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Cucumber instead of drugs, intimidation and punishment for vaccination: how to grow in a family of anti-vaccinations

Cucumber instead of drugs, intimidation and punishment for vaccination: how to grow in a family of anti-vaccinations
An American girl swallows a sugar cube covered with a polio vaccine, July 1962. 

Photo by AP

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 disease not only does not harm, but also helps prevent 2-3 million deaths annually.

However, the life of Meredith, who is over 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 recommendations from there, she bought a stick with a built-in backlight for $ 200 (about 12 thousand rubles), but in a conversation with her granddaughter she claimed that it was a magic wand that improved the quality of 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 the 1990s, it was suggested that there was a link between the 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 screaming: “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.

This was my last day in elementary school. Mom took me away, depriving friends and the opportunity to at least say goodbye to them. My classmates did not understand where I was gone, but I think the teachers were aware of, because my mother gave them a scolding.

Three weeks later we moved out of town. I helped my mother to collect things, feeling very guilty. The vaccination led to all these troubles and to the fact that we were pulled out by the roots [from our native places].

In 2009, Meredith moved with a 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 end there, 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 fresh 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 (about 12 thousand rubles) for a vaccine against hepatitis B, 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 began to have sepsis, and then calmly took medicine. My stepfather has cystic fibrosis (a hereditary disease characterized by severe respiratory disorder – approx. TJ) , every morning he takes a handful of pills. […]

I would like to solve this problem for her. She must have seen news of outbreaks of diseases that could have been prevented. It would be great to get through to her, but every time we touch on this topic, she stops, gets upset and cries. And you do not want this for your mom.


The problem of anti-vaccination communities is relevant for the whole world, including Russia. 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. In April 2019, the Ministry of Health offered to punish the dissemination of appeals to refuse vaccinations by administrative responsibility, as well as to block sites with similar appeals.

Behind such initiatives there is a clear reason – refusal of vaccinations will lead to the return of defeated diseases. In the early 1990s, an outbreak of diphtheria occurred in the CIS countries due to a sharp decrease in the number of vaccinated children . She managed to suppress only through the prevention of disease, which has formed a collective immunity. The additional importance of vaccination is due to new measles outbreaks in Russia. From December 2018 to January 2019, 2500 people fell ill withher , which is 3.5 times more than during the same period in 2017.

In Russia, children can be vaccinated with the permission of their parents or by court order, but after 15 years, the child has the right to choose vaccination independently. More information about vaccination can be found in the order of the Ministry of Health, as well as in the materials of ” Medusa ” and TASS .

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