Anti-vaxxers change stance right before all 7 kids get whooping cough
Gavin and Tara Hills with their seven children.
Published Friday, April 10, 2015 1:12PM EDT
Just weeks after he and his wife decided to change their anti-vaccination views, an Ottawa-area dad says all seven of his kids have become infected with whooping cough.
The irony of the timing is not lost on them, says Gavin Hills.
Hills, his wife Tara, and their kids are now in quarantine at their Kanata, Ont. home while the children are treated for pertussis, the medical name for whooping cough.
The kids, who are aged 10 months to 10 years, are "doing okay," Hills told CTVNews.ca. But he admits that with all the heavy coughing fits, they're not getting a lot of sleep.
With the help of Ottawa Public Health, they are being treated with antibiotics for the potentially serious illness and should recover soon.
While it's frustrating to be quarantined, what's more frustrating is knowing that the whole thing could have been avoided, Hills says.
For six years, he and his wife were on the fence about vaccine safety, so chose to hold off on vaccinating until they understood the issue better.
Then last month, after finally getting all their questions answered, they changed their minds about vaccines and had even set up doctors' appointments to get their kids caught up on the shots they had missed. Hills and his wife, who were fully vaccinated as kids, were also planning to get any booster shots they needed.
But then they got hit by pertussis.
"It was just really bad timing," Hills said by phone Friday morning.
"In fact, yesterday was supposed to be the day we went for their first shots. So it's just one of those ironic things."
This week, Gavin's wife, Tara, wrote about the family's experience in a blog post entitled "Learning the Hard Way: My Journey from #AntiVaxx to Science."
She writes that she had long mistrusted the medical system and the pharmaceutical industry and became worried about the vaccines they had given their first three children. So they stopped vaccinating.
"We stopped because we were scared and didn’t know who to trust," she writes.
Gavin says they heard so many frightening things about vaccines from so many people that they decided that where there's smoke, there must be fire.
"There was enough smoke that it alarmed us. We got scared, so we decided to hold off on vaccinating until we learned more. But then we stopped there, much to our discredit," he said.
Then the Disneyland measles outbreak made headlines and the Hills realized that even if their kids didn't become very ill, they could still infect others -- including vulnerable infants in their extended family.
They decided to look at the issue again, putting aside their biases. Gavin says his wife put in more than 50 hours of research and asked questions of a trusted vaccine expert friend.
By the end of February, they had decided their fears were overblown.
"We just realized that for all the smoke, there wasn't any fire," Hill says.
Now, they are being hit by a serious but preventable illness. Hills says they will still go ahead with the rest of their children’s shots once they are on the mend and their quarantine is over on Monday.
They say they decided to tell their story publicly knowing full well that there would be criticism and judgment from others.
"We knew that there were going to be some tomatoes thrown, sure," he said. "But we felt the message was important for others to hear that 'Hey, we were scared, we stopped vaccinating and this is what happened'."
Hills is expecting some backlash from the anti-vaccination community as well. But he urges others to speak to experts, check and double-check facts, and decide what's best for them.
"I don't know if you'll come to the same conclusion as us, but do your research, because there's lots of good info out there."
To help others understand what whooping cough sounds like, The Scientific Parent blog created the following video that includes audio recordings of three of the Hills kids coughing through pertussis.