There I was, sitting in the doctor’s office for a pre-mission physical exam and excited to serve. But among the many loose ends and questions looming in my mind, one thing was fairly certain: My mission paperwork was at a standstill because my doctor would not endorse me until he knew I received the essential shots to serve. Even though the Church would still allow me to serve within the United States without vaccinations, my doctor would not.
As an infant, I was never vaccinated. Because my older brother had a very adverse reaction to his immunizations, my mom questioned her doctor about the pros and cons. Brian was a very happy, chatty baby. But after the shots, Brian had a really bad reaction with a fever and high-pitched screams. The next morning he lay in his crib a listless zombie—hardly moving and no longer the babbling baby he was just a day before. The doctor understood her concern and my vaccinations were deferred.
My mom said another thing she took into consideration was the fact that polio wasn’t a risk at the time, and that if there was ever a polio outbreak anywhere near where we lived, she’d make sure I was first in line to be immunized. Some studies at the time suggested immunizations may contribute to a weakened immune system (in hindsight, my mom said my siblings and I all had really good immune systems and didn’t catch half of what went around the neighborhood growing up). She had heard that that some viruses cause cancer, and she wondered how doctors could absolutely know that vaccine viruses didn’t do the same. She believed that the less you infuse into your body, the more healthy you’ll be.
All these ideas loomed in my mind the summer I worked on mission papers. I had to make a decision about whether I’d submit to the needle to go knock on doors or if I’d remain an immunization outlaw. At that moment, what I believed was in direct conflict with what the Church was asking of its prospective missionaries.
My whole life I had many reasons to believe I didn’t need or want to be vaccinated. Obviously most people around me had been immunized and were fine, but what if I got really sick from it like my brother had? I didn’t like the idea of having inactive viruses floating around in my body when they otherwise wouldn’t be there.
I didn’t think I would have any immediate adverse effects from vaccinations, but I had to wonder, “What if down the road, I develop a disease or cancer that I may not have otherwise gotten had I not been immunized?” Would I regret it? I tend to be a worst-case-scenario thinker, and I stick to the belief that despite what doctors and researchers assert, no one can say with absolute certainty you will not suffer any negative effects from vaccinations, now or later. And how do they know with complete confidence that this “inactive strain” will really protect me from the full-blown virus? What if I am an outlier and I contract it anyway?
Ultimately my desire to serve outweighed those fears and I received the essential shots as an adult. Luckily, I didn’t have any bad reactions and was able to serve a full-time mission in beautiful, upstate New York. But the debate I had still lives vividly in my mind.