got the feeling that they either didn't believe in vaccinations themselves, or they were trying to stay "neutral" since the school prides itself on being tolerant. I'm glad there is a way to check schools online now, but schools with low vaccination rates ought to step up to the bat and be clear with parents and prospective parents that there is no herd immunity at their school. It may not matter to some, but it does matter to others, and we deserve to have the truth. So, to answer your question, I do recommend bringing it up with the staff in a polite way, but don't expect a sea change, and do consider whether it's worth it to you to stay at the school now that you know. And if you leave, let them know why you are leaving.

By the way, not only did a lot of parents not vaccinate, but they also avoided other kinds of medical treatment. There were lots of head lice outbreaks that went on for months. I'd treat my kid, and a few weeks later he'd come home with head lice again that he got from one of the many kids whose parents either didn't believe in treatment, or were using some kind of ineffectual homeopathic potion. All the schools we've ever been to have had headlice outbreaks, but this school really topped the bill. local mom

I'm sure you'll get plenty of responses to this. The long and short of it is - you can't do anything about other parents' medical decision-making. You can disagree all you want with their choices, but parents who choose not to vaccinate or to selectively vaccinate have a legal right to this decision and they and their children also have a right to privacy. Not sure what outcome you would be looking for if you took your concerns to the school admin. anon

I'm a local pediatrician and am pretty certain I know what school your child goes to -- I could be wrong, but I believe it's a private school. About a year ago, as I walked by it with my children, I predicted that should a measles outbreak come to town, it would devastate that school. Well, last year, you were ''lucky'' -- it wasn't measles, but it was pertussis. Pertussis for most school-age children is mostly really annoying -- but if they bring it home to their baby siblings, it's often fatal. You are right -- there are several measles outbreaks in the US now, and it's just a matter of time before it gets to the Bay Area. And measles spreads like wildfire. Enter a room where a measles case left 2 hours before -- and you can catch measles. Measles can cause pneumonia, deafness, encephalitis (permanent brain damage), and death. Even those who successfully get over measles are STILL at risk of a 100% fatal disease called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis -- which can occur many years after the initial infection. About 2 years ago, a child died of this at Children's Hospital Oakland -- there is NOTHING doctors can do for this.

Your school has no herd immunity. Many diseases require 90% of the herd to be immunized to prevent an outbreak -- some require 95%. And while most vaccines are quite effective (2 doses of MMR are almost 95% effective), none are 100% effective. So even vaccinated kids are at risk when there is no herd immunity. Take a look at this website cartoon, and show it to your school administrators.

If you are indeed at a private school, you're paying money to send your child there. The school has a moral responsibility to tell their applicants (who pay them) about the potential health risks of sending your child there. You should frame it to them this way -- and perhaps question if they don't have a legal responsibility as well.

Parents make decisions to not pay attention to science. But I would doubt they would want their child's educators to do the same. Show them the website above. Encourage them to be upfront with applicants. And finally, if necessary, publicly publish their name and the inherent risks of going to that school. If it's the school I'm thinking of, it's a sweet little school -- would be a shame if overwhelming preventable outbreaks shut it down. Katrina S

Let me preface by saying that I vaccinate my kids. What exactly is your concern? That the kids who are not vaccinated will infect your kid? Aren't your kids vaccinated and should therefore not be at risk? I wouldn't worry too much about something that you have no control over (unless you want to switch schools.) Kids, whether they are vaccinated or not, will fall sick which in turn, will help build their overall immunity. Mama who believes in vaccinations

This scares me too though unfortunately there is nothing we can do. I'm just thankful that neither of my kids have issues that would prevent vaccination and require them to rely on immunity of others. I make sure my kids are vaccinated fully, eat and sleep well and keep them home when they are not feeling well and their immune system is compromised. I figure this way even if there is an outbreak in school their vaccine will either fully protect them or even if they get sick it will be a much milder illness than they otherwise might have gotten. Anon

