There's no question vaccines are a hot parenting topic. Whether you're pro-vax or anti-vax (or somewhere in the middle), chances are you've thought long and hard about whether to get your baby immunized. But if you've been focusing all your research -- and your ultimate decision -- on vaccine safety, you're missing half the puzzle. What about all the diseases those vaccines prevent?
The very reason vaccines were invented was because the bulk of these diseases can be dangerous -- even life-threatening -- to your baby. The CDC estimates millions of lives have been saved by vaccines. If you still think they're no big deal, that millions of people lived through them and they're just fine, perhaps it's time to hear the story of Amy Parker, a 37-year-old mother of two who grew up with a "health nut" for a mother who refused to vaccinate her daughter.
Parker grew up unvaccinated, and as a result, she contracted not one, not two, but more than half a dozen vaccine-preventable diseases as a kid.
This despite being breastfed for a year, growing up on an all-organic diet, regularly playing outside in the fresh air, and, well, doing just about everything you'd expect the child of a "health nut" to do. All these good things weren't enough because Amy Parker's mom decided not to vaccinate. Here's what she had to say in an article for Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that promotes immunizing kids:
As healthy as my lifestyle seemed, I contracted measles, mumps, rubella, a type of viral meningitis, scarlatina, whooping cough, yearly tonsillitis, and chickenpox, some of which are vaccine preventable. In my twenties I got precancerous HPV and spent 6 months of my life wondering how I was going to tell my two children under the age of 7 that mummy might have cancer before it was safely removed ...
If you’ve never had these illnesses you don’t know how awful they are -- I do. Pain, discomfort, the inability to breathe or to eat or to swallow, fever and nightmares, itching all over your body so much that you can’t stand lying on bed sheets, losing so much weight you can’t walk properly, diarrhea that leaves you lying prostrate on the bathroom floor, the unpaid time off work for parents (and if you’re self employed that means NO INCOME), the quarantine, missing school, missing parties, the worry, the sleepless nights, the sweat, the tears and the blood, the midnight visits to A and E, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room on your own because no one will sit near you because they’re rightfully scared of those spots all over your kid's face.
Does any of that sound pleasant to you? Like something you want your kids to go through?
Parker lived, it's true, but she did not escape childhood unscathed. I wonder: if her parents had known all of that would happen, would they have made the simple choice to prevent their child's pain and suffering?
I can't see why not. I don't know any parent who willingly puts their child in harm's way.
This is the rub for parents facing the decision of whether to vaccinate or not. None of us -- on either side of the fence -- actually want our children to be hurt. But where non-vaccing parents say they're protecting their kids from what they consider to be "dangers" from the vaccines, they conveniently discount the very real danger of actually contracting any of the vaccine-preventable diseases.
One out of every 100 people who contracts pertussis (also known as whooping cough), for example, will die. One in four come down with pneumonia because of it, while one in 300 will see the disease spread to the brain.
And yet, all it takes is a series of shots, and you don't have to worry about this disease stealing your child ... or putting them in a hospital.
How can you argue with that?
As you may have already guessed, I do vaccinate my child. I too was vaccinated. Because I grew up before some vaccines became available, I remember going through at least some of the childhood diseases anyway. I am among the infinitesimally small group of people who actually contracted the chicken pox twice.
Although my memories of each bout with the disease are slim, the discomfort I recall -- and the knowledge that I'm at a heightened risk for the incredibly uncomfortable disease shingles down the road because I have had chicken pox -- made me surer than sure that my child would be vaccinated. The less suffering she goes through, the better.
Some on the anti-vax side may call people like me and Parker sheep for "blindly" following what the pediatricians suggest for our kids. The fact is, I have read extensively about the risks of vaccines. I did my due diligence. But I didn't stop there.
I also read about the risks to my child if she were to actually contract any of the countless diseases that vaccines prevent. Death. Loss of hearing. Loss of vision. Paralysis. Those are some of the truly scary ones, but I can't discount plain old misery and discomfort for days or even weeks at a time.
It behooves everyone who plans to vaccinate their children to read up on whether or not the shots themselves are safe, but your decision cannot be made on the shot alone. Read up on what happens when you don't give your kids their immunizations ... because, folks, Parker's story, scary as it sounds, is actually one of the better ones. The unvaccinated kids who die every year don't get to share their tales.
What worries you most about the vaccine-preventable diseases?
Image via Army Medicine/Flickr