A Nurse’s Journey Away From Anti-Vax

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Aug. 6 2014 7:00 AM

A Nurse’s Journey Away From Anti-Vax

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I love a story with a happy ending.

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I write about vaccinations every now and again, usually when there’s bad news: an outbreak, for example, or when some talking head utters some unconscionably fallacious piece of dupery about medical health.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

It’s not too often I get to write about something good, so I cherish this: Dani McBurnett Stringer is a nurse practitioner who has taken care of thousands of children in the past few years. She’s charged with caring for them and their health … but she has a secret.

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She was anti-vaccine.

Stress the “was.” Even though she was vaccinated as a child, her parents became more anti-vax with time, and by the time Stringer entered the nursing field, she shared her parents’ beliefs. But then something happened.

Over the course of my education, I went on to care for a 1 month old fighting for her life against pertussis who was too young to be vaccinated. Her horrific cough and her helpless parents will stay with me forever. I learned from a case study of a child born in my county who later died because her mom developed chickenpox a few days before delivery. I was alerted by the health department when measles was found in my area. My own great uncle is in a wheel chair to this day from a childhood case of polio. I studied a child whose legs and arms were amputated after meningitis nearly cost him his life.  I watched a toddler almost die from dehydration due to rotavirus. I’ve cared for many children with cancer and immunodeficiencies who I worry about due to daily declining herd immunity.
But most of all, I learned that this suffering is preventable.

(Emphasis hers.)

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Photo by Shutterstock / sheff

That’s wonderfully put, although it makes my heart heavy that she had to see what she did to change her mind. On the other hand, it makes my heart sing that she was able to make this journey at all. So many people don’t.

Of course, this wasn’t an easy path. In a completely predictable manner, she was attacked by anti-vaxxers. But then, to my delight, she took those attacks and turned them into a list of reasons why we must vaccinate our children. She pretty much nails it.

I’m thrilled Stringer broke through her own personal biases and accepted reality for what it is. We all have some of those biases weighing us down, and every time someone sheds them it’s cause to celebrate, especially when it’s on an issue that is, quite literally, life or death.

Stringer is on Twitter and Facebook, so send her some support. I expect she could use it.

Tip o’ the syringe to my friend Tim Farley.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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