Hot button topic! My main question is this: if there is risk of not getting vaccine there is also a risk of getting one. If our country would agree to have a fund that would support any family of a child who had a severe reaction to a vaccine as in infant or child then I would happily go about giving my children multiple shots at 2 months old just because my doctor or my country says I should. But the reality is there is a risk in EVERYTHING! You take a risk vaccinating and you also take a risk not vaccinating. The truth is there is no support from our government to cover the costs of care for a child who has been compromised because of the vaccine. Instead there is adamant denial that there May be a link, therefore, as a parent, you are left to fend for yourself regarding medical costs due to severe reaction to a vaccine. Two of my three children has severely high fever after a vaccine and I CHOSE to educate myself about the risks of not getting EVERY vaccine against the risks of the actual disease. You won't find us getting flu vaccine, but you will find us cutting out sugar during the winter months as well as boosting immunity through herbs and diet. In addition, there are about three times the amount of vaccines recommended for our children compared to the simple vaccine schedule from when I was a kid in the 70s. Before judging those parents who make different choices for their families, please realize that there is inherent risk in living, period. My kid is not going to make your kid sick. Thoughtful mama

[Moderator Note] Actually there is a fund, established by the federal government in 1988. See There is also lots of information on the CDC website about the very rare risks of vaccines compared to the diseases they prevent.

I wish I knew. Whatever you figure out, PLEASE let me know, because I am seriously angry at how many times my newborn was put in danger by people I considered my friends who did not TELL me their kids were unvaccinated!

The danger is not only to newborns - it is to anyone immuno-compromised, such as people going through chemo or suffering from HIV. I suspect there's going to be a firestorm against you in the responses, so I am adding my voice of support. No Iron Lungs For Me Thanks

California allows an exemption from vaccinations based on personal beliefs (PBE). If you think your school has too many PBE kids, you can change to a school that has a higher compliance rate and make sure your child is completely vaccinated. Complaining to your current school administrators will not erase your concerns. If you attend a private school, you may have a little more leverage with a complaint, but if almost a third of the children at your school are PBE, you may be in the wrong school culture. Fully vaccinating your child is the only way to protect your child against pertussis, measles, etc. Mother for Choice

I had to chime in here after reading all the replies that said if you vaccinate why worry. My son is at a public Elementry and missed a chunk of kindergarden due to pertusis. He was/is fully vaccinated and up to date, our amazing pediatrician caught it early but it was still pretty ugly. I didnt know just how many children were not vaccinated until we all started discussing the number of kids out.. His best friend at the time had a younger sister who was less than a year and that mom lost a lot of sleep. Herd immunity is disappearing from many areas or at least being eroded. I personally would not take that chance. good luck

A friend of mine was tearing up as she told me of a baby in her son's class who died from whooping cough. The baby was a younger sibling of the older brother who was in a school where several of his classmates were not vaccinated. A strong cough was going around and I guess the infant was exposed through the son's friends. So, yes, your vaccinated child probably won't get sick. However, I think it is worth considering the babies who are too young to be vaccinated. something to think about

I would not let the issue cause too much distress. Your children are vaccinated, and although vaccines are not 100% effective, you should be quite comfortable that they will not be infected by their classmates. I have a circle of friends where half the kids have been immunized against what most might think the worst (MMR, pertussis, polio),and the others have not and just hope for the best. I hoped for the best when my kids got those shots, and I hope for the best in their effectiveness. That is about all you can do. I do have a friend, though, who has articulated that the reason she is comfortable taking the risk to not vaccinate is because so many in society have taken the risk to do so. I thought it a very generous and perceptive comment by a non-vaccinating mom. K

I understand that parents get very frustrated by how frequently young children get sick. It seems almost constant in the pre-school/elementary school years. I think you are focusing your frustration on the wrong thing. If your child is vaccinated and practices good hygiene (frequent hand washing really does work!) and eats a good healthy diet then you will have less illness. I vaccinated my son at a slower schedule than is standard. He was healthier than any of his friends and never got any major illness. Ironically the folks who got those typical childhood illnesses had ALL been vaccinated against them. I think it is reasonable to discuss the pros and cons of vaccinations. Personally I think kids shouldn't have multiple vaccinations at one time. That is something you can discuss with your doctor as I did. But take a close look at who has measles, chicken pox, pertussis, etc. next time.... all the kids I knew with those illnesses had all been vaccinated against them and got them anyway. We like to think that vaccinations are a magic potion that will protect our children but it simply isn't true. Parents that choose to delay vaccinations do it with lots of thoughtful discussion and research. It isn't done without a good reason. Research it a little and you may rethink your stance. Regardless, I think parents sending a sick child to school is the main problem and I wish schools would be stricter about that! best wishes for good health

[moderator note] We're closing out this discussion unless you have a reply to the original question that brings up a new point. Thanks - topics like this take a lot of moderator time.

