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There is no vaccine for fear, and it’s contagious

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[photopress:soup_1.jpg,thumb,pp_image]Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the SOUP! event for The Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (CCIC). SOUP! as you may have guessed is an acronym. It stands for Shots Offer Unrivaled Protection. But, there really was real soup involved, too. Ten top restaurants in the Denver area provided samples of their best soup recipes, and we all had the opportunity to vote for the most creative and best tasting. This event was equal parts tasting tasty soups, networking with people in the healthcare field and honoring the work and dedication that has gone into protecting Colorado’s children from vaccine-preventable diseases.

What struck me about the event was the genuine care and concern these scientists, doctors and healthcare professionals had for children and this cause. The stories were heart-felt, and the statistics presented were astonishing. When they translated all of the numbers into the cost of healthcare that has been spent on preventable diseases, it was mind-boggling.

Vaccines are always a touchy subject in parenting communities. Often times, we’re led to believe that if we “question” vaccines, we’re dabbling in something we don’t understand. Or, if we “don’t question” vaccines, we’re doing our children a disservice by just going with the flow.

I had an eye-opening conversation with someone at the event that evening that really proved how tricky this issue can be when you’re dealing with friends. A woman at the event didn’t know how to warn her friend about these things without damaging a friendship. As a professional in this field, she knows that certain communities are “ripe for an outbreak” and the thought of her friend’s child being exposed to these diseases has her conscience tied in knots. This woman’s friend had chosen to vaccinate, but is doing so on a very delayed schedule, which could put her child at risk for being exposed, should an outbreak occur.

She doesn’t want to harm her friendship but doesn’t think she can forgive herself if something happens to her friend’s child. What an awkward situation!

My advice to her was to give her friend the information and then trust that her friend would make the right decision for her family, regardless of what that ends up being. Without a crystal ball, it’s hard to know what will happen, and all you can do is what you feel is right, given the information you have.

That being said, it’s sobering to realize that “The Children’s Hospital in Denver has documented that over half of the vaccine-preventable disease cases in Colorado occur in children less than two years of age.” It’s no wonder this woman was concerned.

Every situation is complex, but the simple fact remains: Vaccines are one of the most effective tools in preventing diseases. They are a miracle of scientific advancement.

Because we feel like we are so far removed from the deadly and disfiguring effects of polio or measles or other horrifying diseases, we can see why some question the purpose of vaccines in “this day and age.” Why do we need them? Those things don’t exist anymore, right? Those are things that effect developing countries and not us, right?

But, that’s the thing. It’s because of vaccines that we can breathe easier. The diseases still exist, and, whether we like it or not, we belong to a global nation. The smaller our world becomes, the chances of being exposed to these diseases gets greater and greater.

I am so thankful that I don’t know anyone personally who has died from or has been horribly disabled by polio or measles or any of the other vaccine-preventable diseases. But, my parents do. And, to my grandparents, it was “just the way things were.” What a horrifying reality that must have been, and what a miracle vaccines were to them!

Today, we can look around and say, “See? I don’t see it, so the threat must be over.” But is it? There are communities here in Colorado that have dealt with outbreaks. Granted, they weren’t as severe as things were in the past, but if you’re not immune, the effect could be devastating.

In reality, we’re just a generation away from the outbreaks of the past. If we stop the vaccines, what happens to the generation after ours? Again, my crystal ball isn’t working, so I don’t know.

Now, as with anything, vaccines aren’t for everyone. Those who have a compromised immune system cannot have vaccines. Young babies fall into this category, as do the elderly or those who are recipients of an organ donation or people with other immune-deficiency issues. People with predispositions to certain conditions or those with certain types of allergies need to be aware of those specific risks, as well. And, there are those who choose to avoid vaccines for philosophical reasons.

This is where “everyone else being vaccinated” becomes even more crucial. What am I talking about? It’s called “herd immunities” and here is the best way I can think to describe it:

Imagine, if you will, that we’re all sitting in a circle of chairs. In the middle of this circle of chairs are the people who have compromised immune systems, or for whatever reason are not vaccinated. Our circle of chairs is protecting them.

Now let’s pretend that only those of us with up-to-date vaccines are allowed to sit in a chair on the outside of the circle. Those who have no immunities, fold up their chairs, set them off to the side and join those in the middle.

The more people who step away from the protective layer, the smaller the barrier becomes for those in the middle.

So, if you are someone who has a compromised immune system, or if you don’t have immunity to the diseases that are floating around out there, you need to surround yourself with those who can protect you.

This really hit home to me when my little girl was a baby, and I realized that she was in the middle of that circle. Until she was vaccinated and had her immunities built up, her health was at the mercy of those standing in the circle around her.

