Bumps To Babies | The Never-Ending Debate: Vaccines
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The Never-Ending Debate: Vaccines

There are numerous debates in parenting circles these days: organic vs. non-organic foods, sleep training vs. co-sleeping, public vs. private schools, etc. The biggest and longest running debate, since I’ve become a mother, has been about vaccines. And I can say, from personal experience, it’s not an easy topic of conversation and usually causes tension among other parents in the group.

I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in documentaries regarding vaccinations. Most that I have encountered in the past few years are vaccine hesitant. They focus on all the negatives that may arise (however low in probability), sometimes even discussing side effects that have been disproven on multiple occasions. The biggest issue I have with many televised specials is that they are extremely one-sided, with no scientific support to back up their claims. In instances when I have shared this opinion with a parent who chooses not to vaccinate, the response was as if I insulted them personally.  The parent became extremely defensive, trying to convince me that I was wrong because the documentaries are, according to them, transparent with their information. I have yet to be convinced. I understand that parents try to do the right thing for their children, therefore, they choose an extremely cautious position when it comes to vaccinations for their children.  In all honesty, if I were pregnant with my first child and watched these anti-vaccine specials, I would probably be just as uncertain about vaccinating too. But my story didn’t have such a start.

My “New Parent” Stance

When I was first pregnant, I was already aware of the different sides of the debate on vaccinations and I specifically chose our pediatrician based on her viewpoint on the importance of vaccinating children. Once I met our pediatrician, I explained I was in favor of vaccinating my child, because I found the benefits to outweigh the risks. The pediatrician agreed.  However, she used a vaccination schedule that differed from the norm. She preferred to vaccinate the child every month with no more than 2 vaccines at a time in the first year, because she believed it was less “shock” on the child’s system and that the kids usually had a better outcome (i.e. didn’t seem to come down with a fever most of the time). This method turned out to work very well for us. At the time I worked the night shift with random days off throughout the week, so popping into the pediatrician’s office for a quick vaccine was not much of an inconvenience. My son probably didn’t appreciate being pinched with a needle so frequently but he doesn’t remember those early months like I do.  Personally speaking, I do feel that my son’s ability to recover from his vaccines throughout his first year of life could be greatly attributed to the method of this vaccination schedule.

Having a Vaccine Reaction

As many people may already know, no ‘live’ vaccines[1] are administered to infants before 12 months of age. It is linked to the fact that their bodies do not pick up the proper immunity from live vaccines until their bodies are a year or older. When our son turned a year old, I chose to only vaccinate him with the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and wait on the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine until he was a little older. Due to my own health issues and immuno-compromised body, I am unable to receive the vaccine at any point in my life. So I do depend on herd immunity[2] when it comes to the chickenpox and shingles. I should stress that at the same time that my son became old enough to receive live vaccines, the infamous autism link study had already been debunked.  Despite this, I saw no harm in continuing to play it safe in case new evidence surfaced making a connection between the MMR vaccines and autism. Like many parents, I was scared and didn’t want to do anything wrong.

When my son was about 18 months old, our pediatrician retired. Her replacement agreed to meet my son prior to vaccinating him with the MMR vaccine. I didn’t find it appropriate for a physician to give an order for a vaccine prior to meeting the patient. So on August 1, 2011, when my son was 22 months old, he met his new pediatrician and got the green light to receive the MMR vaccine. Until this point in my son’s life, he only had maybe 2 colds ever. He was a healthy little toddler. About 12 days later, while driving to a friend’s birthday party, I looked back to see a bruise at the tip of my son’s nose. I remember commenting to my husband what an odd location that was for a bruise. Of course we brushed it off, because toddlers are constantly tripping and falling as they play throughout the day. A few days later, this time more aware of his movements, I began to notice bruises on the top of his foot. I remember thinking this too was a strange location for a bruise, but I did not really put much together. It wasn’t until I noticed a bruise on my son’s back later that day the alarm bells rang. I feared the bruises were linked to some sort of bigger problem: cancer. The doctor saw him immediately, with more bruises popping up that afternoon. She sat us down and explained it could be a multitude of things, including Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP) or leukemia. My heart sank.  His bruises were caused by critically low platelets[3].  As a nurse, I couldn’t believe how quickly his body’s platelets were depleting. We weren’t given any answers until he started reacting well to the intravenous medications. The official diagnosis was ITP.  Relief was followed by many questions.

