I did it. I finally did it. I got all my kids their flu shots last week, despite the many obstacles we encountered along the way. While it involved some anticipated anxiety, in the end, enduring humor conquered irrational fear.
For the past few years, we’ve been able to walk into a nearby clinic without an appointment, get the FluMist and within 15 minutes walk out knowing that we were doing our part to help prevent the spread of the flu.
Unfortunately, this year hasn’t been so easy. Having recently moved, I had to establish new care before a doctor would administer a flu shot for my kids. Since the earliest appointments I could make were over two months away, I spent September and most of October worried that my children would fall victim to influenza before having the chance to be vaccinated. (This actually happened the last time we moved, when my then 8-year-old daughter fell sick with the flu in September).
At first I figured I could just take the kids to the local pharmacy for their shots. But then I learned that pharmacies in the state I live in can only vaccinate children over the age of fourteen. Since four of my five kids fall within that category, I was out of luck.
But last week, our day at the doctor’s had finally come and I was relieved to know that my entire family would soon be vaccinated against the flu.
On the way to the appointment, I was chuckling inside as my seven-year old daughter tried to reassure my sixteen year old daughter who was expressing reservations about the shot. I heard my own mantra repeated in her words of comfort as she explained, “It’s just a pinch and then it’s over.” Read more…
It’s hard to deny that some people are easily influenced by anecdotal evidence. This may be why some people fall victim to the enormous amounts of misinformation that exists on anti-vaccination websites. And why stories of alleged vaccine damage are so effective at scaring parents into making decisions to not vaccinate their children.
Vaccine critics would like you to believe that there are countless cases of serious injuries and long-term health problems that result because of vaccines. In a nutshell, they want you to doubt the safety of vaccines, despite the overwhelming evidence that has been examined and published for all to see. Heck, they’ll even post a link to a YouTube video to prove it.
On occasion this has made me stop to think. If there are so many people being damaged by vaccines – as they claim there are - why is it that “in real life” where I have come to know literally thousands of people, I have never met a single person who has suffered from a serious vaccine injury? Sore arm? Yes. Serious or permanent injury? No!
- Is it just that I’ve been unusually lucky? (Naw, I’m pretty sure that luck doesn’t have much to do with it. )
- Could it be that I’ve never lived where vaccine injuries have occurred? (Not likely. I’ve lived in a dozen different places in my life and if injury happen as often as we’re led to believe, then I would have expected to hear about it somewhere along the way.)
- Is it because immunizations are not likely to come up in casual conversation? (Doubt it. As a Shot@Life champion vaccines do come up in my casual conversations quite a bit, that’s why I consider myself an advocate.)
Now I’m not suggesting that no one has ever suffered side effects from vaccines. There are certainly times when there have been verifiable evidence of side effects that range from minor to more severe. But severe side effects are extremely rare and a great deal of time and effort go into establishing vaccine safety. Unfortunately, some people do not consider this when they fall victim to the hyped up stories that suggest an abundance of vaccine injuries.
Today’s post is a continuation of Lara’s Story: Growing Up Anti-Vaccine. Despite being raised in an anti-vaccine household, Lara Lohne looked to science to determine whether she should vaccinate her own children. After much consideration, Lara weighed the risks and benefits and proceeded to vaccinate with her children with confidence that she was making the best choice for the health of her children.
As an unvaccinated child, Lara had suffered many vaccine preventable diseases first hand. Although she had survived, she recognized that there was always a risk that her children might not. Besides, she certainly didn’t want to see her own children suffer in the same ways she had. By vaccinating them, she hoped to minimize the risks of vaccine preventable diseases in her family. However, she knew that there was one thing vaccines could not prevent…or even cause.
I must admit that it was through conversations with a coworker that I began to suspect something might be wrong with my youngest son. It concerned me so much that I started looking for information online. I read some of the stories and they sounded similar to what I was experiencing with my son – with the symptoms, the regression and the age at which it all started to become apparent. He was born in 2007 and by 2009 he had already begun Early Intervention.
Oddly enough, due to financial constraints she was dealing with at the time, Lara had yet to vaccinate her son.
Perhaps that bit of fate was a good thing since I might have fallen back into the anti-vaccine sentiment if he had been vaccinated prior to his diagnosis. I hadn’t heard about the vaccine/autism link until after we suspected something. Then I recall thinking, “Wait a minute, he isn’t vaccinated so vaccines didn’t cause it in him.” It was just a few months later that Andrew Wakefield was discredited so I figured that was the end of that. I assumed common sense and science would set the record straight. But I forgot how all-encompassing the anti-vaccine feeling can be.
Lara was determined to do all she could to support her son and over the years she has become very involved in autism organizations to help promote awareness and education. However, this has required her to navigate a rather difficult road – one that requires support and understanding from the autism community, while also accepting her conviction that vaccines do not cause autism. Read more…
Lara Lohne grew up in an anti-vaccine household. Although her father was fully vaccinated, the decision for Lara and her siblings not to be vaccinated rested primarily with her mother. Several of her extended family members happened to be chiropractors, including her grandfather and two uncles, and Lara believes that they were a big influence on her mother’s position.
Lara explains that as a young child she didn’t realize that most people were, in fact, vaccinated.
“I lived an extremely sheltered life growing up, and I was essentially taught that what my parents (or my mom) believed was the only point of view that mattered. Any other view was considered as rebellion and betrayal. In my house, people who were vaccinated were contaminated and less pure than those who chose not to vaccinate. I remember when I asked my dad if he was vaccinated. He told me he was because he served in the Marine Corps and it was required for service. It was a huge disappointment to me and I had difficulty not feeling resentful toward my dad because of it. Of course I was only eight years old at the time and only had what my parents told me as the basis to form my beliefs and opinions.”
