A couple of weeks ago, I took myself to the pharmacy for the first of two doses of the shingles vaccine. I didn’t want to do it at all. For one thing, I’m highly needle-phobic. (I don’t even have pierced ears.) Also, I was working toward a major deadline and didn’t have time to be sick. Headache, fatigue, and low-grade fever are common side effects of this vaccine, according to the CDC, and they can last for several days.
But I had recently heard from two people who have had shingles in the past few months (one is a family member, the other an animal activist) and their experiences were way worse than the usual mild side effects of the vaccine. It motivated me to get vaccinated. (It didn’t hurt at all by the way. And while I was a little sick the next day, it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed by an Advil and a couple cups of coffee. Also, I met my deadline.)
I know this vaccine doesn’t guarantee that I’ll never get shingles, but it greatly reduces my risk just like vaccines reduce risk for sometimes life-threatening diseases like polio, measles, and tetanus in children.
Unfortunately, because of misinformation spread through social media, some parents are reluctant to take advantage of vaccines, placing their own children and others who can’t be vaccinated (like infants) at risk. The World Health Organization has named “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 global threats to health (right up there with air pollution and microbial resistance).
Vegan parents may experience a different kind of vaccine hesitancy, though. They might question the use of vaccines that are tested on animals or that contain animal products. And some might think that vaccines are unnecessary for vegan children, because they believe unwarranted claims that a vegan diet is all-powerful in protecting against disease.
But we know that vegan kids can get sick. And we know that in this imperfect world, perfect veganism is not possible. That’s why a vegan ethic asks us to find alternatives to animal products whenever possible and practical. There are currently no vegan alternatives to vaccines against childhood illnesses.
In my last blog post, I asked vegan parents to share stories of their experiences in raising children. Although I didn’t ask about this specifically, many who contacted me volunteered the information that their kids are fully vaccinated. That was reassuring. You can also find excellent pro-vaccine posts from a vegan perspective on the internet including these from Unnatural Vegan, Reasonable Vegan, and Vegan Biologist.
Vaccinating children according to the schedule recommended by the CDC is a responsible and compassionate choice. It’s good for your kids, good for your community, and as a bonus, in some small way it enhances the image of animal advocacy as a movement built on reason, evidence, and science. We should also, of course, continue to work for alternatives to animal testing and animal use, so that we’ll someday live in a world that is populated by healthy vegans and is free of animal exploitation.
Thank you for this post. I’m going to share on my Facebook vegan group. I have fully vaccinated my son also, it was never even a question for me. Vegan or not, I don’t want my kid to get some horrible disease that is so easily preventable with vaccines.
I get criticism from vegans who are “just shocked!” and disappointed that I would tout a vegan lifestyle and yet, be a hypocrite and vaccinate my son. On the flip side, there are a surprising number of people who believe I am an “anti-vaxxer” just because I’m vegan and criticize me (completely unfounded) and pound me with criticism and articles on why I should vaccinate my son. I guess, as a vegan, we can’t win.
It’s sad that we are refusing vaccines. Most of us haven’t heard or seen what vaccine-preventable illnesses are actually capable of doing. I’m only 34, but my parents and parent-in-laws know of people who died, who were left infertile, or who suffered illness and died early as a result of the side effects of the disease. We have a family friend that got polio in the 50s and still suffers serious health consequences today, including physical disability.
Science-denial is the biggest reason I can’t bring myself to really involve myself in the “vegan community,” whatever that is. I vaccinate the family animals and give essentials like heartworm medication because I think it would be cruel not to. Of course I extend that to humans!
I also have a child who is developmentally delayed. He was showing signs soon after birth, before TDAP, the flu shot or the MMR were given. I had a suspicion when he was just a few days old. So then I feel like I’m worthless as a vaccine advocate because I vaccinated my child and he is developmentally delayed. Obviously, I don’t think vaccines did anything but prevent my child from suffering from life-threatening diseases. I know he’d be developmentally delayed if I had fed him and myself a vegan diet at conception (yeah, I’ve seen paleo advocates connect lack of animal fats with autism :eyeroll: and I’ve seen PETA blame dairy consumption), but we’ve just been vegan in the last year and absolutely nothing has happened health-wise, like I would expect.
We’re fully vaccinated over here. And when the time comes, I will be getting the HPV vaccine for my son. I see no reason people should be needlessly getting and even dying of cervical and throat cancers.
I am an autistic vegan. I was autistic even when I ate meat as a child. I was autistic even before I had any vaccines. It is not your fault that your child is neurodivergent/has a developmental delay. I was born autistic, and your child was born with a developmental delay. It sounds like you are a wonderful parent.
