Anti-vaxxers have been a source of frustration for many pediatricians, who try to convince parents that vaccinating their children is hugely beneficial to their health and point to scientific evidence that vaccines do not cause autism.
It doesn’t work for some parents, who instead trust other sources — often on the internet — that insist vaccines will harm their children. Kristen O’Meara was one of those, until her three children, her husband and she all contracted rotavirus in March 2015.
“It was awful and it didn't have to happen because I could have had them vaccinated,” O’Meara told ABC News. “I felt guilty, I felt really guilty.”
Rotavirus is a contagious disease most people are vaccinated for as a baby. It causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach pains, and can be deadly to infants and toddlers who become dehydrated. Luckily, no members of the O’Meara family died.
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O’Meara, a teacher near Chicago, said she had “scoured everything I could possibly find” about why vaccines were harmful and became convinced. The problem was she was looking for research that backed her opinion and ignoring research that proved otherwise. But now, she says the scary experience convinced her to fully vaccinate her three daughters, all under age 7.
“I put my kids at risk,” she said. “I wish that I had taken more time to research from both sides before my children were born.”
O’Meara told ABC that her decision to vaccinate her kids actually ended some of her friendships, but she’s speaking out because she hopes her experience will convince other anti-vaxxers to change their minds.
“I’m here because I wanted to share my personal story ... and if it does help someone change their mind, then that’s great,” O’Meara told ABC.
Pediatrician Dr. Richard Besser said it’s “so hard” to convince anti-vaccination parents that getting vaccinated is what’s best for their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has reported that 87 percent of pediatricians surveyed in 2013 had encountered patients who refused a vaccine for their child, up from 75 percent in 2006.
“I used to tell them, ‘You need to find a new pediatrician,’” Besser told ABC News. “But now I try to work with them.”