I had done my research and knew that I wanted to get my daughter vaccinated, but I, too, had questions. You see, my situation is a little more complex. Back in the 1970s when I received my shots, I had a violent reaction to them. I can only imagine how distraught this made my parents. They rushed me to the hospital, and they knew right away that it was a reaction to the shots. They relied on the medical professionals’ advice, and given my situation, they opted to give me half-doses of each shot from that point forward.

My reaction, as violent as it was, paled in comparison to the threat of the diseases.

We, too, are so fortunate to have found a pediatrician that we trust implicitly. We ask his advice and follow it. Given my history, I was concerned about the amount of shots Claire was going to be getting at one time, and I asked him about it. He relieved my fears and explained that the shots from the 70s were so incredibly different than the shots of today, that the odds of Claire having a reaction like mine were very slim. In his opinion, such extensive research has gone into the shots, that he felt they were safe. He said the shots of today are designed to be given together, and a child will have the same reaction to one that they would have to all, so why prolong the actual shot-giving process?

His advice was to reduce her risk of exposure, follow the schedule, get them over with and get on with the rest of our lives. If you’re going to do it, do it. So, that’s what we did, and Claire handled the shots beautifully.

In fact, in quite the comical turn of events, she now likes getting shots, which proves there may actually be something wrong with her.

So, what’s the right answer? What do we do?

Well, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV, so my advice is to find an expert you trust. If you have questions about whether or not to vaccinate your child, talk to your pediatrician.

Check out third party sources. The CCIC website is a good place to start. This organization was founded in response to the fact that Colorado used to be dead last in the nation for childhood vaccinations. Because of their work, so many deaths have been prevented, but there is still a lot of work to be done. They aren’t funded by the pharmaceutical companies; they don’t have any black helicopters circling above, and they truly have the best interest of children at heart.

Don’t be afraid to look at the statistics of where we are and how far we’ve come. We hear bits and pieces from various media sources, and without the whole story, it’s hard to know what to believe or how to proceed. The misinformation builds, and that creates fear. Fear is contagious, and there is no vaccine for that.

So, what do you think? Let’s respectfully discuss it in the comments! What are your views on vaccinations? What are your experiences? Is my daughter the only one who begs to go get a poke in the arm?

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  • comment avatar Terra April 29, 2009

    ok, We vaccinate. It is important to me that we get our shots, flu shots included…my babies got them before it was recommended for babies. That said…I do take some offense at the Chicken Pox shot… There is something to be said for getting something, dealing with it and moving on…I know they started the shot for good reason and I am ok with it…I just sometimes wonder if we go too far?

    ALSO – My littlest one has trouble with the shots she got a FULL BLOWN case of the measles the first time she got the MMR – it was nuts – 2% of kids apparently have this issue. She still gets the MMR and she is fine. But I can see how easy it would be to walk away from the vaccines especially if you had/have an issue with them.

    I detatched about 3/4’s through your article but enjoyed what I read and felt compelled to comment.

  • comment avatar XUP April 29, 2009

    First, I’ll say that I totally respect everyone’s right to choose to vaccinate or not vaccinate their child. If they’re making an informed decision I will certainly never take offense or berate them for not making the same decision as I have. I chose not to vaccinate my daughter. It started because I met a woman whose child was severely damaged by vaccines. Like you, her child had violent reactions to vaccinations, but the doctors kept assuring her it was normal, they reduced the dosages and kept vaccinating her. The result is she suffered brain damage and will never progress beyond the mental age of a 4-year-old. Through this woman I met other parents with vaccine damaged children to various degrees. So, I did more research on both sides of the issue. I got a lot of pressure from doctors to vaccinate — especially here in Ontario. When I moved to Nova Scotia, nobody seemed to concerned. When my daughter was about 6 months old, there was an outbreak of whooping cough in her playgroup. Almost all the kids got it — those that were vaccinated and those that were not. Some of the vaccinated kids ended up in hospital because it was so severe. My daughter caught it as well, but had a relatively mild case.

    I wonder if all the parents who vaccinate their children also continue with their own vaccinations? They don’t grant immunity for life. Many young adults are now getting chicken pox and mumps and measles because they were vaccinated as children, but have not kept it up. Getting these illnesses as adults, as you know, is dangerous. Getting chickenpox as a child is a bit uncomfortable for most kids. Getting chickenpox IS almost always immunity for life.

    I don’t like that vaccines are being churned out by pharma companies for every illness or possible illness or even illnesses they invent. Vaccines are a huge and easy money maker for these companies. I don’t trust their motivation.

    There are many other factors involved in the eradication of a disease like polio, smallpox, diphtheria, etc., than vaccines.

    Mass vaccination will often cause a disease to mutate into something far worse (i.e.: HIV/AIDS)

    Anyway, I could go on forever. In the end it turned out to be a good thing I did not vaccinate my child because she has an immune disorder which wasn’t diagnosed until she got older. I can’t even imagine how an ongoing series of vaccines would have affected her.

