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.