23 August 2014

Wading into the vaccine storm

I generally try to keep things light on my blog. It's all makeup, gossip, pop culture and any crazy thing rambling through my brain.
Image shamelessly borrowed with appreciation from here.

It all started when I was cheering on my friends and celebrity crushes on social media for doing their #IceBucketChallenge to raise funding to research a cure for ALS. This disease killed my mom's best friend when I was a teenager, so it has always been in my consciousness. I saw a friend remind people that even if you dump a bucket on your head, you still should donate $10 instead of the $100 you donate to avoid the dunk.

Last night, I found out that a friend of mine in California just learned that his two kids (who had their vaccinations up to date) caught pertussis (whooping cough) from other kids at school because California is having a big problem with people opting out of vaccines for personal reasons.

This hit home for me far more than I expected. I have a toddler now who has received his vaccinations for 'the big diseases' (pneumococcus, meningitis, polio, diphtheria, measles, chicken pox, mumps, rubella, varicella, tetanus, pertussis). That's a big load to put on a baby's building immune system, but each of the vaccines was given with thought and care. Mother's milk doesn't provide immunity just because I had my vaccinations, and it has very little that fades after about six months if I had one of these diseases as a child.

Based on the number of people I talk to on my granola mama groups that are opting out and the comments they make when questioned, their personal reasons are generally not religious. I generally avoid getting into conflict because I'm a believer in live and let live. It gets tough when I hear people talk about proven misinformation like autism is linked to vaccines, even after years and with the doctor who published the study losing his license after being found guilty of fraud and serious professional misconduct. It's even tougher when Canadians use American misinformation about things like mercury in vaccines as their reasoning for not vaccinating in my community.

Overall, most people are avoiding vaccinations for themselves and their children because they don't believe in them. Hearing that always makes me think about that line from Constantine:
"I don't believe in the devil." "You should. He believes in you."

Stay with me, because it looks like I'm contradicting myself. In this case, it's not that they don't believe in the vaccines. They know they exist. But they don't believe they need them. What they mean to say is, "I don't believe these diseases are so deadly that I need to vaccinate my family."

The misinformation about vaccines has been so damaging to our modern world that with all the other advances we've made, we risk slipping backward a few centuries in the prevalence of treatable diseases.

As my bio-chem doctorate sister reminds me, vaccines don't necessarily make you immune to a disease, but they give your immune system a big headstart in fighting the disease because they 'seed' your body with 'sample antibodies'. But you still have to make enough of them once a true infection happens. With whooping cough, well, it's not called the "100-day cough" for nothing. These children have been diagnosed and now get to live with a painful, wracking cough for the next six weeks, day and night. Antibiotics MAY shorten the duration but not the symptoms. Think about when you get a chest cold and you cough until you get that pain right over your breastbone. Now imagine that gut-wrenching cough for two-and-a-half months, keeping you awake at night and through your whole day.

The facts about diseases like whooping cough are:
1) It's deadly to kids and other immuno-vulnerable people (elderly, people with MS, ALS, etc.).
2) It's preventable but there are massive outbreaks in North America because when you skip the vaccinations it circulates through the population and starts to mutate as our bodies fight it with varying degrees of 'natural immunity', making the vaccine less effective and requiring more research into new vaccines.
3) 'Natural immunity' that is achieved by having the disease fades in your own body over time. If you have it as a kid, you still are susceptible later in life to it if you don't get the adult booster.

It's easy to get vaccinated. The tetanus booster is normally packaged with it because all the research shows these are safe together, so PLEASE ask for the DtaP vaccine if you need to get a booster.

Look, if you know me, you know that I'm a hippie dip pie, new-age-y, weird girl. I believe in stuff that science doesn't understand (stone energy, auras). I'm a pretty kooky conspiracy nut when it comes to big pharma and government walking hand-in-hand over the rights of us as consumers. My view on some vaccines is sceptical, at best (e.g. Gardasil). You also know I am not exactly in love with needles.

But vaccines work. Especially the ones in the Alberta Vaccination Schedule. PLEASE, check if you need to get your vaccinations updated. Not for me or my son, although you help him if you do (Herd immunity is real).

Get them for the sake of your kids' grandparents, your friends' kids' grandparents, YOUR grandparents, and the person you know who has MS, ALS, cancer, celiac, arthritis, or any disease that makes their immune system go wonky and makes them at risk for catching something that can kill them before 'modern medicine' can help them.

01 February 2014

Sochi Olympics - To Play Or Not To Play?

The 2014 Sochi Olympics are just around the corner, and the world is up at arms about what to do in light of Vladimir Putin's vicious laws denigrating and punishing LBGTQ Russians and their supporters.

Most people agree that something needs to be done to address it, but the actual solution is muddled. Boycott Russian vodka? Boycott the Olympics? What pressure can the rest of the world put on this man?

There are four ways to make a global statement that is historically significant at the Olympics. Athletes protesting, countries boycotting, IOC banning countries and IOC cancelling the event.

Putin has made it illegal to protest at the Olympics in Sochi. It's unclear whether or not a silent demonstration like the 1968 "Power to the People" will be permitted, but it's likely that the athletes will have a difficult time in Russia during their stay if they step out of line.

Countries can boycott for a variety of reasons that all point to disagreeing with other countries' behaviours. There hasn't been a boycott by a country in 25 years (North Korea in 1988).

Countries can be banned for violating sections of the Olympic charter, which Russia has done (despite their assertions that they haven't). If the IOC wants to make a truly powerful statement, they can ban Russia from participating as the host country. This would probably lead to Russia disallowing the Olympics in Sochi, but that's a tough decision for them because it generates a huge amount of commerce.