    An excellent topic!

  • comment avatar JoAnn, The Casual Perfectionist April 29, 2009

    Terra, thanks for your comment! It was kinda long, huh? LOL I had a terrible case of Chicken Pox, but my cousin had it even worse. She was nearly hospitalized. Because my case was so strong, I’m fully immune. I realize my daughter may get a case of the Chicken Pox, but odds are, because of the vaccine, it won’t be as severe.

    XUP, you bring up an excellent point about adult vaccines. To answer your question, yes, both my husband and I have kept up with our boosters. A couple years ago, it was discovered that he was not immune to measles, even after having his vaccines as a child, so he got the MMR again. When I was pregnant with Claire, I had all my immunities tested again. And, we have our Tetanus Booster marked on the calendar.

    Thanks for the comments, ladies!

  • comment avatar Amber April 29, 2009

    I agree–vaccines are not for everyone and that is why research should be done. HOWEVER, that is a very, very, very small percentage. My heart truly goes out to those who have an adverse reaction to them but it must be juxtaposed against the millions of lives that have been saved.

    Our generation is so far removed from the horrors of these diseases that we don’t understand what good vaccinations have done. It’s like when people who suffer from depression are on their meds. They start to feel better on them (as well they should) and start to feel “cured” and then they go off them, only to reach rock bottom again.

    The only reason people who have not chosen to vaccinate are not exposed to these horrific diseases is because they are surrounded by the rest of us who do.

  • comment avatar Lori in Denver April 29, 2009

    Your circle analogy is a good one, and really helps me to grasp the herd immunization concept.

    I did not stress a lot about immunizing — I looked at the risk levels and decided that the risk of NOT vaccinating was greater than the risk to vaccinate.

    I do respect that others may look at the same data and come to a different conclusion, however.

    It all comes down to the circle, though, and staying on the healthy herd side of the tipping point.

  • comment avatar JoAnn, The Casual Perfectionist April 29, 2009

    Amber, that is an excellent analogy!! That is so true.

    Thanks for your comment, Lori! I must say I stressed a lot less after my daughter had her immunities. I didn’t have to worry about keeping inside her the circle when she became part of the protective layer for others.

    I love hearing different opinions. Let’s keep the conversation going!

  • comment avatar JoAnn, The Casual Perfectionist April 29, 2009

    Uh, I meant “keeping her inside the circle”… You’d think a Perfectionist would proofread a little better. 😉

  • comment avatar Laura April 29, 2009

    My husband is against vaccines. I think for the most part they are a good idea. My oldest had them without a fight and after having a bone marrow transplant got them again. My second we did stagger the shots more than they normally do. A compromise with my husband and myself. Now with a third looking at the the whole vaccine issue. My husband still doesn’t want them done. But they probably will. We don’t know why the first child got sick so it is harder. With all the information out there it is a personal topic and everyone must decide for themselves. But I do agree that the vaccines are evidently helping keep some of these diseases away. Very hard decision.

  • comment avatar Kari April 29, 2009

    I have to say that people who do not vaccinate because of fear anger me. If there is a legitimate health concern it is completely understandable but because of they’re worried of the minor risks? The rest of us are taking whatever chance of risks there are and in so doing are making the world a safer place while those people are simply riding on our coat-tails. My opinion. Take it for what it’s worth. 🙂

  • comment avatar Terra April 29, 2009

    JOANN – I am sorry, I just have a short attn span during the day time and I already knew what I was going to say! I think the post was fantastic and worth every line. I will re-read later tonight because that is how I work!

  • comment avatar JoAnn, The Casual Perfectionist April 29, 2009

    Laura, thanks for your comment! It can be a tough decision when you and your spouse don’t agree. Good luck with your decisions!

    Thanks for your comment, Kari! Fear is such a powerful force.

    It’s okay, Terra! I appreciate you weighing-in on the issue!

  • comment avatar MBUM April 29, 2009

    Ouchy, touchy subject… but loved reading it! My children are vaccinated and will continue to get certain shots (like flu shots). However, if I had a newborn… I wouldn’t be following the typical schedule. I fully understand the importance of vaccinations, but completely disagree with HOW MANY and the “schedule”! Here’s a can of worms to open… Autism. I have a nephew (he’s a TWIN, almost 9) with autism. I won’t go into all of it… to sum it up he probably was predisposed to having it, lots of ear infections/ antibiodics, and “scheduled” shots…. WHAMO autism. My sister is a PICU nurse, by the way. She takes her babies into the office…. shots are given, delays begin with one son… oddly the medical community she WORKS in, followed THEIR schedule, has NOTHING to do with any of his care now. “THEY” say bring those chubby little legs in here, “TRUST” us… but if your child gets autism, we have NOTHING to give for support.

