Ooh, did the title of this post raise your blood pressure? Yep, it’s true, the gloves are on. I’m entering the arena.
Today, we took our new kitten to the vet to get a check-up and receive some of her vaccinations. While we were there, Jackson asked what a vaccination was, so I told him. “A vaccination is medicine that we take to avoid getting easily preventable serious illnesses.” The vet laughed and said that was one of the best definitions she’d ever heard. Jackson then asked if he had had vaccinations and I told him yes. He has. He is fully vaccinated. His sister, on the other hand, is not.
This fall, at Gracie’s five-year-old “well” child visit, her pediatrician approached me about foregoing her vaccinations. It shocked me — Gracie’s doctor is concerned that she is not well enough to receive vaccinations. I had never even considered not vaccinating. I’ve read Jenny McCarthy’s book, but I’ve also read a great deal of scientific literature and wholeheartedly believe the risks of vaccination are not nearly as great as the risks of contracting polio, measles, mumps, diphtheria, smallpox, whooping cough, etc., and suffering serious life-long side effects or even death. In fact, I had a friend in elementary school who had had polio. She was wheelchair-bound and she had deformed limbs. Her brain worked fine, though, and she was very nice. I wonder what happened to her…
But I digress. Eventually, Dr. A. and I decided to give Gracie her vaccinations, but on a delayed schedule, one at a time, with a month’s gap in-between each shot. I made several appointments so Grace could get the shots. I had to cancel all but one of those appointments. Each time, she has gotten sick shortly before her scheduled vaccination, and I’ve cancelled the appointment, worried about taxing her already weakened immune system further. During this past month, when we’ve all been so sick (especially me, to my chagrin), I got a chance to discuss it with Dr. A. again. She is in no hurry to vaccinate Grace — she is willing to wait forever, and would happily sign the paperwork to get Grace a medical waiver from vaccinations.
Facebook and the blogosphere are full of well-intentioned parents who think they are protecting their children by refusing vaccinations. These parents maybe believe in the long-debunked autism connection, or maybe they’ve heard a story about a friend’s brother’s girlfriend’s sister who had a bad reaction to a vaccination. Some of them seem to buy into a government conspiracy theory, believing the government is trying to — I don’t know, really, but vaccinations are involved, that’s for sure. They all seem to think they’re right, and no amount of science is going to persuade them otherwise.
These parents may think they’re doing the right thing for their own kids, but what they’re actually doing is endangering kids like mine. Gracie is not protected. If she were exposed to polio, she could get it, because she hasn’t been vaccinated against it. And, because she’s already fragile, the disease would surely wreak more havoc on her than another child. Shumayla from elementary school had deformed limbs, but Gracie could lose her life. It’s very, very scary.
I wish it were a choice for me. I wish I could face the decision and say, “Gee, I don’t know, I read this article on Facebook where someone had a bad reaction to a vaccination,” and just refuse it. I wish I had that luxury. Instead, I cross my fingers that the other children around Gracie are vaccinated so that she can benefit from their herd immunity. If there’s a measles outbreak like the one at Disneyland last year, maybe it won’t hit Gracie’s school because all the other children will be fully vaccinated and won’t carry the disease there. That’s all I’ve got to hang my hat on. It’s very, very scary.
Next time you hear someone worrying about vaccinating their children, please show them this post. Please let them know that instead of worrying about whether vaccinating healthy children is safe (it is), they should be worried about whether their unvaccinated children will interact with someone not healthy enough to receive vaccines. They should know that they are putting lives at stake — not their own healthy children’s lives, but sick kids’ lives.