Those who know me would say I don’t give up easily. I am always seeking information to know the ‘why.’ This situation was no different. I needed to have a reason for why my son got so sick. My husband and I quickly started brainstorming why this reaction occurred in our son. When we researched possible side-effects to the MMR vaccine, we saw that ITP was listed. It became clear the MMR vaccine and the development of ITP fit perfectly. When we took our findings to the physicians in charge of his care, they couldn’t confirm it. His pediatrician, on the other hand, said the MMR was most likely the source. It became clear I needed to learn more about how this came about and why our son got sick with this particular vaccine and not any prior vaccines, like varicella. The upside to the vaccine being the cause was that it was an acute occurrence and supposed to last only 6 months or so. I was like a sponge, learning how the MMR is a strong vaccine and can have various side effects. But the most profound information I received was from a specialist at UCLA. With the timeline in which the vaccine was administered and the symptoms that occurred, she said, without a doubt, the vaccine was the cause behind his ITP. Relief for a cause was very meaningful for me but it’s what she said next that impacted me more as a parent. The vaccine hit his body so hard because, no fault to us, we had kept him too healthy. Yes, that’s right, TOO healthy. All those months of sanitizing and constantly monitoring illnesses entering our home could have impacted him negatively. Many of you may read this and gasp at the physician. You may even be saying, “How dare she say such a thing to you. Where’s the compassion?” Personally, this moment caused a significant shift in all my future parenting decisions. This doctor made me realize how out-of-control parenthood is, no matter how much effort we put into attempting to make everything perfect for them.

The Post-Vaccine Reaction Parent

Many people may assume we stopped vaccinating our children after seeing our son suffer like he did. But I’ll be the first person to stand in favor of vaccines. Yes, I continue to vaccinate my children, despite my son’s negative reaction to the MMR vaccine 6 years ago. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have slight anxiety when the time came to give our second child the MMR, but I still knew the benefits outweighed the risks.

The most upsetting occurrence since my son got his first MMR vaccine came around in the summer of 2014. Our daughter was a year old and needed to receive her live vaccines. However, something new was going on in south Orange County: MMR cases were found and were multiplying. Fear struck many parents, including me. Did I want to vaccinate her at a year with the MMR? In all honesty, my answer was no. I wanted to wait another year. Why? Because I thought, if she reacts in the same way as her older brother, at least she’d be the same age he was when he had been hospitalized. Despite my hesitation, I felt I had to vaccinate earlier than expected because other individuals chose to never vaccinate their children.

I’m not telling our story to sway your opinion one-way or another. This story is to highlight the journey of a family who, despite all the difficult roads we’ve been on, has chosen to continue to vaccinate because we know the benefits they bring. These benefits extend to the population, within our own home, and to those we come into contact with. When I see eradicated diseases popping up in the United States, I have no problem blaming families who aren’t vaccinating their children. Yes, the reasons behind not vaccinating have to do with one’s own child, but the consequences can have a profound impact on our population’s health. I understand as well as anyone that vaccines bring fear in parents, but at the same time we should be educated to the fullest extent. I choose to listen to both sides, arguments from pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine advocates. But I still find myself standing behind vaccinations. Being a parent is about making difficult choices in life, even if it means taking a leap into the uncomfortable.

References

Attenuated Vaccines.  29 July 2017.  In Wikipedia.  Retrieved from

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attenuated_vaccine

 

Community Immunity:  “Herd Immunity”   (January 2017).  Retrieved from

https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/protection/index.html

 

Don’t Hesitate: Talking to Your Vaccine-Hesitant Loved Ones with Compassion and

Confidence.  (n.d.).  Retrieved from

www.voicesforvaccines.org

Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.  (n.d.).  Retrieved from

www.mayoclinic.org

What are Platelets and Why are They Important.  (n.d.).  Retrieved from

www.hopkinsmedicine.org

[1] Also known as attenuated vaccines: an infectious agent that has been altered it into a less harmful form without “killing” the virus.  Such vaccines provide more immunity with less likelihood of needing booster in the future  (Wikipedia, 2017).

[2] Refers to the decreased opportunity for outbreak of a contagious disease after a critical portion of a community has been immunized against that disease.  By decreasing the outbreak potential, vulnerable members of the community that are not eligible for certain vaccines (infants, immuno-compromised individuals, the elderly, etc.) also get some protection (Vaccines.gov, 2017).

[3] Within the bloodstream, platelets are cells, which circulate and bind to one another when damaged blood vessels exist  (What are Platelets and Why are They Important, n.d.).

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