Ah, Disney. The magical place where grown men wear face paint, recently married adults spend their mouse-ear clad honeymoon, where sick children’s last wishes come true and where millions of kids are tasting their hands before and after touching every fucking surface from their stroller.
Disney. A Mecca of fun, and the center of the germ universe.
You have likely heard of the recent US outbreak of measles linked, in part, to a patient zero at the California Disney parks. Patient zero is believed to have come from overseas, but since measles lives on surfaces for hours, any immune compromised person in contact with those surfaces or airborne particles could contract the disease. To date 102 cases of measles have been linked directly to contact through the Disney parks.
Preventable diseases happen to be my hot button issue right now. Several of my daughter’s friends have had no vaccines at all. So when one of my daughter’s group came down with whooping cough (pertussis), it was kind of a big thing. That someone was my daughter. Our daughter has been vaccinated, so when she started a little nose drip and a cough, we didn’t think much of it. Then the cough became more than just annoying. It sounded like she was about to vomit and she was clearly running out of air.
Murphy’s Law says that, ‘When your child is in the office of her doctor to complain of a cough, she will not cough.’ Our pediatrician had my daughter run and jump in his hall with my smartphone at the ready. When I returned with the cough on tape, he did the whooping cough test (I held her down and looked away because that thing they were shoving up my baby’s nose was 3 inches long!).
The entire family was put on antibiotics as a preventative measure and we were on house arrest for 5 days.
For educational purposes – this is what whooping cough sounds like without the distinctive ‘whoop’:
The test came back positive for whooping cough, and we had a call from Public Health where I was told that this dreadful cough lasts for – wait for it – up to 100 days! She is not contagious after the first 5 days on antibiotics, but she sounds like she is, and I see the people backing away from her and the dirty ‘bad mother’ looks. Shame on you all! Most vaccines are only 80-95% effective and you won’t know your child didn’t develop the antibodies until it is too late. I believe that the vaccine saved our daughter from the worst of it: fever, broken ribs from coughing, and pneumonia. But it didn’t save her from getting it.
An added booster to the current schedule will help. But that is an entirely different rant.
Despite the fact that we are managing a communicable disease in our house, I would never change our decision to vaccinate our children. I am no expert on vaccines, but I have read a lot of research about them.
I am, by no means, an authority. In doing our research, part of our decision was because of others. We didn’t know at the time that we would have a friend whose child would undergo chemo, or have another friend with a life-threatening allergy making some vaccines unavailable to him. But we did know that we would have friends who were pregnant or had little babies that we would want to visit. If we chose not to vaccinate, we were choosing to either not associate with these people or to put them intentionally at risk.
Not to mention we travel and go to places where there are lots of kids like, say, Disney.
Reasons people choose not to vaccinate seem to range from lack of confidence to fear of side affects (perceived or real).
Lack of Confidence
Parents of young children in developed countries have not witnessed an epidemic since the introduction of widespread vaccinations 60 years ago. We just don’t understand what vaccines have done for us. It is possible many no longer have confidence in the science. Maybe this is why more 1 in 10 parents now refuse or delay vaccinations (some sources say as many as 4 in 10), because they believe it is safer than following the Center for Disease Control’s schedule. Maybe the vaccine conversations should begin with OB/GYNs and not with pediatricians. That way the research can be complete by the time the decision needs to be made–when you are not sleep deprived and irrational. Delaying vaccines only exposes children to harmful diseases while leaving them unprotected for longer. And, despite some parental opinions, breastmilk does not contain all the antibodies required to protect young children.
Here are some facts: Smallpox killed 500 million people before the vaccine eradicated it. That is more than the population of North America today. Only 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans per year. Measles infected 4 million children, killing 3,000 annually before the vaccine. Fear of death drove people to discover the vaccines and to line up to get them.
As a direct result of vaccination, polio and the measles are no longer found native in North America. Since the measles vaccine became available in 1963, there has been a more than 99% decline in the number of measles cases originating in the United States.
