Treated with cucumbers, intimidated and punished: what is it like to grow up in a family of anti-vaccines?
Meredith's mother forbade her to vaccinate her daughter when she was a child. Years later, it turned into a serious illness.
Born in New Zealand Meredith (a fictitious name) told the BBC his life story in a family of anti-vaccines. So called members of the public movement, challenging the benefits and safety of vaccinations and refuse them. According to the WHO, which included mistrust of vaccination in the list of ten global threats to public health, in fact, preventing diseases not only does not harm, but annually helps prevent 2-3 a million deaths, writes Tjournal.
However, the life of Meredith, who is now more than 36 years old, went the other way. Since childhood, mother, grandmother and aunts took care of her health. A woman describes them as hippies who believe in the ability of the human body to self-heal. When the girl had a cold, she was advised to "eat a cucumber" or to be treated to a homemade drink by the neighbors.
In those years, the Internet only developed, so that the main source of medical information for the family became the tabloid press and magazines. Grandma Meredith is subscribed to such until now. On the recommendation from there, she bought a stick with integrated lighting for 200 dollars, and in a conversation with her granddaughter she claimed that it was a magic wand that improved the quality of the food.
Meredith herself believed in such mysticism only in deep childhood. At the age of three, the girl suffered from seizures due to hypoglycemia (characterized by a low blood sugar level), for which she was given a box of medications.
The mother did not allow the use of drugs, allegedly because they were experimental and had previously been tested only on dogs, most of which died. The woman also frightened her daughter that because of the drugs her body would be covered with hair.
When Meredith was 11 years old, MMR was vaccinated at school — a combination of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines. In 1990-s, it was suggested that there was a connection between this vaccine and autism, but later this version was carefully investigated and refuted.
Vaccination required parental permission, and although the school was vaccinated annually, each time Meredith's mother wrote a refusal. As a woman remembers, in childhood no one explained to her what the scientific value of vaccines was, and her mother believed that they were made from cells of chicken embryos and frogs, and then introduced to people.
One day, the girl still managed to get vaccinated. She talked with friends who were waiting in line for vaccination, and with them went into the nurse's office. She assured Meredith that there was nothing wrong with the injection, and the girl agreed. So she put the first vaccine in life - against measles. Returning home, she did not hide the truth from her mother.
“I told her that everyone in the school was vaccinated. She jumped up and started shouting: "Why did you not stop and did not call me?".
Meredith tried to explain that she simply obeyed the school authorities, but the mother did not listen and said that her daughter would not return to this school.
“It was my last day in elementary school. Mom took me away, depriving my friends and the opportunity to at least say goodbye to them. My classmates did not understand where I had disappeared, but I think the teachers were in the know, since my mother scolded them.
Three weeks later we moved out of town. I helped my mother pack her things, feeling very guilty. The vaccination led to all these troubles and to the fact that we were uprooted [from our homes], ”- said Meredith.
In 2009, Meredith moved with her partner from her native New Zealand to the Australian city of Brisbane. As the woman remembers, the grandmother begged her not to leave, claiming that there was a snowman in the local mountains.
“God bless her, but [then] I thought irritably:“ How can we be relatives in general, ”she says.
In contrast to Meredith, her young man has received the necessary vaccinations since childhood.
“How are you still alive?” The man asked when the beloved first told him about her problem.
Then she promised to be vaccinated, but did not do it right away. As a result - once she stepped on a nail and contracted tetanus. Australian doctors were shocked by the diagnosis, which last time was fixed in Brisbane about 30 years ago.
“Despite the pain, I was angry with my mother because she intentionally did not vaccinate me,” Meredith says.
Doctors took leukocytes from another person with tetanus and injected them to her to overcome the disease. The story could have ended, but in 2016, the woman contracted whooping cough (characterized by paroxysmal cough).
It took Meredith six weeks and an examination with four different doctors to get the correct diagnosis. At first, she was suspected of having flu or pneumonia, so they simply advised to take appropriate medications and drink plenty of fluids. When the symptoms intensified, the woman was prescribed antibiotics, but they did not help.
Only after a correct diagnosis did she slowly recover, and her recovery took three months.
“On the fourth week, I forgot what it is like when you do not cough, and resigned to the fact that this will continue my whole life,” she recalls.
Meredith's mother knew about her illness, but did not attach much importance to this and only advised her daughter to rest and visit the open air more often.
One day a woman offered to fly to Australia to help, but Meredith and her partner immediately refused.
"I can not believe that you had to go through all this because of her," the man commented on the situation.
Since then, the situation has not changed - mother Meredith is still confident that the infection of her daughter with whooping cough is not connected with the fact that she forbade her to be vaccinated.
In 2019, the woman began to close these gaps. She paid 200 dollars for the Hepatitis B vaccine, and in turn diphtheria, polio, meningococcus, and human papillomavirus. Meredith's younger sister was more lucky - she went through the necessary procedures, secretly from her mother, when she moved to Japan. Once she mentioned vaccination in a conversation with a relative, but she caught herself and invented a scanning device that automatically strengthens the human body for life in Japan. Mom believed it.
Meredith’s relationship with her mother remained strained — with age she began to treat medicine with great confidence, but talk of disease prevention, as before, causes her to reject.
“15 years ago, my mother started sepsis, and then she calmly took medication. My stepfather has cystic fibrosis (a hereditary disease characterized by severe respiratory impairment - approx. TJ), every morning he takes a handful of pills. […]
I would like to solve this problem for her. She must have seen the news of disease outbreaks that could have been prevented by prevention. It would be great to reach out to her, but every time we touch on this topic, she falls silent, gets upset and cries. And you don't want that for your mom, ”says Meredith.
The problem of anti-vaccine communities is relevant for the whole world. Authorities recognize that people do not know enough about vaccines, but government policies that inform the importance of immunization usually boil down to conversations in schools and one-time actions.
But avoiding vaccinations leads to the return of defeated diseases. At the beginning of 1990-ies in the CIS countries due to a sharp decrease in the number of vaccinated children there was an outbreak of diphtheria. She managed to suppress only through the prevention of disease, which has formed a collective immunity.
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