What Happens When You Don't Vaccinate, According to the Mom of a Girl With Cancer


Many anti-vaxxers claim they have the right to skip vaccines because it's their child, their choice. Unfortunately, a child's vaccination status can affect many more people than just him or her. Author Nicole Stellon O’Donnell illustrated this recently in a viral Twitter thread, where she explained exactly what happened to her then 8-year-old daughter who had cancer after she was exposed to the measles.

  • "Dear parents of children who do not have cancer," she wrote, "a casual measles exposure in a grocery store caused the following things to happen ..."

    First, O'Donnell explained that her daughter, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2014 and going through chemotherapy at the time of the exposure, had to be quarantined for an entire month. Second, she tweeted, the hospital had to cancel appointments and shut down the chemotherapy area to avoid contaminating other sick children. That meant other kids weren't getting treatments they desperately needed.

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  • Kids receiving outpatient treatment were put on hold, too.

    "There was a possibility that other children could have been required to have shots of Neulasta to boost their white blood cell counts," she added. "The side effects include terrible bone pain. Fortunately, my daughter's WBC count was high enough that no children had to go through that."

    O'Donnell said other children in the clinic "cried with relief" when they found out they didn't have to have shots of Neulasta.

  • O'Donnell's daughter had to wear a mask in public, and had she been in school, she would have had to miss even more days than she already had.

    "We were lucky it was summer. She didn't have to miss school. She had missed three months while we lived 350 miles away during the first months of chemo. She would have been crushed to miss more," the mom explained.

  • Ultimately, she wrote, vaccinating yourself and your children is "an act of compassion."

    It's a choice that is not just about your children; it's about everyone your children could potentially come into contact with on a daily basis.

  • O'Donnell's thread struck a chord with other parents, especially those with children who are most at risk.

  • And some parents and adults admitted they, too, fear exposure to illness from unvaccinated children.

    The measles virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace where an infected person coughed or sneezed, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, in that time, it can be exposed to babies, the elderly, sick children -- you never know who can be affected.

    For those who are able to get them, vaccines are one of few protections we can offer to the most vulnerable among us.