Stop the vaccination false dichotomy

Note: This post has been automatically imported from my old blog. Formatting may be incorrect.

As far as I can tell, discussions about vaccination online are divided firmly into two strictly opposing camps. On the one side, we have the anti-vaxxers, who oppose all vaccination (and often modern medicine all together) on the basis of conspiracy theories, junk "science", or hysteria about autism. On the other, we have the pro-vaxxers, who extol the unmitigated virtue of vaccines and think we should all automatically follow the recommended vaccination schedules, based on a general respect for science, the positive impact vaccines have had on our culture, and a general sense of interpersonal responsibility. Both sides regularly ridicule, mock, and straw man each other, and any deviation from one side is seen as full-blown commitment to the other.

I have a strong respect for the scientific process and for the huge boons brought by modern medicine. I find the lives saved by, for example, polio eradication nigh miraculous. I have not seen any reason to believe vaccines cause autism, and think the idea of a conscious conspiracy spread across the entire medical community is ridiculous enough to be dismissed out of hand. Yet I also believe that medical decisions are best made with the full context of the patient's life and values taken into consideration, that the modern medical establishment occasionally falls into one-size-fits-all solutions that are not well-tailored to the individual, and that it's important to be an informed self-advocate to get the best standard of care. I know that often standard practice reflects only one side of a legitimate scientific debate, and that seeking out second opinions and evaluating the literature first-hand can make all the difference in outcomes. For all medical decisions for myself or my future children, I want to be well-informed and to evaluate the decision based on the full context, including the risks and alternatives, and see no reason why vaccines should be treated any differently.

Where is there room for me in vaccine discussions? Where can I talk about evaluating the side-effects of vaccines without being tarred as an anti-vaxxer who has bought into ableist anti-autism propaganda? Where can I talk about the amazing achievements made possible by vaccinations without being accused of being a brainwashed sheep or a shill? Why must we treat all vaccines as a package deal, to be loved or hated as a whole? Please, make a space for people like me. If you are pro-vaccination, surely you expect a reasonable investigation will find that the benefits vastly outweigh the potential costs and that we will end up vaccinating our children by the normal schedule, right? If you are anti-vaccination, surely you expect we will uncover the enormous risks we are exposing our kids to and avoid vaccines when possible, right?