Jun 15, 2011
Benjamin may look like your typical two-year old. And in many ways he is. He likes to play outside, go to the water park on a hot summer day and make new friends.
But when Benjamin gets sick, he struggles a bit more than most other children. That’s because Benjamin was born with a heart defect – a defect that, surprisingly, wasn’t identified until he was 4 months old. See Benjamin only has a two heart chamber, instead of four, so his body has to work harder than most other children his age.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at him. He looks like an average kid – full of energy and curiosity.
But Benjamin’s mother Erika, knows just how fragile his health can be. In addition to the three different heart surgeries he’s already had, Ben was also hospitalized for a respiratory infection last year. What most kids could probably kick in a few days, had Ben laid up in the hospital for a week, with his concerned mother by his side.
His doctors agree that, because of his heart condition, it is imperative that Benjamin be immunized against vaccine preventable diseases that could be extremely detrimental to his health.
“I live with Benjamin’s health risks every day,” Erika explains, “But even if my child where otherwise healthy, I would still vaccinate him. I would never want to see him suffer from a disease that a vaccine could have prevented.”
But the reality is that even immunizations have their limitations, and there is no way to ensure that Ben is completely protected.
While vaccines are designed to generate an immune response that will protect the vaccinated individual during future exposures to the disease, each person’s immune system is different. In some cases, a person may not generate an effective response, leaving them less than completely protected. There are also certain people who, due to health conditions or allergic reactions, can’t be fully immunized. Then there is a small percentage of the population who remain unvaccinated for a variety of reasons such as inaccessibility to medical care, cost barriers, lack of concern about the threat of disease, fear of vaccine side effects, concerns about safety, or various personal or religious objections.
The combination of all these factors can adversely impact the number of people immunized and the herd immunity that Benjamin relies on. It is suggested that a vaccinated person who contracts a disease will most likely experience symptoms that are less severe than if they hadn’t been vaccinated. Sadly, for Benjamin, that may not be enough. For Benjamin, a mild case could still be very dangerous, which is why Erika remains vigilant in trying to protect him from illness.
“Vaccines are not just for keeping my baby safe,” says Erika, “but for protecting everyone around him. Before I had Benjamin, I never thought much about that. But now I make it a point to find out and talk to other parents about vaccines.”
Recently, when Erika was looking to enroll Benjamin in a part-time summer school, she inquired about the immunizations requirements, as well as the sick child policy, at the different schools she was considering. She feels it’s important that she remain informed about the vaccination status of his classmates; not to insist that others should be vaccinated, but to enable her to make an informed decision regarding the risks she is willing to take with her own child.
Fortunately, Erika does not have any close friends or family members who have chosen not to vaccinate. However, she realizes that vaccine refusers exist in her community, as they probably do in most other communities. Her participation in community forums, like our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, has made her realize that vaccine preventable diseases are currently being identified in various parts of the country, and she worries that some day she may be seeing them in her own area. Of course, she gets particularly frustrated when she hears parents claiming they would rather nurse their child back to health from a disease than to vaccinate them, or arguing that breastfeeding and eating organic will protect kids from such contagious diseases as measles.
In response to these remarks from other parents, Erika explains, “Sometimes it’s frustrating. They don’t seem to understand that by choosing not to vaccinate, their child could get really sick. Not to mention that they are posing a risk to everyone around them.”
People often make the statement that “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well, now that we have met Benjamin, perhaps people will realize that it also take a village to protect a child.
Certainly, all our children deserve protection. But in cases like Benjamin’s, that protection comes from more than just his family and his health care providers. He needs us as well.
If you know of other children who rely on the vaccination of the village, please feel free to share their stories in the comments below. Let’s show Erika and Benjamin that we understand there concerns and that they are not alone in advocating for good public health for all.
This guest post was written by Alethea Mshar out of concern for her son Ben. A version of this post originally appeared on her blog Ben’s Writing, Running Mom. Like all parents, my child’s health...
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