For the first few months of his life, my husband and I wanted to keep our baby in a hermetically sealed leucite bubble. For various reasons, I ended up returning to the hospital a week postpartum.
An inner-city hospital.
With an emergency department that serves a downtown population.
Where your imagination can just see the walls crawling with hepatitis and HIV viruses and the floor tiles dusted with cocaine and crystal meth.
No matter that the spaces are regularly cleaned and sanitized and the staff do the best they can. It’s hard to fight with your imagination. I knew, deep in the part of my intellectual brain that our baby was just fine in his car seat. It’s not like he was crawling around on the floor putting bloody used gauze into his mouth.
I knew it.
But I held my breath.
I held my breath anytime we were in an elevator and someone coughed. Was that whooping-cough? That guy looks kind of sick. Could it be diphtheria? What if it’s meningitis?
I know there are parents out there that dread, absolutely dread, vaccination day. Oh, but I rejoiced. Oh, but I was relieved. At four months with the second set of shots, I relaxed a little more. Now he had an even greater chance of being immune.
This isn’t a perspective you read about often, is it? A parent rejoicing that their child has received a needle? The anti-vaccination community has overtaken the internet. A vocal minority with some very ill-conceived notions.
India has announced a year free of polio. Their last case was diagnosed January 2011. A two year old girl. It breaks my heart to think of a two year old girl with polio. Was she paralyzed? Did she die? Thanks to an amazing marketing campaign and dedication, almost a billion doses of polio vaccine have been administered in India over the last decade. And that means that this little girl may be the last Indian child to needlessly suffer.
Of course, wild polio virus is still with us. In Pakistan. In Nigeria. In China.
How many of us in North America have seen polio? I’ve never seen an acute infection. I’ve seen withered and atrophied limbs like this:
I’ve seen post-polio syndrome. Talk about an unfair disease. Years, possibly decades, after beating the acute illness, these people suffer from chronic debilitating, progressive, muscular weakness, fatigue and sometimes the inability to breathe independently.
If you google images for polio, like I’ve just done, you’ll find the majority of pictures are of children and adults with brown skin who are from outside North America. But don’t get complacent, don’t think that polio is just a problem in the “third world.” With ever-increasing amounts of globe-trotting and air traffic, these days the world is just becoming one gigantic neighbourhood. There are no longer “our problems” and “their problems.”
It’s also interesting to note that Canada, yes Canada, only became polio-free in 1994. 1994. We certainly have no cause to feel superior to India. 1994!
I know vaccines are not 100% effective. I know that after two doses R has a 90% chance of being immune. After he’s received three doses, that increases to 95-99%. But I also know, that if enough people in the population (80-86% for polio) are vaccinated, herd immunity is achieved. This means that there will not be enough susceptible hosts to allow the polio virus exist in that population. This means that even if a unvaccinated person comes into the community carrying the virus, it will likely not be able to travel through individuals and infect my son if he’s one of the 1-5% that does not develop immunity. This means that it will likely not be able to travel through individuals and infect those that for good medical reasons, usually really sick children or those with anaphylactic reactions to one of the vaccine components, cannot receive the vaccination. This is how all vaccines prevent disease in your community.
And this is why I’m so aghast at the anti-vaccination movement. When it comes down to it, we rely on herd immunity. Weaken the herd, refuse enough vaccinations and these diseases will come back. There have been outbreaks of measles in Canada, and in the UK because of the hysteria surrounding vaccinations and parents refusing them.
It’s just not neighbourly to put everyone else at risk like that. Your child may never get sick – but that will be because all of your neighbours vaccinated their children and herd immunity was achieved. Vaccinations have small risks. Very small. But risk nonetheless. If you don’t vaccinate your children, you reap all the rewards of herd immunity while shoving all of the risk onto your neighbours.
Un-neighbourly is not a strong enough word. How about unethical?
I know I’ll never change the mind of those that are so rabidly anti-vaccination. I suspect I’ll get a few angry comments because of this post. But I know they are a small minority. I know there are people out there who are just taking the time to educate themselves about vaccination and those are the people who I hope, will now read all the anti-vaccination diatribes with a little more knowledge and more ability to see through the rhetoric. And I hope they will choose to vaccinate.
I am so thankful that we have access to vaccines. I am so thankful that R is vaccinated.
I am so thankful that I will never have to see him on a ventilator in the pediatric ICU because of polio.
I am so thankful that I won’t have to watch him slowly choke to death while we are rushed to the hospital because of epiglottitis.
I am so thankful he won’t go stiff with tetanus.
I am so thankful that he won’t die of whooping-cough.
I am so thankful that his heart and kidneys won’t be destroyed by diphtheria.
I am so thankful that he won’t need a liver transplant because of hepatitis B.
I am so thankful for needles.