“Vaccines Cause Adults”……I recently saw a t-shirt with the slogan on a little boy at my twins’ birthday party. At the time, it gave us all a chuckle and high-fives were had. In recent weeks, this t-shirt’s message has become very relevant and timely, more so than I would like. I am 38 years old, and I have had the privilege of vaccinations, as well as the privilege of not seeing the majority of childhood diseases against which we vaccinate. I had chicken pox when I was three years of age, but that is the extent of my experience.
Looking back, I am always a bit surprised that I was vaccinated. I grew up in a family that didn’t readily adhere to the the mainstream. In many ways, my parents, especially my mom, were ahead of their time. We were never given antibiotics unless truly necessary. My mom always spoke about viruses vs bacteria. We took probiotics way before they were in vogue. We had extra vitamin C every morning with breakfast. I could go on and on…… My parents were/are very much believers in good health, whole foods, and nutrition to boost the immune system and stave off illness. That being said, my mom is also a college biology teacher and a critical thinker. She believes in science and evidence based medicine. She realized the importance of vaccines to prevent diseases for which we do not have a cure….and against which the body is not going to be able to fight. For that, I am grateful.
My experience in residency at the Mayo Clinic brought me face to face with some of the illnesses that seem non existent to most of us. Living close by to Mayo were several Amish communities. They do not participate in our healthcare system, so they are not routinely vaccinated at well child visits. In my third year of residency, a young Amish boy came in and was diagnosed with tetanus. Selfishly, as a resident, it was amazing to have the opportunity to see such a rare disease. As the parents of that boy, it was a nightmare. He spent about three months in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Miraculously, this child survived the disease, and he was eventually discharged to home. He was, however, discharged with severe deficits that would require special services. We worked hard to set this family, and many other Amish families, up with a local clinic who would provide medical care and vaccinate them. The parents readily accepted the vaccines. If there was fear on their part about the vaccines, I don’t think that it measured up to the fear of almost losing their son.
It is hard to impress upon new parents (who are questioning the importance and safety of vaccines) the devastation and severity of these diseases. How do you really help someone understand when they haven’t seen the disease? Parents assume their child is protected because “everyone else is vaccinated”. I think it is clear with the recent measles outbreaks that that assumption is quickly becoming false. In 2017, there was a 75-case outbreak. In 2018, there was a 17-case outbreak. Not to mention, the largest outbreak in 2015 with 147 cases at Disneyland.
One of the ironies that occurs in pediatrics, our office included, is that there are a stampede of phone calls once there is an outbreak of a disease (for instance, measles). The phone calls are always questioning whether a child has been vaccinated, etc. More often than not, we have disgruntled parents who demand why their child hasn’t been vaccinated against a particular illness, and we have to remind them that they requested to “postpone it by a few months”.
Understanding the importance of vaccines in maintaining the health of a child has prompted our office to have a very clear policy about vaccines and their necessity. Not only are we trying to continue to keep the healthy children healthy, but we are trying to protect those children who physically cannot be vaccinated. These children have life threatening illnesses that do not allow them to be vaccinated. Sadly, these are the same children that would not be able to fight off disease as easily as a healthy child.
There is a lot of “official looking” information on the internet that is not evidence based, or that is just plain false. One is also bombarded with many opinions and “facts” from the community. Please let us, as your pediatricians, help you to wade through all the material. One of the most frequent questions that I get asked by parents is “do you vaccinate your children?”. The answer is a resounding “yes”. We all do as providers in the office. I can’t think of too many things that would be more scary and devastating then one of my children contracting a disease for which there is no cure…..but that could have easily been prevented. — Meredith Renda, M.D.