Tuesday, August 27, 2013

They're Wrong and Dangerous

There are times when I'm scanning the news as I ride the exercise bike and a story catches my eye so completely that I don't notice until I've finished reading that I've dripped a puddle of sweat onto my Nook. This story did that to me this morning.

As I scrubbed the puddle off the screen I shook my head once more at the thought that there are parents who choose to not vaccinate their children. Whether the reasons are simple misinformation (this woman's claims have been proven to be just that--misinformation) or a religious stance, these parents' views are wrong, and they're dangerous.

I'm not a scientist, so I won't go into the scientific reasons I say this. You can read what real scientists have to stay about the subject here, or here, or here.

What I can pass along are my own experiences with lack of vaccinations. I have three of them.

The first came when I was living in Costa Rica, a Peace Corps volunteer in my early 20s. I was probably in the best shape of my life, walking miles every day and eating fresh fruit straight from the trees. When I was a child, though, the doctor had told my mother that measles had been eradicated where we lived so I didn't need a measles vaccination. Two decades later I was unprotected when I inhaled a measles virus someone had sneezed into the air around me. People, I have never been so sick in my life. I ran a high fever, hallucinated, was covered with spots so completely that no skin showed between them. I had measles inside my ears and nose. I cannot imagine the outcome if I had not been in such good shape--I was in a region where I walked a mile to make a phone call and visiting a doctor was out of the question. I did recover, but I was less than healthy for weeks.

The second experience came when Boy#3 was getting his routine vaccinations. He was more than a little cranky after his DTaP shot, and his thigh swelled ominously. Dr. H, his wonderful pediatrician, diagnosed an allergy to the pertussis portion of the vaccine, but reassured us that this kind of allergy is rare enough that herd immunity would protect Three and we could feel safe with him receiving only the diphtheria and tetanus boosters. In those days, when the vaccination debate was in its infancy, I didn't worry that Three would come into contact with a child who had pertussis and contract it himself. Today I do.

The third experience came when Boy#4 was just four weeks old and Boy#1 was in kindergarten. During his bath I noticed One had a spot on his chest but I didn't think much about it until I saw a second spot, and a third, and then too many to count. In those days before chickenpox vaccine, he had picked up the germ from one of his classmates and in the next four weeks, all of the Boys came down with the plague. Except for Four (who only had a few spots, picking up my antibodies from his all-breastmilk diet) they were miserable. I dare you to google "images of children with chicken pox." Now scan down to see the worst of them. No, not the giggling children with a few spots. Look for the dazed-looking babies in the bathtub with hundreds and hundreds of scabs covering their faces, their backs, their scalps. I have pictures of the Boys during these days but they are images too horrifying to post on this blog. My children had lesions on their eyeballs, inside their ears, under their diapers in quantities too high to count.

I can't stress too much how very miserable I was with the measles, and how miserable the Boys were with the chickenpox, and these aren't the diseases that were likely to kill us. I'll also never forget Dr. H's simple statement that underlined all those scientific studies that prove that childhood vaccinations are both safe and important. "In all my years of practice I've never seen a really bad reaction to a childhood vaccination," he told us, "but I've seen four unvaccinated children die of pertussis, and it is a horrible way to die."

Parents of young children, as you make your decisions on whether to pay attention to the scaremongering anti-vaccinators, think about whether you want to sentence your child to the possibility of the misery (and scars) of chickenpox, to the danger of the high fevers and misery associated with the measles. Think about whether you are prepared to hold your child in your arms as he struggles to breathe through whooping coughs.

Then please, ignore the people who are basing their beliefs on shoddy science. Get your child vaccinated, because the anti-vaccinators are wrong and they are dangerous.


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  2. The chicken pox vaccine came out when my oldest son was a couple years old. The doctor gave me all the info but I was skeptical since it was new. I went home and called my mom and she pretty much begged me to get the vaccine for my boy and newly born daughter. She then reminded me of her experience with the 6 of us. I was too young to remember much, other than my oldest brother being so very sick he couldn't get out of bed for two weeks and the doctor had to come often (back then our doctor made house calls for serious issues). Also, around that time when I had to make a decision, my young nephew was hospitalized due to his chicken pox. It was then clear to me that if science had figured out a way to avoid these terrible occurrences, then I would gladly go along with them.