There are certain topics that are intrinsically controversial and create a great deal of rhetoric and discussion. In the past I have shied away from expressing an opinion on many of them because I have no intention of courting drama and sensationalism through my articles. But sometimes a topic begs for further discussion in the interest of greater education and understanding amongst parents. So rather than shy away from it, I have decided to explore the hot button issue of vaccination through the eyes of a parent who relies on other families to vaccinate their children for the safety of her own.
My daughter was extremely premature, born at 26 weeks gestation. She suffered through Chronic Lung disease and spent months in hospital and on supplemental oxygen. She has thankfully recovered but is closely monitored for developing signs of asthma, croup and ongoing bronchial infections. The way she was bought into this world has coloured our world, and we have had to take extreme measures at times to protect her from illness.
When Lucy came home we had to have a sign at our door asking people, (visitors, delivery-persons, door knockers), to leave the premises if they were showing any signs, no matter how minor, of illness. We had several hygiene wash stations attached to the wall throughout the house so we could, at every opportunity, remove any and all bacteria from our hands before we touched her. After opening the door to a visitor or delivery person we would have to apply hand sanitiser. We had to vacuum frequently and change our clothes after coming inside the house. My husband is still in the habit of changing as soon as he gets home from work so the kids are not exposed to the myriad of illnesses floating around at his workplace at any given time. We did not leave the house with her for some time in case she came into contact with someone who had been in contact with someone else that was sick. My son could not attend any type of childcare for fear her would bring home an undisclosed disease. She was so vulnerable – any slight illness could see her hospitalised, ventilated, or even cause her death.
That is the context in which she came home. Constant fear of infection – of slight infection. So imagine my horror when there was a whooping cough outbreak not long after she arrived home. Whooping cough – perhaps the deadliest of all lung afflictions for a child. Imagine my terror at learning that many people with whooping cough have no idea they have it, and that childhood diseases are often transmissible before symptoms become apparent. People could literally make her sick without knowing it. And if a mild common cold could see her ventilated, imagine what a disease like whooping cough could do. We were petrified for her. Imagine, for a moment, our fear.
Don’t get me wrong. My kids, especially Lucy now that she has recovered, play in the dirt. Hell, they eat dirt on occasion. They eat food off the floor, drink the bathwater, touch all manner of disgusting things in the garden and like to go the occasional day without bathing. And now that she is well, I welcome that part of childhood that allows kids to do the things adults never would. How liberating!
But I know too well the deep seeded instinctive fear that comes with having an immune suppressed child. I was lucky. My daughter fully recovered. For some parents, this is a lifelong battle they did not sign up for. There are a million reasons why children have suppressed immunity or cannot be vaccinated. A million reasons why they may be vulnerable to deadly disease. And one sure fire way to protect a great deal of them. Vaccination.
So I get that there’s a risk. My own kids are fully vaccinated and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a slight pang of unease when I take them for a shot. But I know the science, and I know the odds of contracting the disease and facing lifelong disability or perhaps death, are much worse than the odds of vaccine injury. I know this because I spoke to my GP about it, as well as dozens of Lucy’s specialists, (if you think its scary getting a perfectly healthy child vaccinated, imagine how frightening it is when you have a child that is already sick).
And I know that there are a dozen reasons that those who don’t believe in vaccination typically put out there- big pharma conspiracies, government cover ups, vaccine injury funds and of course toxins. I know that sometimes parents don’t feel that they have a good relationship with their GP and can’t ask for direction, or that it is easy to believe conspiracy theories or remain unsure enough to conveniently let the vaccination slide for a few months or more.
But when it comes down to the facts there is no argument. Vaccinations save lives, exponentially more than they negatively impact. They are a public health necessity and the responsibility of everyone in the greater community.
Had my daughter contracted whooping cough she most certainly would not have survived. As it is, if she contracted it now I really don’t know how she would fare. This drives me to discuss and advocate for vaccines at every opportunity. And don’t forget, it’s not just my daughter. Vaccination could save your child’s life too.
The argument for vaccines is simple. A vaccination will most likely protect your child from catching and transmitting a disease, and at the very least will ensure they get only a mild dose in the unlikely event they do catch something. But that’s not all – the added bonus is that if 95% of us vaccinate our children, (depending on the disease in question), we can achieve herd immunity, which could protect not only your kids, but kids like Lucy as well. This means the disease will have nowhere to exist. It will be eradicated. Yes, amazingly, scientists have found a way to eradicate some of the deadliest diseases known to man – not just to protect you and your family, but to eliminate it entirely. And all we have to do is vaccinate. For more on herd immunity check out http://www.vaccines.gov/basics/protection/.
There are plenty of parents and onlookers that are anti vaccine, but the science clearly does not support their position. This article was never meant to overwhelm the reader with statistics, but rather to present a personal account of why vaccines are important to all of us. To put a face to the issue, so to speak. For a more detailed and scientific account of arguments for and against vaccines, please refer to this article. By all means, have the discussion, but have it with facts, not fear, in mind. And remember who it is that you are protecting – not just your family, but mine too.