I know a lot of parents out there have concerns about vaccines. There are many excellent articles and editorials on the subject, explaining or in hard science or passionate anecdotes why you should or should not vaccinate. This isn’t one of those.
The science based articles are awfully compelling, bringing to light rare but severe complications that can result from measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and other childhood diseases: deafness, impotence, infertility, and death to name a few. The problem with this approach is that parents look at the statistics for how often these outcomes occur in the Western world, conclude that it will not happen to their child, decide the vaccines themselves are far worse, and opt out of vaccinations.
For those parents, I offer a proposal. Before you make the decision not to vaccinate, please first take into account what your child would go through were he or she to contract any of these illnesses without serious complications. What’s it like for a child to experience these viruses simply running their course? Few of us have any idea how it feels to have measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, or other childhood illnesses nearly every child in the western world is vaccinated against. My husband is the exception. His mother didn’t approve of vaccinations, and as a result, he was hit with all four.
Here’s a blow by blow account:
Mumps: S was only 4 when he contracted mumps, but remembers the experience vividly. Huge, swollen bumps appeared around his ears, causing excruciating, constant pain on both sides. He had a high fever, resulting in horrible nightmares and hallucinations, enough to scare a little boy out of his mind, but worse still, he says, was the shame. The mumps looked terrible and he knew it. He was ashamed of the way he looked with this virus and remembers constantly hiding in dark little places to avoid being seen.
Measles: S contracted measles at age 5. He remembers a dense rash covering his entire body: lots of red spots in ugly irregular shapes. He says this rash stank, that it literary produced an awful and very distinct smell. His fevers were worse with measles than mumps, causing profuse sweating, even scarier nightmares, and lots of painful vomiting. Again, he felt humiliated by how the virus made him look. The rash was extremely dense and unsightly, and the smell, disgusting. He hid out in his room for this one, sweating and smelling and vomiting and hallucinating, missing his friends at school, and cursing the little girl who gave it to him.
Rubella: S was rip-shit when he got this one. He was 5 and a half or 6, and had been told that since he’d had measles he would never get them again. Less than a year later, he got them again in the form of “German measles,” or rubella. For S, rubella was a not so sweet-repeat of measles, with all the same horribleness, the same missing school, fevers, rashes, sweats, nightmares, and all things dreaded by little children.
Pertussis, or “Whooping Cough”: Hold on to hats, kids, this one is a doozy. Of all the horrid childhood illnesses S contracted as a child, this was far and away the worst. He was 7 and a half or 8, and missed an entire term of school. Months. It started the day after he returned from a family vacation to a lake a few hours away. He was running through his backyard when he started coughing a violent, painful cough. This cough soon developed into full blown whooping cough, and he found himself loudly and very painfully wheezing with every breath. Whooping cough had gummed up his lungs. Every time he tried to breath in, he couldn’t. His passages were blocked, resulting in horrendous whooping gasps for breath. If the whooping wasn’t had enough, the cough was nothing short of brutal. Most days, he coughed up blood. Most days, he coughed so hard he vomited and couldn’t stop. Even without the blood and vomit, these coughs were terrible because they pushed all the air out of his lungs, lungs with passages so gummed up, no air could get back in, leaving S to constantly feel as though he was constantly drowning, choking, absolutely desperate for breath. He had so much trouble breathing he was taken in for x-rays, which revealed one partially collapsed lung, and one so gummed up it could barely function. Over all, S describes the pain of this virus as “enormous.”
As you can well imagine, after all my husband has been through, he can’t sign vaccination consent forms fast enough for our twin girls. Its something for every parent to think about, whether you could bear to watch your child go through one of these terrible, completely preventable illnesses. What’s more, if such an eventuality did occur, could you afford to take weeks, and in some cases even months, off to nurse your child back to health?
I should probably sign off now. I certainly don’t want to pick fights or alienate people, but there are two more teensy little points I feel must be made, the first of which, that this decision isn’t simply about one person’s child, its about all our children. Whooping cough alone kills 300,000 people a year, most of them babies. As the mother of preemie twins, this terrifies me. When more and more parents opt not to vaccinate their children, it puts all babies at greater risk for contracting these illnesses, illnesses that can kill them, especially preemies, born with lungs and immune systems not fully developed. When a pregnant woman comes in contact with a child or adult who has rubella, the effects on her fetus can be devasting: blindness, deafness, mental retardation, heart defects, death. We’re not here alone, we must consider how our decisions effect others, especially the most vulnerable amoung us.
My second point involves the enormous elephant in the room:
Boy do I not want to open this can of worms, but I’m going to. I have to. We all know why some parents these days are not vaccinating. Again, I’m not going into the science and statisics. Use google and find lots of clever articles and studies about this. I’m sticking to a personal account, a very important one: my Mum.
My Mum is a pediatric physical therapist with over 30 years experience. She has worked with hundreds of autistic children, from decades ago when it was hardly ever diagnosed, to now. She’s seen children all ages, all races, all backgrounds, in fancy hospitals, and rural schools, and everywhere inbetween. She organized conferences on autism back when almost no one in the public had ever heard the word. What she hasn’t seen, not ever, is a child who suddenly developed autism right after he or she was vaccinated. That’s not how it happens. Unlike measles, mumps, and rubella, autism is not a virus that comes on quickly without warning. There are always signs. My mum can spot autism in an infant so fast it would make your head spin. She can tell immediately, well before an vaccines are administered. This is a good thing. Early diagnosis means early intervention, and the early intervention program she runs has seen amazing successes with very young children.
So anyway, please consider all of this when considering not vaccinating. Please.
To my regular blog readers: if you’ve lasted this far down the page, thanks for listening, and I promise to return to writing about the twins adventures in the jungle, geckos, pineapples and all that jazz asap. I just had to get that off my chest.