Sorry, Lisa. That response wasn’t directed at you. I meant to post as a stand alone and must’ve entered the wrong field.
I have the shingles right now! I am 50 years old and the vaccine was recommended to me by my doctor in December. I thought I had some time to get it done, but no. You are lucky to be able to get the vaccine, where I live, there is a waiting list. My husband had never had the vaccine recommended to him, but he got on the waiting list right away. Shingles is not contagious to another person who already had the chicken pox, but my early onset was the prompting he needed to get it done. From an AR stand point, if you don’t get the shingles vaccine and get shingles, you are going to need to go on other and probably more medications to control the pain. I had pain 24 hours a day for 1 week, before I figured out what it was, then the rash, then pain mostly at night. I am still on a medication for nighttime pain. Was it tested on animals? Probably. Do I want to not take it, and not sleep for goodness knows how long? No.
I support vaccination for children/everyone because there are some people who cannot get vaccinated. I have a loved one who is 18 months past their second bone marrow transplant and has not yet gotten all their vaccines (the schedule resets after each transplant). They have been vaccinated for some, but not all the diseases. Unvaccinated people put folks like these at risk for serious illness.
I am with you on this.
I meant to put in my comment that we don’t get flu shots in our family, my husband skipped out on the shingles & pneumonia (even though his doctor just recommended them), and I decided not to give my son the HPV vaccine. I recently had a whooping cough booster (I work in schools) and was sick for 3 days after — like Ginny said with fever, chills, and fatigue.
My father (a baby boomer who is used to blindly trusting his doctor) told me that the mercury and the preservatives are what are to blame, and said that you can actually ask for vaccines that don’t include them. I’m so sorry I can’t remember what exactly you have to ask for to get those vaccines, but I will find out.
Whenever there are side effects to the vaccine all I can think is: imagine how terrible the actual disease is. Our bodies think they are fighting the virus (or bacteria). This is what causes our symptoms and the immunity.
It’s called Flublok. The alternative to the actual flu vaccine for Vegans.
It’s always a treat to find a new post from you: this one was no exception. Thank you for all your hard work.
Thank goodness for vaccines. I get them all. They are one of the best things about living in the modern era and not during the dark ages.
I know they aren’t vegan, so I compensate for that by making an extra donation to an animal rights/protection/welfare organization whenever I get one. We won’t be able to help animals if we die from some horrid, preventable disease. This works for me (but I understand that others may feel differently).
Ginny, thank you for this. Vaccines are safe and those like MMR, chicken pox, scarlet fever, etc. have a long history of efficacy and do not use mercury or heavy metals as preservatives.
Unfortunately misinformation is often more believed that evidence-based information.
Thank you so much for your (as usual) common sense approach. I am an RN who has vaccinated plenty of children, and it still makes me both sad and mad at all the crap out there about the ‘danger’ of vaccines. Yes, you can have an adverse reaction, worst case likely anaphylaxis, but that applies to anything anyway. People vastly underestimate the effects of these diseases and overestimate the side effects. many seem to think the past was a ‘golden era’ full of simple, good foods, happy family life and clean environments. Sure the environment was cleaner ( less people around to ruin it) but people died, or were left permanently disabled or affected, in their thousands from diseases like polio, measles, whooping cough, tetanus – all of which can be vaccinated for.
Currently I work in sexual health, and am big on the HPV vaccine – probably the safest and most researched vaccine currently available. It gives protection against the most dangerous forms of the human papilloma virus that cause cervical and vaginal cancer, anal and throat cancers, and genital warts. There is data back from well over a million doses given worldwide, proving safety and efficacy, both rates of genital warts are dropping, and cervical abnormalities that may lead to cancer. I highly urge parents to ensure both their sons and daughters are immunised against this oncogenic virus group ( at least 40 known types, likely more).
As for the influenza vaccine, a little known fact is that many people can have the ‘flu, actually not be symptomatic, yet can pass it on to others. I would hate to think that was me giving the ‘flu to someone who was immunocompromised, it might kill them.
Yes, some people can have side effects from vaccines, feeling a bit unwell afterwards, but just remember that correlation does not mean causation – you may have picked up a virus from, for example, an asymptomatic ‘flu carrier at around the same time as you got the shot. It takes approximately two weeks to seroconvert (make antibodies to an antigen in a vaccine), so it may be a dose of the flu you have instead of a reaction to that HPV vaccine.
I have been involved in the care of kids whose parents flatly refuse to get them vaccinated, yet will bring them into the clinic for every scratch, cut, nick and illness, expecting them to be given antibiotics for everything. Every time you take a course of antibiotics, you kill off your microbiome – which is so important for your health. Antibiotic overuse in children is linked to obesity in their adulthood, and one day, antibiotics will stop working as they have been overused and abused for 50 odd years now. When that happens, your microbiome and your immune system is going to be your ONLY protection against disease. Give your immune system some exercise and get vaccinated against everything you can. Diseases debilitate and kill.