Friends w/ fellow new mom who doesn't vaccinate

April 2003

Firstly, I am not looking for reasons to vaccinate or not vaccinate. I am vaccinating my children, and believe strongly in doing so. I do however, realize that I live in Berkeley and therefore may come across this issue several times in my new life as a mother.

Anyway: I'm a first time mother with an 9-month old baby. I made fast friends with another new mom in my parenting group and we have hung out many times. Her baby is 3 months old. I really enjoy her as a person, and I have enjoyed sharing newborn tips and passing down baby items. We have hung out a lot while pregnant and several times now with both of our babies, but with their age difference there hasn't been any physical contact between them.

I learned today that my friend is not vaccinating her child. I didn't learn this during a normal course of conversation, but instead on Facebook. I am not so tacky as to post a comment that says, ''Seriously? Can we even still be friends?'' but I am worried enough to seriously consider the larger implications of this otherwise flippant Facebook status. I feel like if I had learned this in real life, I would have asked more questions and tried to come to understand her decision better and shared with her my own concerns.

But now I'm just concerned. Is it unsafe for my vaccinated (or, in-the-process-of-being-vaccinated) baby to hang out with a decidedly unvaccinated baby? What about when they're toddlers and then small children? How do you deal with this as a parent living in an hippie town where kids may not be getting vaccinated? Do I drop this friend without telling her what I learned from FB, and then proceed as a parent by asking every potential play date mom about her kids' vaccinations? Vaccinating mama


Some of the responses below contain information that is factually incorrect, and a couple of posts don't conform to BPN policy. Nonetheless, we have decided to include all responses so the community can have a better idea of what our fellow parents currently say about vaccinations. This has always been hot button topic on BPN, so we're not accepting further responses on this thread.

We'd like to correct a couple of misconceptions in the responses:

1. Can a vaccinated child still get the disease?

Yes. Some of the vaccines require more than one dose, because antibodies need to be built up over time. A child who has not yet been fully vaccinated is still susceptible. For some vaccines, immunity declines over time, and a booster is needed. Even for those who are recently and fully vaccinated, immunity is not guaranteed. This is another reason why "herd immunity" is so important. The CDC says this about Whooping Cough: "Pertussis vaccines are very effective but not 100% effective. If pertussis is circulating in the community, there is still a chance that a fully vaccinated person can catch this very contagious disease. Our current estimate is that Tdap vaccination protects 7 out of 10 people who receive it."

2. Can a child catch whooping cough from the vaccination itself?

No. Vaccines are designed to imitate the disease, not create the disease. There are different methods for doing this, depending on the vaccine. For whooping cough, the vaccine contains only parts (antigens) of the bacteria that causes pertussis, not the entire bacteria. So, vaccinated children will build up immunity, but they cannot develop whooping cough from the vaccine. CDC has an explanation of how this works here:\ -office.pdf

3. Are all kindergarteners required to be vaccinated?

No. Children with compromised immunity or certain medical conditions cannot receive vaccinations, so they are exempted. But a bigger factor is that California is one of the few states in the US that allows parents to opt out of vaccinations for their kids by filing a "personal beliefs exemption." There are several local private schools that have high rates of these exemptions (Cal. Public Health Dept keeps statistics on this), one of which was closed down a few years ago due to a whooping cough outbreak.

Beginning in Jan 2014, parents who want a personal beliefs exemption will be required to get a waiver from a physician or a nurse practitioner saying they have received information about the benefits and risks of immunization. (AB2109 signed into law in Oct 2012.)

