So the U.S. is currently facing its worst whooping cough epidemic in over 50 years, and while I'm disturbed, I'm not particularly surprised. Whooping cough was the reason why I made the decision to get my daughter vaccinated 11 years ago. The vaccination debate was just hitting red-hot status back then, and I wasn't sure what to do when Charlotte was born.
On the one hand, as someone with more faith in natural and alternative approaches to health than traditional medicine, I was inclined to think maybe there was some truth to the autism/vaccine connection. On the other hand, as a new mom in a big city (Manhattan) who never wanted her baby to get sick, ever, I was inclined to innoculate against everything possible.
So I asked my pediatrician at the time (Dr. Marie Sanford, she was amazing!) to level with me: Which was the riskier choice?
I will never forget what she told me.
"Look, I'm not discounting the research about vaccines or saying there are absolutely no side effects, but I've never seen any child develop problems firsthand," she said.
"What I DO see, every year, are kids coming into the emergency room with whooping cough. And it's not pretty. In the U.S., we think of whooping cough as a disease that's been largely eradicated. But that's not true in other parts of the world, so ... especially in an international city like this ... it's conceivable that your baby could be exposed."
That was all I needed to hear. And now, over a decade later, Dr. Sanford's words seem almost prophetic. I'm not pointing fingers at specific parents or saying the anti-vax movement directly caused the whooping cough epidemic but there is definitely (obviously) a connection. The effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine relies on what's called “herd immunity," meaning that "If enough people are immune to the bacteria, then even if someone gets sick, the disease cannot easily spread through the community. This is especially true for very young infants, who are too young to be vaccinated and whose immune systems are not yet strong enough to defeat the bacteria on their own."
I guess personal choices can affect public health after all.
What do you think is behind the whooping cough epidemic?
Image via edenpictures/Flickr