Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Immunization woes

You know how we all (well, almost all - more on that later) get our kids immunized against diseases that we've never encountered in our lifetimes, or that we've never even heard of? Well, one of those diseases is back, in Tucson at least. There's a measles outbreak going on right now here. There have been 20 cases so far and all of a sudden everyone is in an immunization frenzy. The county has set up free immunization clinics and doctors' offices are swamped with kids getting their first shots or follow-up boosters, ahead of schedule. Since measles is so highly contagious, you can't take your child anywhere without worrying. It's really quite distressing.

I called Miriam's doctor this morning and was told that they were booked for the nurse-only immunization visits until sometime next week. In the meantime, the nurse suggested, I could take her to the free county immunization clinic if I didn't want to wait (yikes!).

All of this got me thinking about a very touchy subject - immunizing our kids. It's something that comes up every once in a while when talking to other parents, and until now, it has been largely a theoretical debate. Lots of "well, if there was an outbreak..." and "these diseases just aren't around anymore," etc. I told myself that I didn't really care what other people did with their kids, but that I would immunize my own, always.

Now that the facts on the ground tell a different story, I have to admit that my opinion has changed. Because somebody else not immunizing their kids is no longer their personal decision. It affects all of us. If you look at it closely, it's a bizarrely unfair situation: if you don't immunize your children, you can rest easy knowing that most of the rest of us do and will therefore most likely keep your child out of the way of an outbreak by preventing it from happening in the first place. On the other hand, if there is an outbreak, your child will be the means of transmitting it and putting the rest of us in danger.

Those of us who immunize our children bear both the risks (both supposed and real) of the actual immunizing shot, as well as the risk of them contracting the disease anyway between boosters (or whatever) because of someone who is not immunized.

I know that people who don't immunize their children generally have their (hopefully) well thought-out reasons. But in a situation like this one, isn't it time to re-evaluate? We're not dealing with hypothetical, long-eradicated diseases anymore.

Do you immunize your children? Why or why not? If there was an outbreak of an immunizeable disease in your community, would that change your opinion either way?


Nattie said...

Yes to immunizations. The only argument I've heard for NOT doing so are parents who are afraid that getting them will pump their children full of mercury and give them autism, which is unfounded. Another reason is that people don't like being told what to do for their children. Boo.

Jennifer said...

I am for immunizations for exactly the reasons you've stated. The benefits totally outweigh whatever supposed disadvantages there are (ditto to Nattie). Well, except for having to watch your baby get poked with a needle...that's no fun...but neither is getting the measles :)

Aimee & Fam said...

I have yet to immunize my 2 month-old yet, but its because I am doing my "well-thought-out" research. I am not against boosters, and it is because of the reasons you stated, however, I don't think all vaccines are necessary until later in life, such as HepB. The link between vaccines and neurological disorders IS closely linked, but there is a simple (but spendy) test that lets you know if your child is at risk. I want to know as much as I can about what I am putting into my child's body.

Anonymous said...

I may draw some ire here, but I believe that completely rejecting immunizations is ignorant, foolish, and selfish. If you've ever held a child dying of whooping cough (I have), listened to a mother describe the horrid death of her child from diphtheria (I have), seen a child suffer devastating side-effects of measles (I have), assisted a friend suffering from painful post-polio syndrome in her older years (I have), or lost a friend whose polio-withered arms couldn’t get him out of the danger which took his life, you would be convinced the benefit of immunization vastly outweighs the unproven danger.

For 35 years I have been engaged in historical research and it’s rather distressing to see page after page of death records listing children who have died of diseases we can now prevent. Many of today’s parents who refuse all immunizations for their children are ignorant of history. Do we really want to go back to the not-so-distant past when it was common for the majority of American families to have lost at least one child to disease? The reason that doesn’t happen anymore is because of the availability of immunizations (which are most effective when universal compliancy is achieved). In countries where they’re not readily available, preventable diseases kill thousands of children.

A well-informed parent is one who spends time investigating not the sensationalist internet articles that claim government or pharmaceutical company conspiracies, but the carefully written and researched articles that educate readers on historical patterns and on the appalling effects of preventable diseases.


Bridget said...

Aimee, since you're the odd woman out so far: what if your son was, say, 2 or 3, and there was a measles epidemic going on where you lived. Would you immunize then? At two months, he can't be that far behind on immunizations (yet, or if at all, if I recall correctly). I'm wondering if you have an opinion about the future.

Here's another question, and Sarah, I'm very loosely quoting you. If we agree that immunizations are meant to protect the many at the potential cost of the few (those few children who may have negative reactions of whatever kind) - does that make it not worth it? Isn't that the point of programs like these - some may suffer but it will be for the greater good? I know it must be hard to consider objectively when it's YOUR child we're talking about, but the question remains the same.

Jeanerbee said...

This IS a tough question. Without going into all my opinions on vaxes, my own sister suffered a horrific reaction to the MMR shot. She ended up with a serious seizure disorder that lasted for a year. I have not made up my mind yet as to whether to get this one for my son. So when the "few" happens in your family, you think twice about things. We have made up our own immunization schedule anyway (I'm not against vaxes, but I don't agree with the standard schedule) but this is one I haven't decided on yet because of our family experience. Now in the case of an epidemic, then maybe I'd go for it. Then again, measles are generally a mild disease, and the potential but rare negative reactions to measles (which I suppose would increase in occurence if there was an epidemic) are also potential side effects of the immunization (known side effects - not hype I read on some website).