The CDC has lots of information about the various vaccines and is a good source for parents wanting details:

And, as always, please consult with your child's doctor for medical advice. - BPN Moderators

Here are the responses we received:

Call your pediatrician and ask them whether/when it is safe for the babies to be together. If the answer it No it is not safe, then it is your choice whether to expose your baby to the danger. In my opinion, your first responsibility as a parent is to keep your child safe. anon

Dear Vaccinating Mommy, I can completely relate. I happen to have a family member with similarly aged children and have struggled with this situation myself. Personally, I find it incredibly troubling, and have seriously considered confronting my family member about how unsafe her decision is for her children, my children and society at large. I was strongly considering letting her know that I couldn't have my second around her toddler until my littlest had his MMR, but after speaking with my ped who is insistent about vaccinating and is an infectious disease specialist a la UCSF, I decided to just lay low. Of course, my situation is complicated by the fact that this individual is family and it would be both difficult and unpleasant to impose a moratorium on our children's visits. Fortunately, we also happen to live very far apart (this cousin resides in the Midwest). Your situation is a bit trickier, as a) this sounds like a fairly new firiendship and b) you live nearby to your friend and appear to be in regular contact. As I see it you are more than justified in addressing the situation head on in an amicable and conversational manner. I'd just ask her straight up what her intentions are regarding vaccinations. I'd mention the FB post and ask her why she's choosing that route. After learning about her reasoning, you have some decisions to make regarding the future of your friendship. I have to say the whole vaccination thing represents a real worldview issue for me that would be difficult for me to breach if I was seeking to establish a truly close relationship -- not merely a friendly acquaintance type relationship, but an intimate friendship -- with a person. I'm also a Berkely Leftie, btw! I post regularly on FB about such misguided theories and criticize the anti-vaccine crowd somewhat regularly through posts and posted articles. This is as far as I have gone vis-a-vis my family though. I don't see them enough for it to matter, and although I love this cousin, I don't particularly hold her political or life decisions in extremely high regard. I think she is a good person, but we parent and live in very different ways. However, I don't think I'd extend the same leniency toward a good or potentially good friend, as family members you cannot choose, but friends you can. Hope this helps. In solidarity, Vaccinating Sister in Berkeley

I am not a doctor, but I am under the strong impression that if you vaccinate your child, your child will be protected no matter what babies and children she/he plays and schools with. It is the unvaccinated kids who are at risk - and relying on the ''herd'' of vaccinated children to protect them from various illnesses. If you need more information or reassurance, perhaps you should speak with your pediatrician. Another vaccinating mom

I don't know the answer to your question, but would call your doctor and ask. Really, I would call your doctor and ask. Meanwhile, I think that even if you did learn this info on FB, you can bring it up with her in ''real life'' and have the discussion. A Vaccinator

um, the risk is to HER kid, not yours. anon

Are you planning on never taking your child to the library or playground? Probably not and I'm certain some of those kids are also not vaccinated. Since yours will be, the odds are in your favor that they will not get any disease. If it does bother you, which it sounds like it does, talk to her. Bring up your baby going in for his/her doctor appt and getting vaccines. That could be a good segue to asking whether she's having her baby vaccinated. Be patient, she has her reasons whether you agree or not. Mama too

I'm not sure why you would ask for advice from a ''hippie'' community you regard with such condescension, but my unvaccinated child got Chicken Pox and possibly Whooping Cough from children at preschool who had recently been vaccinated. It's more likely that your children will infect hers than the other way around. The larger issues seem to be the fact that you get your information from Facebook, haven't even talked to her about this, and the prospect of an honest conversation scares you. I advise you to practice honesty and respect if you really value this friendship; you are going to encounter many parents (all of them) who don't do exactly what you do, and unless you find a way to negotiate that you'll miss out on the love and support you need. Don't Even Wear Tie-dye

I think that you are overreacting. Your child is vaccinated and should be safe. It's the unvaccinated child that is at risk. But I really don't understand the non-vaccinators. Unless the parent is planning on home schooling, the kid has to have proof of vaccinations in order to enroll in kindergarten. So it seems to me as if they are just prolonging the inevitable and exposing their children in the meantime. puzzled