Lara remained unvaccinated throughout her childhood and recalls a time when there was a measles outbreak in school. She was in the ninth grade at the time and she didn’t want to be removed from class. She asked her mom if she might be vaccinated so she wouldn’t have to miss school.
“She had told me we’re not going to let them inject us with poison. It is only a trap, trying to force us into their way of thinking. She used to say, over and over again, “We are not sheep!” She told me that the shot would cause me to get sick, make me go crazy or retarded (her word) or even kill me. She successfully talked me out of it at the age of 14.”
Despite her mother’s insistence, two years later, Lara was surprised that her parents took her to receive her first MMR shot at the age of 16. Read more…
Does the fact that vaccines are not 100% effective mean that they have no value in preventing disease?
When we are vaccinated, we expect that the shot we receive will prevent us from acquiring certain diseases. After all, vaccinations are injections intended to stimulate the immune system so that it is able to recognize invading bacteria and viruses and produce antibodies to destroy or disable them, thereby preventing disease. While this is certainly the intent of the vaccination, it is not always the result.
The unfortunate reality is that not every person will generate a protective immune response to a particular vaccine on a given day. Chalk it up as a scientific limitation of modern-day medicine, but the truth is that vaccines are not 100% effective.
A person could produce an immune response to one vaccine, but not another. Or they could respond well to a vaccine on one day and not another. In fact, some people may never generate a protective response to a specific vaccine no matter how many times they receive it. And since we don’t always know why this happens, we can’t predict exactly when it will happen either. That is why we must accept that just because we are vaccinated doesn’t ensure that we are completely protected.
Fortunately, science does provide a way for us to test whether a person has generated an appropriate response to a vaccine by way of a blood test that is refered to as an antibody titer. The National Institute of Health defines the antibody titer and explains that it is used to determine:
- The strength of an immune response to the body’s own tissue in diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other autoimmune disorders
- Your need for a booster immunization
- Whether a recent vaccine caused a strong enough response from your immune system to protect you against the specific disease
- Whether you have, or recently had, an infection such as mononucleosis or viral hepatitis
The fact that vaccines are not 100% effective actually helps explain why the vaccinated population should remain concerned about the number of non-vaccinated people there are within a community. The number of people immune to a specific disease versus those who are not immune can directly impact the likelihood of disease transmission.
Certainly it is anticipated that most people will generate the expected immune response. And even though some people may not have immunity because they are either (1) purposely unvaccinated, (2) too young or medically unable to be vaccinated, or (3) vaccinated but unable to elicit the proper immune response, The National Institute of Health explains they may still be protected through a concept called “community immunity”. Read more…
This weekend, a colleague brought something to my attention that I’ve been thinking about all weekend. It was a tweet that read as follows:
VaxCalc: HPV (Gardisil) and Hep-B are lifestyle #vaccines; should govt mandate lifestyle choices? #freedom #vaxfax
As I was thinking about this statement and conjuring up a response, I came across Dr. Natasha Burgert’s recent blog post on KC Kids Doc. How timely! She has created an engaging video presentation that addresses the six most common questions she hears from parents regarding the hepatitis B vaccine such as:
- Why does my newborn baby need a hepatitis B vaccine?
- What is hepatitis B?
- If my prenatal labs show that I am not infected with hepatitis B, why does my baby still need to get vaccinated?
- Isn’t hepatitis B an infection spread through sex and drug use?
- How could my baby get infected with hepatitis B?
- What if I wait until my child is older to get vaccinated?
Not only does her presentation answer many questions, but it also helps to explain that hepatitis B infections are not limited to lifestyle choices. Many people don’t realize that they are infected, which consequently results in many cases being spread by casual contact.
The fact is that approximately 24,000 women with hepatitis B infections give birth in the U.S each year and many do not even know they are infected. Sadly, infants infected at birth have a greater than 90% chance of suffering a chronic infections such as liver cancer, cirrhosis and liver failure when they become adults.
When it comes to the hepatitis B vaccine, it appears that one of the biggest parental concerns is the timing of the vaccine. Since this is the first recommended immunization, parents are sometimes surprised that it’s suggested before their child even leaves the hospital. By catching them off guard, some parents feel a bit unprepared to make such an important decision. This can even result in a parent feeling hesitant about the recommendation and questioning the need for the vaccine at such a young age. Perhaps that is why one of the most popular posts on Shot of Prevention has been a piece entitled Why Infants Should Receive the Hep B Vaccine At Birth.
However, there is one thing that is extremely important to note about the hepatitis B vaccine; it’s not just preventative, but it’s also therapeutic. See, even when tested prior to delivery, some mothers are not properly identified as being infected with hepatitis B. But fortunately, if a child who is infected at birth receives the vaccination shortly after, their infection status can actually be altered so that they are no longer at risk of chronic infection. I find this to be a fascinating benefit of this particular vaccine which only helps to justify the importance of the birth dose.
Most importantly, we must realize that parents and their doctors need to be having discussions regarding the recommended childhood immunization schedule long before a mother goes into labor. Without a proper conversation regarding the risks of disease and the benefits of vaccines, it’s simply unrealistic to expect parents to make informed decisions, especially at a time when parents are often overwhelmed, exhausted, and struggling to adjust to the birth of their new baby.
There are lots of resources that parents can use to help educate themselves on the importance of the hepatitis B vaccine such as the following:
Perhaps with a bit of research, parents will have a better understanding of the fact that while lifestyle choices may increase a person’s risk of contracting hepatitis B as an adult, there are still ways in which infants and children can contract it without even knowing. A simple and safe vaccine, that is recommended for all children at birth, can help prevent people from suffering with chronic disease as adults. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why the vaccine in recommended for all.