Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why I Vaccinate My Children

My youngest, Baby Y, had his four-month well-baby checkup today. He weighed in at a healthy 18 pounds even and was a robust 26.75 inches long. At four months, he is rivaling his three brothers for size and chunkiness. Four months also meant a second round of vaccinations for my little one. He needed rotavirus, which is administered orally, as well as shots for hepatitis B, Hib, pneumococcal, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and polio (some were combined, so it was three shots total). He didn't even react when the first shot was given, and cried briefly after the third. He slept for a few hours and is now playing happily, like nothing happened.

Of course, something did happen. Something extraordinary, really, if you think about it. A hundred years ago, diseases like polio ravaged young children, killing or paralyzing many. Diphtheria was a real threat, as was pertussis (whooping cough). While whooping cough isn't terribly dangerous today to those with developed immune systems, it can be, and often is, fatal for young babies. Vaccinations are one of the greatest medical advances of our time, along with antibiotics, improving length and quality of life and preventing much childhood suffering.

My husband and I choose to vaccinate our children according to the CDC schedule. We believe that it is not only our responsibility to our own children but to society at large to aid in limiting the spread of preventable diseases. My children are growing up in a world where they don't have to worry about losing a sibling to polio or a friend to pneumococcal disease or meningitis, and they are growing up in such a world because of the miracle of vaccinations. We can and will do our part to protect our own children and those they come in contact with.

We are not sheep blindly following our doctors' recommendations and the "guv'mint's" instructions. We are aware of the arguments against vaccinations and for delaying them. We are also aware of the science behind vaccinations, how they work, and that there are risks that come with giving vaccinations. We believe that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks and that the risks posed by the diseases prevented by vaccines far outweigh the risks posed by the vaccines themselves.

Because my children have shown no adverse reaction to being vaccinated, I am very comfortable continuing to have them receive immunizations on schedule at their regular physicals. The only shot I refuse is the hepatitis B shot at birth. Its purpose is to prevent vertical transmission of hep B from mother to baby, and since I do not have hepatitis B (and, indeed, was vaccinated for it and received a booster series as a teenager), I feel it is unnecessary to add anything to a newborn's already busy first few weeks of life. The hep B schedule, then, starts at two months for my kids instead of birth. I also will put off a vaccination for a few weeks if my child is sick, because I want to be sure of the source of any symptoms. This is all per the recommendations of my doctor and the CDC.

Some children do have adverse reactions to vaccines, and in some cases these reactions are life-changing or even fatal. I know that. Any time we add something that nature didn't put there, we assume risk. Any medical procedure we undertake, any medication we take, any surgery we opt for puts us at risk that doesn't exist without that action. But we also assume risk when we do not avail ourselves of the advantages afforded us by modern medicine. Many of these diseases we vaccinate against carry a risk of suffering and even death. These are not trivial diseases. Polio is not like a minor cold. Pertussis is not a little cough. It is unacceptable, to me, to expose my children to these greater risks of disease, suffering, and possibly life-altering complications when the alternative is a little shot a few times as a baby, and possibly a booster when they're older, even given the possible risks and side effects of the vaccines themselves.

Vaccines generally work for the individual, but they work better when everyone gets them. If there is a measles outbreak in my town, for example, brought in by someone not vaccinated against measles, it puts my children at risk because the vaccine may not be 100% effective for them. However, their chances of being exposed to measles are considerably lower because the majority of people they come in contact with are also vaccinated. If one of my children were to be exposed to measles, it puts my young baby at risk because he is not old enough yet to receive the vaccine and could be infected with measles. The more people who are vaccinated against measles, the smaller the chance that anyone in my family will be exposed to it. And, vice versa, if my family members are vaccinated against measles, it reduces the chances that the people they come in contact with could be exposed to measles through them.

We protect each other by protecting ourselves.

Finally, there are definitely some individuals who cannot be vaccinated. Perhaps their immune systems are compromised. Perhaps they are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine. Perhaps they have had a severe reaction in the past to an injection and cannot risk repeating that scenario. The rest of us being vaccinated also protects those individuals who cannot be vaccinated.

We've all seen how easily a cold or cough or stomach virus races through an office or classroom. Imagine if instead of fighting off cold-weather stuffy noses and the occasional 24-hour stomach bug, we were also constantly in fear of catching diphtheria or whooping cough.

Scary to contemplate, isn't it?

Protect your children. Protect my children. Protect the children who can't protect themselves. I vaccinate. Will you?

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