Your friend's decision not to vaccinate her children is her personal choice that has nothing to do with you. People you meet will have different views from you on politics, parenting, and a number of other things- this is just one of them. I would encourage you to be open-mided and embrace your differences. If you fear is that her child will get yours sick, there is no independent evidence that unvaccinated children are causing any illness outbreaks. In fact,in last yer's whooping cough outbreak, an investigation by California doctors has revealed that the state's latest outbreak of whooping cough centered around children who had already received the whooping cough vaccine. Likewise, a German study released in September 2011 of about 8000 unvacciated children, newborn to 19 years, show vaccinated children have at least 2 to 5 times more diseases and disorders than unvaccinated children. This is not to pass judgement on your decision to vaccinate by any means, but just to point out that there is no special risk of hanging out with an unvaccinated child. All parents should be vigilant, vaccinated or not, of keeping their kids away from others when they are contagious with something. So with your friend, I would let it go- accept her right to make the choice she feels is right for her and her family and enjoy her friendship. --

I am sure you have opened the can of worms on this as there are many ademant non-vaccinators here in Berkeley who I am sure will have lots to say. I strongly believe in vaccinating. Before vaccinations thousands of children died from terrible diseases here in the US. Vaccinations work and the only reason folks can now opt out and generally have their kids be ok is that there are enough children that HAVE been vaccinated. That said, in Berkeley and other areas where many do not vaccinate outbreaks of measles, mumps etc have occured and children have died. Addionally when kids are vaccinated children and adults with immune system disorders, pregnant women and their fetuses are protected by this herd immunity as well. In regards to your fears for your own child being exposed from your friend's kid the risk is very minimal especially because her child is so young, your child is 6 months older, your child is getting vaccinated. In general the risk are to the child who is NOT being vaccinated and those unable to vaccinate for the above stated reasons. It is her child who is at risk not yours. This also translates to other children who yours will undoubtly encounter knowingly or unknowingly living in Berkeley. IMO and as a public health professional I firmly believe it is irresponsible not to vaccinate. Even if there were side effects from vaccinations which are extremely rare, it is a responsibility we have to the larger community to vaccinate!

Public health Professional and Mom of a young child

Gee I totally sympathize. I can't quite figure out this rebellion against vaccinations among parents. I read that the largest community of non-vaccinating families is in Santa Cruz. If these parents want to take the risk with their children, that is fine, but yes, YOUR child is definitely being put at risk too. I feel it is highly selfish for parents to not vaccinate and not protect the community. As I travel to non-developed countries, like Guatemala and West Africa, you see how badly they need vaccinations. And our citizens here and get them for such low cost and turn it down. Beats me, I don't get it. If I were you, I would do some reading on how much your child truly IS exposed by a non-vaccinated child,(what are the actual risks, are they significant) and then make your decision based on that. Totally in favor of vaccinations

The problem isn't with young babies, but with toddlers and preschoolers infecting babies/toddlers who haven't had all their vaccinations. I would suggest you avoid unvaccinated toddlers/prechoolers/school-age children until your child is fully vaccinated. anon

Berkeley is the world source for hippies, but is also a world center for biotech. We have here scientists who design vaccines for a living. So don't assume there's a City-mandated line on this topic.

I'd end my friendship w someone who's endangering others by not vaccinating. This is a serious issue, and when you have kids you don't have a choice about taking sides. Pro-science Mom.

Good grief. I hate to break it to you, but a lot of kids aren't vaccinated for various reasons -- religion probably being one of the biggest reasons. So, it's not some funky Bay Area thing. A lot of people, including myself, delay vaxing for a variety of reasons. Some people do selective vaxing. My advice to you is: relax. Not vaxing doesn't = a child being more disease prone or more likely to make your child sick. Get some education on the subject before judging and possibly exiting a friendship. selba

''Is it unsafe for my vaccinated (or, in-the-process-of-being-vaccinated) baby to hang out with a decidedly unvaccinated baby?'' Yes, I would consider it unsafe, especially if your baby is not yet fully vaccinated.

Even if your kids have been vaccinated, they are not 100% guaranteed to be immune. No vaccine is perfect, and we also rely on ''herd immunity'' -- the tendency for a high-enough proportion vaccinated to make the non-immune people too few and far between to effectively transmit the disease through the population. Unvaccinated people aren't just making a choice for themselves, they are also placing everybody else at risk because of decreased herd immunity, and placing at great risk people who haven't been vaccinated yet (because they are too young) and people whose immune systems are weak (like people in cancer treatment).

