Moms Who Vaccinate, And Those Who Wish They Had
Apr 29, 2011

Often, vaccine advocates who focus on families who have suffered from vaccine preventable diseases are accused of fear mongering.  Strangely enough, fear is often what motivates people to refuse vaccines.  Fear of what most parents just don’t understand; the ingredients and the side-effects.
But what about the diseases?
One of the reasons we must actively promote vaccines is that most parents do not fear the actual diseases .  Many people don’t even realize that children can still contract these diseases.  Others feel that the diseases are not serious enough to try to avoid.   That is why we must continue to share the stories of children who have suffered or died from vaccine preventable diseases.  Not to generate fear, but rather to educate others about these diseases, illicit compassion for those who needlessly suffer and battle complacency about the risks of disease and the benefits of immunization.  This information is intended to combat the fear, not to create it.
While some may believe fear to be an effective motivator, it is not the only way to generate a response.  Earlier this week in Minnesota, where public health is threatened by a stagnant immunization rate and a current measles outbreak, the MN Department of Public Health held a press conference to highlight National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) and help educate parents.  A significant part of the event was devoted to personal parent testimony.  

As Dr. Marilyn Peitso, chief of pediatrics at CentraCare Clinic and president of the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics explains, “Parents trust other parents when it comes to health information; people naturally trust their peers, so we want parents to hear from other parents.”

Perhaps this is why a group of moms from MN, called Moms Who Vax, have started their own blog and vaccine advocacy efforts.  They wish to promote social responsiblity, ensure public health and protect children.

Dr. Thomas Schrup, pediatrician and associate medical director of CentraCare Clinic added, “We also live in an era where there is a tremendous amount of information available and much of it is inaccurate. The reality is everything we do in life has some risk. Vaccines have risks. But what we have to do is compare them to the risk of the disease, itself.”

The MN event included both parents who have vaccinated their children, as well as one who had not.
Shannon Peterson, whose unvaccinated daughter died in 2001 from a vaccine-preventable disease, just shy of her sixth birthday, explained that “A life-changing event — one involving your children — will make any parent regret what they could’ve done.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Shannon in person last year when she spoke in honor of World Pneumonia Day.  At the time we met, she had traveled half way across the country to share her story.  A story that, while painful, she has told countless times.  A story that she will undoubtedly tell again and again, just like she did this week in MN.  But what I find most surprising about her story is often not part of her public comments.  Despite her initial intent to vaccinate her daughter, Shannon Peterson’s pediatrician was actually the one who suggested that she forego vaccination.  When I first learned of this in a private conversation with Shannon, I was shocked.  How could she not be angry, I wondered?  Why had she not chosen to share that part of the story, I questioned?
Now, let me acknowledge the fact that just because someone is not vaccinated doesn’t automatically ensure that they will contract a vaccine preventable disease.  Hardly the case.  The majority of unvaccinated people are fortunate enough, (due in large part to the herd immunity that is provided them by the rest of the vaccinated population), never to experience what the Peterson family did.  However, in Shannon’s case, it is heartbreaking to know that a vaccine could have prevented her child’s death.
Through all of this, Shannon rarely mentions the conversation she had with her pediatrician.  In fact, she admits that her doctor was young and not very experienced.  Shannon courageously accepts complete responsibility for the fact that she did not vaccinate her daughter.  Today, she chooses not to focus on anger or fear. Instead,  she is committed to sharing her story in order to spare others the grief she has endured.  She is not bitter.  She is not judgemental.  She only wants to protect others.
Personally, I was happy to see that she was there in MN to share her daughter’s story…again.  I’m sure not a day goes by that she doesn’t wish she could change the past, but for Shannon and other parents who have lost their children, the hope is in the future.   This is not about fear.  This is about trying to reduce the fear by better protecting the ones we love through vaccination. 

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