Tara Hills says anti-vaxxers need help, not hostility

An Ottawa mother who publicly changed her anti-vaccination stance says she hopes the worldwide attention her story received reaches people who don't vaccinate. But she also worries hostile comments could harden their positions further.

'You can either help those people ... or you can drive them further in their corner,' says Ottawa mom

Mother who left anti-vaccination camp says media attention has been "surreal." 2:39

Tara Hills, an Ottawa mother who publicly changed her anti-vaccination stance, says she hopes the worldwide attention her story received reaches people who don't vaccinate. But she also worries about driving them further away.

Hills and her husband had been against vaccines, but said they started questioning their views and had inquired with doctors about vaccination for their seven children.

But before their children — all of whom are 10 and under — could be vaccinated, they began showing symptoms of whooping cough, and were advised to take antibiotics and stay inside their Kanata, Ont., home for five days.

The children have since finished taking their antibiotics and are no longer under quarantine, says Hills.

Tara Hills says she and her husband mistakenly spent six years avoiding medical research before re-evaluating their stance on vaccinations. (CBC)
However, the story she shared about the experience — first in a blog post called "Learning the Hard Way: My Journey from #AntiVaxx to Science" and later with CBC News — drew more attention than she had anticipated.

Worldwide attention 'surreal'

"It was surreal," she said, after a week in which she did interviews with media in the United States, U.K., Germany, Australia and other countries.

"We went public originally just to sort of advise our family and friends, because over the years some family knew that we weren't vaccinating and were concerned, and they never really knew how to talk to us about that," said Hills.

Hills has tried to avoid reading comments on the articles about her situation, saying she has seen compassion in some posts, but also cruelty.

She thinks to reach others who hold anti-vaccination views, people should not be too self-righteous or belittling.

"You can either help those people move one step closer to re-evaluating and making a change, or you can drive them further in their corner where they won't even listen anymore," she said.

Her own message to people who mistrust vaccines is to ask questions, but don't be afraid of answers you find.

Tara Hills says her children are no longer in quarantine after a whooping cough scare. (CBC)
"It is OK to have concerns about a major medical decision for the children you love," said Hills. "But unlike us — who stalled for six years, and really self-censored really a lot of good sources for information — we want to encourage those families to re-evaluate things and carefully check their sources."

Doctor says misconceptions persist

Vaccinations for diseases like whooping cough are given in schedules at an early age to immunize children and prevent the spread of the diseases to those who can't be vaccinated because of other medical complications.

Persistent misconceptions about vaccines, including that they contain dangerous substances or can overwhelm a child's immune system, continue to be posted online, says Ottawa pediatrician Dr. Christianah Owoeye.

"It was good that she came out," said Owoeye.

"This will maybe be a deterrent for other moms who are ... anti-vaccination. Because there's so many writeups. You just need to go online and click on something. And there's so [much] misinformation," she said.

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