Sarah Rose Evans said...

Demitri's health and safety is my foremost concern; he is a higher priority than the safety of the masses. Our plan is to take each immunization on a case-by-case basis, and only getting the ones that offer the greatest benefits, and minimizing the risks. So far we've gotten the DTaP and Hib, since whooping cough is on teh rise in Portland and adults can be symptom-free carriers of Hib, which can be fatal to children. We're postponing chicken pox and HepB until Demitri is much older, and we won't do polio unless we plan on traveling to India. (It would be super cool, but isn't in the cards at the moment.) From what I've heard and read, MMR has higher risks and fewer benefits that other shots, so we're passing on that one. Of course, the risks and benefits change in an epidemic, since the risk of the disease would increase. I'm not sure what I'd do if measles became a huge risk here in Portland.

Aimee & Fam said...

Hey Bridget,
I agree with Sarah, and plan on taking vaccines on a case-by-case basis and also going by our own schedule, and not using the "supercombo vaccines." Our pediatrician is great and more than willing to work with us, even helping us get single poke vaccines of those that they don't offer. In regards to vaccines, however, we might not have a choice, we travel overseas a lot, and protecting our kid(s) from diseases that are more prevalent is going to be a huge priority. Its just a bit nerve-wracking. As parents we try to do the best for our kids, and it would be a hard pill to swallow if a vaccine caused an adverse reaction. So, to answer your question if there was an epidemic, Jameson would most likely already be vaccinated. :)

Hareega said...

I have seen of those kids who got measles at the UMC, we had to place a few other children with chronic illnesses in respiratory isolation too because they were exposed to the same kid. Other than human loss (which fortunately has not occured in this recent outbreak), the economical cost is huge.
It's only lawyrers and journalists who have created all these concerns about links between the measles vaccine and autism. There have been more than one study sepcially conducted to test for this coorelation and they consistently failed to show any link between immunization and autsim.
When an epidemic of smallpox broke in Yuogoslavia in 1972 the military forced people into gettin immunized and had checkpoints placed in different parts of the country to check if people have got immunized or not. It's the smallpox vaccine that got this horrible infection to be completely eradicated from the world 30 years ago.

If people want to believe journalists more than doctors, they're free to do so, but once their child gets mumps or measles they should take him to a journalist for medical care.

Hareega said...

if there's an epidemic, it can be too late to vaccinate your child. It takes quite a long time for the body to have a immune response to the vaccine, and sometimes more than one dose is necessary to generate an immune resposne.

Liz Johnson said...

I vaccinate... for all the reasons you listed, Bridget... including those in your comments.

Anonymous said...

If all of you are so researched, you'd know in 1979, when Japan banned immunizations before the age of two, SIDS virtually disappeared as did infantile convulsions. They also recorded the lowest infant mortality rate in the world. In 1988, when vaccines dropped by 50% in Australia, SIDS was reduced by the exact same percentage. Sweden also has a very low infant mortality rate where vaccines are never administered to infants. The United States, ranks 20th in infant mortality despite our advanced health care and living conditions. According to the NVIC, there are more than 12,000 official reports of vaccine related injuries every year. They also admit that only about 10% of doctors file such reports. That means that there could be as many as 120,000 cases each year. The government is well aware of the risks and has even set up a fund in 1986 to compensate victims of immunizations. As of August 1997, over $800 million had been paid out from this fund. Furthermore, most of these diseases were on their way out before vaccines, you don't see scarlet fever, bubonic plague, or cholera anymore, not due to vaccines. And small-pox and polio disappeared at about the same time from countries where the vaccines weren't administered as they did from the countries where they were. Polio cases declined 47% in the U.S. and 55% in England BEFORE the vaccine was introduced. Almost all polio cases in the US in recent years have been caused by the vaccines themselves. And when these "outbreaks" happen, just as many vaccinated children as unvaccinated children become infected. While I'm not saying vaccines are bad, I just think mothers should research the things they do to their children. In response to Nattie, most mothers don't act like adolescent children that want to rebel against their parents when it comes to their children, most will do anything to protect their children. I might add, doctors get bonuses from drug companies the higher the percentage of vaccinated patients.

American Muslima Writer said...

Well I WAS anti-vax. I really was. Then my husband struck down by Malria and I realized quite suddenly and franky that we are not safe from any disease at all here in UAE. Sure maybe in USA you have less immigrants total from plauge infected coutries and stricter entry laws but here in UAE they WANT tourists badly and are willing to relax things to get epople in and thus when you think your safe you're NOT. So I quickly took my 1.4 year old for his second vaccine (the first at birth was manditory). He was a brave lad until he got chicken pox the next day (grrr). So now I've become pro-vax but only in case by case issue AND not by the schedule they offer. My son was a screamer for even a diaper change much less stabbing needles filled with painful doom into him...So I waited. I feel safer giving it to him now he's a strong little boy not a mewling babe.
VAX: Always controversy and always the right to choose.


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