Your not-yet-fully-vaccinated baby is certainly in that category of people who depend even more strongly than the rest of us on herd immunity.

The safety of your kids depends on both (1) their being vaccinated in order minimize their chance of getting the disease AND minimizing their risk of passing it to others, and (2) not coming into into contact with others who can pass it on to them.

Playing with unvaccinated kids wrecks strategy #2. I, frankly, wouldn't do it. Vaccines save lives

It seems to me that you are WAY overreacting. The other child is much more vulnerable if you want to look at vulnerability than your vaccinated child since they are not vaccinated. I don't see how your child could be negatively impacted by the other child's lack of vaccinations. In addition, you can cut off this friend and her child but your child will go to school with many unvaccinated children you will never know about anyway since you cannot ask every parent of every child in the school. Parents have many different views on vaccination and we should all make space for each other's views but unless your child gets kept in a bubble they are exposed to unvaccinated people on a daily basis what are you afraid of?

I'm a little concerned that you will get a lot of reaction to your question, but maybe not a lot of useful information. How about talking to your pediatrician? I had this discussion with ours 12 years ago, and she said that vaccinated children can contract and transmit viruses without showing symptoms, and so it is the unvaccinated child who is at risk. (She was trying to convince me not to let my child go unvaccinated.) I never got a second opinion, but I am curious if what she said is true. Best wishes, Elisa

Is your child at risk? Yes. Your friend is putting all of our children are at risk. If it were me, I would ask her if what I saw on Facebook is true, and if it was, that would be the end.

Inadvertently, I found out that one of my son's classmates was not vaccinated and we ended the friendship. I did not want to. But once it was confirmed, I explained to the other parent and to my son the reason, and that was it.

It's hard, but I am not willing to put my family at risk, or myself, for that matter. I've never had the chicken pox. I've been vaccinated twice, but my Dr. still wants me to go in for a blood test to see if I am immune. -A line I am not willing to cross.

I sure can't tell you what to do. I can only say that I had a similar experience, with a mom in my neighborhood that I met when our kids were 2 months old. I gradually came to realize that we had very different ideas about core parenting issues. She didn't vaccinate, had her children in Waldorf and hated public schools, was very opinionated about food, hated to ever let her children cry, didn't take her kids to the dentist/use flouride toothpaste, believed microwaves were dangerous. I practiced the exact opposite: vaccinated, kids/self in public schools, flexible on food, okay with some crying, etc. I generally bit my tongue, but it got very difficult, as she was very vocal. She'd wince or gasp when I mentioned vaccinating my teenager for HPV, but I didn't say anything to her when her kids infected our 19-year-old family friend with chicken pox (he lived with us), causing him to miss college orientation out of town, and affecting his dorm placement. He'd been vaccinated, but it wasn't enough to keep him from catching it.

Eventually, I wore out. My friend was great in so many ways, but it was a strain keeping a smile on my face while she trashed public schools, which were all I, and my parents, were ever able to afford. I never said, ''But you pay $17,000 a year to send your kid to a school that isn't even teaching her to read until second grade!!'' I was relieved when we moved far enough away to stop seeing them multiple times/week.

So my question is, is it only about vaccinations, or are there more areas where you're incompatible? I began to feel that this friendship was not worth it, and you might also.

if your child is vaccinated, that means he or she is theoretically immune to the diseases those vaccinations cover. If your family is exposed, the chance of her getting the disease is very low. There is no risk to you or your child spending time with non-vaccinated people. The risk is all theirs. They are depending, in large part, on ''herd immunity'' to not get the same diseases. they take a higher risk by living in a community where there are proportionally fewer vaccinated individuals since that makes head immunity less effective but the risk is all theirs. There are always a few people who may not get vaccinated for medial reasons and they must depend on the rest of us for herd immunity. Some people choose to forgo vaccinations for other reasons and they depend on the rest of us as well. Personally I think everyone who can, should get most of the vaccinations available but that the WHO vaccination schedule is overly aggressive but there are public health reasons for that too so ultimatly we all have to make our own decisions for our kids, to vaccinate or not? to do it sooner or later? If you are going to judge her decision, that is up to you but you don't bear any real risk by hanging out with her. anon