Are we no longer afraid?
Some people believe that having exposure to wild viruses, like chicken pox parties, is better than the shot. Chicken pox parties are downright dangerous! The wild strain of chicken pox can cause complications in otherwise healthy kids like pneumonia, encephalitis (brain swelling) and even death. There is no way to predict which children will develop dangerous, life-threatening complications from the wild strain. The vaccination has very few complications and has no documented risk of death, but it is likely the child will get an owie on their arm for a day and maybe a low grade fever.
Fear of Side Effects
My parents vaccinated me, but they didn’t want their grandchildren vaccinated. I blame the Jenny McCarthy syndrome for that. She spoke out on Oprah and in her book to say that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine caused her son to be autistic. I’m sorry Jenny, but there is no reputable study supporting your assertion. What you are doing is fear mongering, and I, for one, can’t support you.
There are dozens of highly reputable resources that suggest what your media team and your book is spewing is crap. Resources like the World Health Organization, Centre for Disease Control, National Institute of Neurological Disorders, The Journal of Pediatrics, and The Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic summed it up best. ‘Vaccines do not cause autism. Despite much controversy on the topic, researchers haven’t found a connection between autism and childhood vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted.” They left no room for the possible. Just plain old NO.
If you choose not to vaccinate because you think it will cause autism: 1. it doesn’t, and 2. it doesn’t.
If you are unable to be vaccinated, herd immunity does work, but not if everyone is relying on it. People who are immune-compromised, have severe allergies to vaccines, those with low platelet counts, and babies too young for vaccines all rely on herd immunity. It also works for the 5-20% of the population that, unknowingly, did not develop the antibodies despite the vaccination.
People like my daughter.
Herd immunity is surrounding yourself with people who have been vaccinated. If they can’t get it, you can’t. My daughter had a crack in her herd because too many of her friends’ families are relying on this as their immunity strategy.
In my opinion, not vaccinating is hedging a bet. When your unvaccinated daughter has the wonderful news that she is pregnant, be prepared to keep her and everyone around her (provided they are vaccinated) at home. If you were afraid of her 1 in 1 million chances of a complication, check it out now. Measles can cause premature birth and infant death in 1 in 100 cases. Meanwhile, rubella causes miscarriage in 20% of cases and severe heart and eye defects in babies in about 50% of pregnancies.
For unvaccinated children, maybe parents should think twice about Disney. What could they come in contact with? What could they be fighting that you don’t know yet? People from countries with whooping cough, measles, fucking diphtheria all go there and we have already established what children are doing to the hand rails. What will those kids be bringing back to your friends, family, neighbours? What could they possibly be giving to those kids walking around the park with cancer?
You can have measles and be contagious for 4 days before the rash, mumps for 2 days before any signs, and rubella up to 1 week before. Your child may be a walking time bomb and create all sorts of problems for yourself or others without a clue.
The 1 in 1 million worries seem small compared to the worries you will have if your child comes in contact with one of these deadly diseases in their lifetime. Could you be preparing your child for a life of limited travel, never holding a newborn and never going to Disney or maybe even a life of fear? That sounds like a fair trade to spare the aggravation of that owie and some crying. I know that sounded bitchy, but we are on day 88 of whooping cough, and I have very few nerves left.
I am not going to tell you what to do. I just wanted to share my research. Do your own investigation. You have to be comfortable with the decision you make and the sources you are using. I am comfortable with mine. My only request is for you to please consider ‘love thy neighbour’ when you are making your decision. I think that one is sometime overlooked (that one is personal). Use good science and good parenting as your guide.
The resources I use to investigate vaccines are as follows:
The World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, The Mayo Clinic, The Journal of Pediatrics, US Department of Health and Human Services, Immunization Action Coalition, Every Child By Two and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If you suspect your child has had an adverse reaction to a vaccine, report it to your doctor or through the CDC website VAERS program.