If the IOC feels that it's too late to move them, then this round should be canceled. There hasn't been an Olympics canceled since 1916 with the outbreak of World War I. Think of the political statement that would make to Putin. You are enacting policies and treating you citizens poorly, and this is how we will stop rewarding you.

Boycotting or cancelling the Olympics is a great hardship for the athletes who have trained for four years and, indeed, most of their lives for this opportunity to compete on the world stage. But I think it's the best way to economically and politically say, "You are wrong."

Since the countries won't cancel or boycott these Olympics, the next best solution is to boycott the sponsors. Protest with your bucks. I am boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics sponsors for the duration of the Olympics. Some sponsors won't notice (Omega, ATOS), but there will be dollars speaking for several sponsors.

To do it right, I have to boycott my beloved Dr Pepper, which is produced by Coca-Cola in the UK.

The toughest one is probably P&G brands, because they have products all over the place, but it's going to be worth it to me to say they are wrong to sponsor this sports. We'll be avoiding MEXX, Bounty towels, Puffs tissues, Duracell, Mr. Clean, Crest and Oral-B. These are all brands we use weekly in the house and need constant restocking. But I'll be using alternatives for the next month, and if I like the alternatives, it will be a permanent change.

What products do you use? Can you give them up for a few weeks to make a point?

30 January 2014

Vehicle Envy

So much change!

I've been a bad blogger. Since my last post, I've had a baby, become a WAHM, and reset my life goals. We'll see how things go now that I'm avoiding an 8-5 grind.

A friend sent me a blog link on Facebook that I found interesting. It gave helpful advice on how to pick a vehicle when considering the for for your kids' car seats.


What I found interesting was how many of the vehicles with problems are SUVs and trucks. In Canada, most of the parents I know insist they need a bigger vehicle for their kids, even of they only have one or two. This both fascinates and troubles me.

When I was pregnant, one of the first things people asked me was when I'd get a new vehicle. I'd just bought my first new-from-a-dealership-wow-I'm-the-first-owner car, a zippy Mazda 3GT, and it was only two years old. It gets great fuel economy, isn't super expensive to insure, and has a great maintenance warranty. I put on winter tires so I drive city roads and highways like I'm on rails. The cabin warms up fast because it's small. I park in stalls that make sedans cringe. I love this car.

And I have to give it up because I'm having a kid? I thought this was funny. "You'll see, they said knowingly, "Your car is so small, you won't fit a car seat! And all the baby stuff you have to carry, and then if it's a boy and he gets into sports... You'll be a minivan mom before you know it."

At this point the conversation would go on a tangent about why only a boy would get into sports or would get into sports that required a lot of equipment. But later I'd consider what they said, with a fair bit of dread.  I love my little car. A minivan? Ew. My mom had two kids, and the biggest vehicle we had was a small sedan. Also, I'm what I like to call a Prepared Minimalist Packer. Sort of a Girl Guide/Macguyver. I don't carry a ton of stuff; I improvise or I make do without, but I always carry safety/emergency stuff, especially in my car . How would that change with a baby?

It turns out that once I found my stride as a new parent, it didn't change how I pack. I carry a car seat, a stroller, a small or medium diaper bag, a baby car bag, and my emergency kit. My car seat is a Diono Radian RXT, so it's tall, narrow and will convert to a booster seat as my Minion grows. My stroller folds down very flat; it's a Bugaboo Chameleon so it separates into 2 pieces. I have a cargo box hoisted over the car from the rafters on case I need to carry a bunch more. I lower it on ratchet straps and clamp it on fast. No big deal.

But it made me think about Canadian's obsession with having a bigger vehicle. This is a fairly new trend. I think it started in the 1980s with the emergence of the minivan. The car companies marketed it as a perfect vehicle for families. That covered the Yuppies who wanted a new type of vehicle. What about the Dinks (Dual Income, No Kids. Don't get offended. I was proudly one until a year ago.) in comes the SUV. Bigger than a jeep and with a permanent roof. Enter the prevalence of the aptly-named Suburban.

Then in the following years, the two vehicle types sort of merged together to form a hybrid, 'mid-sized' vehicle. At the same time, despite populations moving from rural

Take the folks who "need" a giant truck for the occasional weekend pulling an RV. Renting a truck for that weekend is cheaper than the increase to your lease payments over one year, let alone three or five, and there's no wear on your own vehicle.

Consider the parents who "need" an SUV or minivan to haul their kids and their sports equipment around. A cargo box on top of a car does that just fine. That includes carpooling 2-3 kids and their hockey bags.

Is a Costco run the reason to supersize your vehicle? I do a Costco run with a car seat and stroller every week in a car. If we're getting something large, I get help hauling it. That happens once or twice a year, maybe.

And let's not start with the 4x4 argument. Most people don't know how to use 4x4 and rarely use it. Climb a lot of rough terrain in towns and cities, do you? For winter driving, you're better off to invest in winter tires than 4x4. Neither helps you drive to road conditions. Many people I know drive beyond road conditions, thinking their 4x4 makes them safer

Canadians are generally spoiled when it comes to our vehicles. That's good. But the "I need" conversation really needs to be changed. Marketing and the luxury makes people spend far more on their vehicle than they need to, making them a pain to drive or park. SUVs and truck "ride higher" but have weird blind spots that give them trouble. They are beasts to park; you don't see as many a-hole cars taking two stalls or park over the front or side lines.

Winter tires and a cargo box on a car with better fuel economy is cheaper to run and maintain, and easier to drive. Consider that there's a lot more families in Europe under similar driving and family conditions as North America, and a lot fewer trucks and SUVs. All I'm saying.