    Diagnosis from medical community, autism…and then “here’s the door” All his support is from the alternative fields.. Interesting, huh?!

    Whew… that is quite the soapbox, isn’t it!?!?!?!? I know shots are important, I completely believe in the “big” picture, but I don’t think I could hold chubby little legs down with complete confidence again. There needs to be another schedule, “alternative” schedule to protect “the herd”, but also to protect our babies. I now have sisters not vaccinating to the “normal” schedule with complete disagreements from the doctors. No more arguing when they couldn’t answer “yes” to this question, ” Do you live with a child with Autism?”

  • comment avatar JoAnn, The Casual Perfectionist April 29, 2009

    Thanks for the comments, MBUM! Autism opens up a whole different side to this argument, and it’s unfortunate that the doctor who linked the MMR shot to Autism faked his results (I don’t have specific source links, as a search on Google will show you oodles.) Something is causing Autism, and we need to figure out what that is.

    I’m just afraid that a false link to the MMR is hindering that study AND putting children at risk for these preventable diseases. I mean, if it isn’t linked to vaccines, what is it! It has to be something! Right?

    But, you are right. If you live with a child with Autism, your decisions are harder when it comes to this topic! (I know there are people dealing with Autism that DO still vaccinate their children, and I know there are people dealing with Autism that DON’T vaccinate their children.) It’s tricky!

  • comment avatar Wendy April 29, 2009

    Wow! Thanks so much for opening a tough conversation and providing great insight and resources. I’m a first-time momma-to-be and this has obviously been one of the hardest choices to prepare to make for a little person who’s not even here yet. Your post and the comments have really put my mind at ease. Just one question: your link to the CCIC website seems broken – what is the URL?

  • comment avatar JoAnn, The Casual Perfectionist April 29, 2009

    Wendy, thanks for your comment!

    The CCIC URL is:

    It looks to be working in my browser, but there it is again in case something is goofy.

    I hope you find the answers you need, and welcome to the wonderful world of parenting decisions!

  • comment avatar Serra April 29, 2009

    JoAnn (and all),

    I live with a child with Autism, my 7 year old who is a wonderful child but distinctly different from his peers. He has wonderful support in school and is very high-functioning. He had “non-neurological” siezures starting at the age of 4 months that were attributed to the P (Pertussis/Whooping Cough) in the vaccines at 2 and 4 months. Luckily, we had a wonderful doctor who worked very diligently to determine the cause and recommended that we stop the Pertussis. At 6 months, he received everything else (now requested as individual shots and preservative-free since we educated ourselves on the issue) and his siezures stopped at about 7 months. At around 2 we began to notice that he was developmentally delayed and began to have him tested for delays which began with speech and grew into additional services. My son is a beautiful soul and has no concept of violence or hatred… I cannot image him in any other way, though we have our daily challenges.
    So, as my second child came along four years later, I was at a crossroads whether to vaccinate based on his brothers reaction. We opted to not get Pertussis and do everything else preservative-free and as individual items (as the compound that separates the ingredients have been suspect in Autism). This meant an extended schedule for receiving the shots as they felt that the maximum in one sitting was five. He had no adverse reactions. He now is just fine with getting shots (we just got one on Monday), though not quite as fond as Claire! 🙂
    So that’s the story from a Minnesota Mom and an old college friend on my experience with vaccines and autism. Thanks for writing about such a critical issue in an open and honest manner.

  • comment avatar Midwestern Grandma April 29, 2009

    I have a cousin who was born deaf because his mother contracted measles when she was pregnant with him….now, there is a family that experienced the tough times caused by the lack of disease-preventing immunizations in that point in time! The months he spent away from family during his educational years at the state school for the deaf was an added strain, in various ways, on the family. We thought it was tough when we kids had to go back to school after a summer break, but we got to come home each p.m., and not weeks later!

    Oh, how I remember the many, many stories of the terrible number of babies, children, adults who died of immunization-preventable diseases back in my grandparents’ and parents’ time! These stories were oftentimes repeated each Memorial Day as we walked among the tomb stones in the cemeteries, and the adults would reminisce. I remember the fear of polio when I was a child and how thrilled my parents were when they were finally able to take me and my brother to the doctor for the developed immunization against that terrible disease.

    I don’t like getting shots, never have, but am so glad we have them at our disposal!

    Good article; interesting comments!

  • comment avatar JoAnn, The Casual Perfectionist April 29, 2009

    Serra, thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! I can only imagine the challenges you’ve faced (and still face!). Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    Thank you Midwestern Grandma for sharing your perspective from the past! So many times we forget that we are not so far removed from those diseases.

    Thank you everybody for your comments!