Monday, November 28, 2011

Days of Thanks #5

I am grateful for modern medicine. Jackson got his third round of shots today and the first half of his flu shot. I feel like I have almost been holding my breath for these first six months, just waiting for him to get these shots so that I could feel like he is at least somewhat protected from all the bugs out there that might get him. I have avoided pretty much any and every event that included being indoors with a bunch of kids (baby yoga, birthday parties, kids’ concerts, etc.) until we got past these 6-month shots.

I don’t write about this very often here, because it is not the purpose of my blog to soapbox about anything (although sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t make it my life’s work to promote childhood vaccination, which is pretty much the only thing that might prevent other children from dying the way Hudson did), and I won’t say much here. Hudson was fully vaccinated completely on schedule. She was vaccinated against the most common cause of meningitis, which is the HIB bacteria—the introduction of the HIB vaccine preceded a dramatic drop in the incidence of meningitis in children in the nineties. And she was vaccinated against the most prevalent strains of strep pneumo, the type of bacteria that ultimately claimed her life. Strep pnuemo bacteria are among the most common in the world—most of us are walking around with some strain of it in our respiratory system right now. Unfortunately (tragically, horrifically, terrifyingly, bang-my-head-against-the-wall-and-shake-my-fists-why?!), there are about 90 strains of strep pneumo floating around, and at the time, only 7 were covered in the Prevnar vaccine Hudson received. Another 6 were added in the months just preceding her death.

Opponents of vaccinations might look at what happened to Hudson and argue that vaccines don’t work. But vaccines DO work. They work, but they are imperfect. Just as we can’t create a bubble for our children to walk around in, neither can we vaccinate them against everything. All I can think about is how much MORE exposed to these life-threatening bacteria Hudson would have been without immunizations.

All I can ever do is offer this mother’s perspective in the debate about vaccines. Any informed choice about vaccines must include the information that children CAN AND DO DIE from these childhood illnesses that we vaccinate against. As parents, I think it is so difficult for us to believe that something as simple and intangible as a bacterium or a virus could claim our child’s life—we think so much more about cancer and cars and choking. And yes, what happened to Hudson is exceedingly rare—of course it is. But so are any serious adverse reactions to vaccinations. I remember another mother who once opened up the comments on her blog for people to debate about vaccines. One mother whose child had autism said this: “The parents yelling the loudest and calling personal choice selfish, are (mostly) the ones whose children do not have autism. For those of you who would ‘take autism over childhood diseases any day,’ yeah, right.” I responded in a way completely uncharacteristic for me, because it was so melodramatic. I said, “For the commenters above who seem to doubt this sentiment, yes, I would much rather have my child on the autism spectrum than have her ashes sitting in the next room.”*

Children can and do die from childhood diseases. They are not routine or always mild. There is a reason we vaccinate against them—because they can kill children (and in most cases, WERE killing children in large numbers before the vaccinations were introduced).

I did not write this to start a debate about vaccinations. I can’t control the comments here (well, I can, but I choose not to), so I can’t stop readers from starting such a debate, but I hope that can be avoided. I just wanted to express (and explain) my gratitude today for the fact that although I can’t protect Jackson against all the terrible things in the world that might take him from me, I can protect him from some of them. I know I will be breathing just a little easier in a few weeks when his immunity from today’s shots kicks in. For me, there is no question but that the benefits outweigh the risks.

*I want to stress here that in no way do I believe that there is ANY link whatsoever between vaccinations and autism, nor have I ever. 


  1. Well said, Mandy. As always.

  2. Mandy, As a pediatrician I have met children who have died like Hudson from vaccine preventable illnesses. The reason I believe in vaccination so strongly is because they are the best thing we have to prevent others the heartbreak of their children dying. Thank you for writing this. I wish that Hudson were here with you. I am glad that Jackson is all up to date on his immunizations now.

  3. This post is so timely, Mandy. Tonight's NBC news broadcast included a story about the rising number of parents electing not to vaccinate their children. That's a troubling thought. Thank you for sharing your perspective with such eloquence, grace, and sensitivity. Tonight I am grateful for modern medicine, too.

  4. I worked for 8 years for my state public health department (as a lab supervisor for diagnostic virology) and have taught a course on vaccine development as well as medical virology. What is interesting to me is that I teach students who hail from countries where many vaccine preventable illnesses still run rampant, and they express their amazement at those who choose not to vaccinate.

    The data in that autism/measles vaccine link has been retracted. End of story on that one.


  5. Perfectly said. I follow your blog. Please know that Hudson is thought of often and her lessons thru you are so important. I have 2 daughters, and am acutely aware of how lucky I am. I think of you and your family, and wish you the best. Much admiration, Joanne

  6. Thank you for writing this. It scares me how many people choose to not vaccinate their children in this country. I still think of Hudson all of the time. Congratulations on your new job in NC! Super exciting! NC feels like home to me too. Much love,

  7. I couldn't agree with you more Mandy, and I admire your ability to make the case for vaccines so eloquently. Educating people about the risks of not vaccinating kids is one way of honoring your Hudson's memory, and that is One Good Thing.

  8. So well put. I am a part of a parenting forum, some of whom are not vaccinating their children, and I wish I could explain to them as well as you have expressed here the risks of NOT vaccinating. While I will absolutely NOT post a link to this blog for fear of opening you up to comments that are not helpful and inappropriate in this space, I will try to channel your words and Hudson's spirit over there. If that leads to even one more child being vaccinated I will consider that One Good Thing.
    Erin in Durham

  9. Protecting your child and potentially protecting countless others at the same time? Definitely ONE GOOD THING.
    Penguin love to you,

  10. I work in a state immunization program, helping to make sure that vaccines are available, affordable, and appropriately given to kids throughout my state. I also spend a lot of time educating doctors, nurses, and parents about the importance of vaccination. Although I don't speak of her directly, I use Hudson's story as an example in my work when I explain that vaccine-preventable diseases do take the lives of previously healthy kids, and that even when vaccination is not enough (as in Hudson's case), at least it's a parent's way of knowing that a critical step of prevention was taken. Vaccines save millions of lives. Thank you for taking this stand and spreading this word.

  11. Preach on, sister!
    Sending much love to you, Ed, Hudson, and Jackson, and also thankfulness for all of you.

  12. Thank you for this post, Mandy. I recently had a conversation with another mom on my street during which we were both worrying about how many parents we know who are not vaccinating their children. It is mind-boggling. To that standard list of questions you ask before sending your child to a home ("do you have animals/guns/adequate childproofing measures in your home?") my friend and I now both agreed that we really need to start asking: "and do you vaccinate your children?" Thank you for your eloquence on this.