A mother who didn't believe in vaccines for years is now writing about her experience after all seven of her children became sick with whooping cough and hopes to inspire other parents to reconsider vaccination.
Tara Hills, of Ottawa, Canada, wrote about her decision in a post for the Scientific Parent Blog, titled "Learning the Hard Way."
Hills said she was writing from "quarantine" after all of her children became sick from pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. Hills said her children showed symptoms for a week before she realized it wasn't just the common cold.
"My youngest three children were coughing so hard they would gag or vomit. I'd never seen anything like this before," she wrote. "Watching our youngest struggle with this choking cough, bringing up clear, stringy mucus - I had heard of this before somewhere."
Hills found out all of her children had been diagnosed with whooping cough soon after she had talked to her pediatrician about getting them caught up with their vaccinations, according to her post. She wrote that her first three children were partially vaccinated on an alternative schedule and the other four were not vaccinated at all.
"We stopped because we were scared and didn't know who to trust," Hills wrote in her post, citing worries that vaccines were part of a large conspiracy as one reason to avoid the shots. "Were we unwittingly doing greater harm than help to our beloved children? So much smoke must mean a fire so we defaulted to the 'do nothing and hope nothing bad happens' position."
Eventually after a recent measles outbreak in her area, Hills wrote that she was "chilled" to the bone to realize her unvaccinated children could have easily passed the disease to her "sister's toddlers or her 34-week-old son in the NICU," if they had become infected with the contagious virus.
After years of fear, Hills said she met with her pediatrician to get her children caught up. Unfortunately before they could administer the shots on the catch-up plan, all seven children became ill.
"For six years we were frozen in fear from vaccines, and now we are frozen because of the disease. My oldest two are getting better, the youngest four are getting worse and fast," she wrote. "Tonight, the baby started 'whooping'. I did the right thing going to the hospital when I did. I can only hope this painfully honest sharing will help others."
Dr. William Schaffner said stories like Hills' can reach parents who may never listen to the advice of the mainstream medical community or their doctors.
"In effect [it's a] mom to mom conversation. She's really talking to other moms here," said Schaffner. "I appreciate her honesty and it is very candid and self-revealing...I think you ought to respect her and listen carefully and think carefully about what she's saying."
Schaffner said that parents should realize that by not vaccinating they are still making a choice about their child's health.
"She's representative of many young, educated parents today, who are out there seeking information and...find themselves whiplashed and they have information and it's conflicting and they can't resolve it," said Schaffner. "Their default position, is 'Ok I'm not going to do anything.' Which is as serious a choice as doing something."
Karen Ernst, the founder of the non-profit Voices for Vaccines that also posted Hills' story, said Hills decision to talk publicly about her experience could encourage others to vaccinate as well.
"I just feel so much gratitude for parents, who not only change their minds and admit they are wrong...but do so publicly," said Ernst. "I think of them as the prodigal son [and] that we're so glad they have decided to vaccinate their children. that's a great gift for communities."
Attempts to reach Tara Hills for comment weren't successful.