Thank you so much, Carol! I love to see the experience of people working in the medical field regarding vaccinations and disease.
Thank you for writing this. We are a vegan family and are all fully vaccinated. I even got the extra whooping cough vaccine recommended for pregnant women to give the newborn immunity while it can’t have it’s own vaccine. I think that, regarding animal exploitation, there are 2 approaches: boycotting (like, don’t eat them…) and when that is not possible nor practical, make use of your voice and money and put pressure in politicians who legislate (like end animal medical experiments). Boycotting medicine, when there are no alternatives, is dangerous for oneself and for the animal rights movement, who then is seen as some crazy anti-science hippie cult.
I get people not wanting t be vaccinated if th vaccine is tested on animals or uses egg. However, if you have to go to the hospital for a serious illness, you will likely use more animal tested products than if you stayed healthy. In some cases doctors many even request having specimens taken from you and tested on animals. Stay healthy as possible for the animals too!
Lucas, by “susceptible contacts”, they likely are referring to people with compromised immune systems.
So, if you get the shingles vaccine, it might be good to avoid (for a few days) people who are ill, or suffering from a disease that causes them to have a compromised immune system
Most of us who have the shingles vaccine are over 55 years old. I have had my first in the set already, and when I came home that night, I felt just a little under the weather, and for some reason had reduced appetite ( highly unusual for me, ha ha! ). My husband was just getting over a cold at that time, and when either of us is sick we tend to keep our distance. No problem so far, and he later had his own first vaccine in the series. We have seen too many friends deal with the devastating symptoms of shingles.
Ginny, again, thank you so much for promoting reason and science over conspiracy theories and misinformation. This is sorely needed in the Vegan community.
If we want compassion for animals to spread, we, as a group, actually need to be seen as somewhat mainstream, rational, and objective.
Thank you also for posting the websites of other rational, scientifically-based vegans.
I noticed my comment made five days ago is still awaiting moderation. I’m hoping you get a chance to review it soon so that you can address what you seem to think is “misinformation” leading people to hesitate in accepting vaccinations, particularly parents accepting them for their children. As a concerned parent and proponent of science, I feel I have listed some legitimate concerns that are rooted in fact and not misinformation, and I hope to have a discussion with you about what we both agree is a very serious issue.
I agree with you Lucas. I chose not to vaccinate my son but not soley because of the animal ingredients and testing…however the list of ingredients made me very wary to begin with.
My son and I do not currently take medicine (there’s no need), however if there was ever a need and no other alternative was available then we would. We have both been on antibiotics in the past but try hard to avoid that if possible. luckily my son has only needed them 3 times in 5.5 years (2 of those were for dental procedures).
There is definitely a risk for when injecting the ingredients in vaccines into our bodies. Where there is a risk there should be a choice. I wouldn’t consider someone not vegan if they choose to vaccinate however vaccines are most definitely not vegan. I also feel that most meds are needed because of the effects of vaccines (higher rates of asthma, eczema, allergies, brain disorders, autoimmune disorders, seizures, diabetes, ADD, cancer etc).
There is a rabbit hole of information out there. Some vegans are for vaccines some not. I feel like we shouldn’t become divided because of this.
You have to be very ignorant not to get vaccines. they save lives!! Do you want to go back to the dark ages? Just because something goes wrong with health around the time of a vaccine doesn’t mean that is what caused it. No one has a right to subject others to disease because of a phobia or susperstition.
In a perfect world, vaccines would be vegan and cruelty free. But regardless, why would you want to put your children at the guaranteed promise of catching something so contagious and perilous to their health? I’m no parent, but I can imagine it already being hard enough to raise your child vegan, but vaccine free? No no no.
If you don’t want to get measles then get the vaccine it’s simple. I think it’s unfair to blame those who do not want the vaccine. I see parents getting super amped about anti vaxxers. If you are so concrete NB Ed, just get you and yours vaccinated and you’ll be fine. Right??
It’s not quite that simple. There are people, including young infants, who can’t be vaccinated. They are at risk for getting sick –and in some cases at risk for getting very sick–when other people refuse to vaccinate. So parents who refuse vaccines are putting both their own children and other people at risk. What is actually unfair are the people who spread conspiracy theories about vaccines, thereby putting the health of babies at risk.
[…] instance, many vegans question if it’s possible to raise a vegan child? Although it is possible, vaccines for children are either tested on animals or contain animal […]