I don't understand the issue with being around an unvaccinated kid if your kid is vaccinated. Isn't that the whole point of vaccinating your kid? My kid is vaccinated and I'm not worried when she's around her unvaccinated friends. Because she's vaccinated. I mean, am I missing something here? This is so not worth losing a good friendship over. Fellow vaccinator

This might help: I''m not in the medical field, and I'm with you philosophically, but I don't think your vaccinated child is at risk from her unvaccinated child. It is my understanding that the risks are borne by a) her child b) newborns/infants who are so young that they don't yet have full protection from vaccines c) the elderly, and possibly non-elderly adults whose vaccines have worn off to say, whooping cough, and d) those with a medical condition that compromises their immune system (and there are many such conditions, including cancer treatment, organ transplant patients who take anti-rejection meds, autoimmune diseases, certain other chronic medical conditions, and old age). So if you have a second baby later, or a member of your household is in one of the at-risk categories, you might ask your doctor about the risks involved with having playdates or other contact with unvaccinated children. You will encounter plenty more unvaccinated kids. You just won't know which ones they are.

What to do when parents disagree about vaccines

April 2010

My husband and I do not agree on whether or not to vaccinate our daughter. He is very against any vaccines, and I am open to selective vaccinations, but don't want to rule out all of them. We've been reading books (Dr Sears and others) but we have been unable to reach an agreement- we've discussed it on 4 separate occasions. Our daughter is now 9 months old and I'm feeling very frustrated by our inability to make this decision together. Any ideas on how we could move forward would be helpful. At an impasse

Moderator reminder: BPN does not accept medical advice. Please respond only to the question without submitting opinions about whether or not to immunize children. A good source for immunization information is the CDC website:

Hi! Maybe you could approach him with studies/statistics of diseases that are on the rise in your area, diseases that are preventable with the use of vaccines. Or maybe agree to a stretched out schedule, so nothing is overwhelming. Try to get a few personal stories of parents who didn't vaccinate (or did) and the illnesses those kids got. We vaccinated against meningitis, and guess what? It's what saved our son's life last summer. Had we not, things could've gone in a very bad direction for us. Trust me, hospital stays are horrible for a little man with meningitis. anon

I can understand your concerns. Each of you want the best for your daughter, and both of you think you're right. There is so much confusing information out there about vaccines it's hard to tell who really is telling the truth. Well, when I started exploring this issue I went to the place where I felt most comfortable: science. I studied biology and know that good science doesn't lie. I needed to read and see the research and learn for myself, without clouding my thoughts with celebrity gossip or pharmaceutical speak, about vaccine safety. I've read article after article, paying special attention to the methods of each one to ensure highest accuracy of results. I can honestly say now that I have no hesitations about vaccines. I've found vaccines to be safer than most over the counter medications, and I speak from my heart when I say that I am very greatful that we have them. I've met some people who suffered terrible consenquences from vaccine preventable diseases. It's really sad to learn that some of their disabilities or the lives of their loved ones could have been prevented. Anyway, I may be preaching to the choir but I recommend that you sit down with your husband and the pediatrician to address his concerns. A site that I find very useful is: (go under resources and look for vaccine safety info sheets for parents). These are great! I hope this helps. Maria

This is a very touchy subject for many people. Above all else it is the health of your child that is the #1 concern. I myself would love to see a study comparing vaccinated vs unvaccinated children and how healthy overall are each group.

As for dealing with the impass, try to take steps to understand each others views. Why are you both so far apart on this subject? Where are you getting your facts from? Can you agree on stepping in one anothers shoes and looking at this topic from the opposite perspective? Respect each other for their stance in the subject. This is a subject that has to be delt with information and facts. Bring more to the table. Good luck! Knowlege is key

I think the only rational way to come to a consensus is to both agree to read the same materials as one another so that you have common ground from which to make a decision. Government and pharma-sponsored vaccine data abounds, so you don't need any recommendations from me on that front. Encourage your husband to read what you have from that arena. Other reading that you and your husband could do include: ''Vaccination Safety Manual for Concerned Parents and Health Practitioners'', by Neil Miller; ''What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Childhood Vaccinations'', by Stephanie Cave; and websites such as, and Best wishes, Tracy