With our country’s increase of measles cases in the news not too long ago, the controversy of immunizations was a topic of conversation again. Social media buzzed with opinions – some strong, some mild, some barely identifiable. If you’ve never been faced with the decision of immunizing, it’s possible you either don’t have children or you live in a country where the immunizations are not available. If you have been faced with the decision, you likely have an opinion because you had to form one to make the decision whether to immunize or not.
Before a child’s first immunization, parents gather information, weigh the consequences of both options and make what they believe is an educated decision. Most people start and complete immunizing their children on schedule because they have a healthy fear of what might happen if they didn’t. They understand the possible alternative of not doing so and that contracting any one of the diseases that immunizations protect against is worse than the very small risk of the immunizations themselves. Some parents choose not to immunize their children. They fear the effects of what is put into their children’s bodies more than they fear outside contagions.
Diphtheria, pertussis, polio, tetanus…..measles, mumps, rubella…..hepatitis…..chicken pox. Thankfully, we have been protected from most of those illnesses for many years. As long as we live in a society and age where we are enjoying the benefits of most of the population being protected by them (called “herd effect”), we don’t have a risk of a large outbreak. But that could change because we don’t have a visual reminder of what we’re protected from. Over time, we have generally become unaware of the dangers and devastating effects that these conditions are capable of producing. As long as there are people who are not personally impacted by the consequences of these illnesses, some of them will not fully grasp the risks of choosing not to immunize their children.
My Mom was a normal, active child. She recounts memories of doing successive cartwheels all the way around her house and riding a bike down steep hills without holding onto the bicycle’s handlebars. The stories she remembers change when she was ten years old. She tells how her foot would not cooperate on stairs and how she and her parents worried she had been stricken with the illness everyone feared at the time. She tells how a young inexperienced doctor administered a spinal tap (a crude test in those days) in her home. Her siblings still remember hearing her screaming echoing through the house. Her family was quickly quarantined after the test results confirmed she had polio.
At ten years old, my mother was whisked away from her family to a hospital many miles from her home where she laid in a hospital bed in a ward with many other polio patients – all victims of a scary disease that ate away at their bodies. Meanwhile, her family, like other families, remained quarantined. They had to rely on family or friends to bring them food and other necessities. They feared their loved ones would not return home…and some did not. My mom tells stories about how the experience affected her family, what it was like in the hospital, and what it was like when she returned home and went back to school without the same abilities she had when she left.
My Mom has post-polio now, as do many people in our population who had polio years ago. After recovering from polio, sometimes remaining muscles take over/compensate for the unusable muscles affected by polio. Post polio happens when the muscles that took over/compensated for the unusable polio-affected muscles wear out after years of overuse. This results in a second instance of paralysis, but the same familiar horrifying effects decades later. Those affected by post polio are all older because the vaccine that prevents polio has existed for many years. If they share their experiences, their families and friends understand the value of the polio vaccine. I know how polio impacted my Mom years ago, how it has affected her life since then, and how it affects her life now. Hearing my mother’s stories left no doubt in my mind that I would protect my children from illnesses like polio with available immunizations. Appreciating the luxury of being given a choice, I realized there was only one choice to make.
Most people in our country have not seen first hand the personal horrors that enter lives when certain illnesses strike. Stories of how polio affected people in our country are fading as years pass. Polio still ravages bodies and affects lives in other places. Rotary International, and its many clubs, has a mission of preventing diseases. It states this on its website: “We are especially dedicated to ending polio in our lifetimes. Rotary members have persevered in this fight since 1979 and have now helped eradicate polio in all but three countries worldwide”. My mother and others have told their polio stories at Rotary chapter meetings to share the effects polio once had on individuals and families in our country.
Polio is just one of the immunizations we have available. I once attended a support group with a friend where those with disabled children gathered together. There, I met a woman who had measles when she was pregnant and experienced the devastating effect it had on her daughter who was 21 but had the mental capacity of a six-month-old. As she sat next to me feeding her daughter a bottle, as she had been doing for 21 years, I again vowed I would do everything in my power to protect my children from preventable diseases.
The more people who choose not to immunize their children, the greater risk there is for any one of those preventable illnesses to be contracted and spread to others. In essence, parents who do not immunize their children rely on the rest of the population to responsibly immunize their children so their unimmunized children are protected – expecting the majority of people to do what they are unwilling to do. As their numbers grow, we are all at risk of a return of one of these avoidable conditions. Because of this, immunizations are a recurring controversial topic. Should laws protect an individual’s right to make medical decisions for his/her own children?…or should laws protect the general population by requiring all citizens to be immunized?
In addition to the risk of contracting and spreading an illness, there are other things to be considered. Like the mother I met, if a grown unimmunized woman contracts an illness while pregnant, it could lead to birth defects in her children. Also to be considered is that one day unimmunized children may want to travel or join the military. Catching up on immunizations would be a roadblock or time consuming detour for that grown child to deal with.
Perhaps one day there will be an immunization to protect against MS. If so, I certainly hope all parents will ensure their children are protected against it.
PBS aired a show called “The Vaccine War”. To view it, click here or go to: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/the-vaccine-war/
To view an interesting blog post by a mother of an autistic child, click here or go to : http://carriecariello.com/2015/01/19/i-know-what-causes-autism/
It is my strong opinion that parents have an obligation to immunize their children. Do it for your children so they are protected from preventable diseases; do it for the community you live in so disease is not spread to others, because not doing so creates a risk for everyone.
There was never a question in my mind. My children were immunized. Are yours?