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Over the last decade, the issue of vaccinations has developed into a postmodern debate in which we can express our personal opinion, but should not presume to suggest others should 'come over to our side.' The debate has flourished over social media, where parents can peruse opinion posts that reaffirm their values and then share those opinions with friends in their like-minded community. This is, after all, exactly what I am doing in this article. However, there are some strong arguments for vaccination that I think still have not been fully developed in the current online debate, which, arguably, is where most parents get their ‘credible’ information. Here are 5 reasons I vaccinate my children.
1. I don’t want my kid to get a debilitating, life-threatening, preventable disease. Obvious? Perhaps, yes. In our culture we are not exposed to many debilitating, life-threatening, preventable diseases, so we take for granted our child will not contract them. Or, if our child should succumb, the disease may not in actuality debilitate or kill our child. It was only a few decades ago that all parents had personal experience with the measles or polio. They either had it as a child, their parents had it, or a family or friend contracted it. I only had to talk to my mother-in-law to find someone with first-hand measles experience.
“I was about five. The big impression in my memory is the solemnity. The room was very dark, drapes drawn. They worried about blindness.” The doctor visited the house so she could remain isolation, and not expose family members or people at the hospital to the highly contagious, non-treatable disease. “I do remember feeling sick and not moving. I know when it came to vaccines for my kids, I was all for it for measles.” There are many debilitating, life-altering and life-threatening diseases. Many are not preventable. I don’t take for granted that some are.
2. I trust pilots. You may have heard this analogy before, however it’s very appropriate in this context. When we fly in planes, we trust the pilots are qualified, follow the rules, and have our best interest in mind. We trust the mechanics are well-trained and do the job correctly. We trust the people in the government have instituted relevant and proper regulations regarding flight. On the road, I trust other drivers - that they are following the rules, including not allowing themselves to drive distracted by their phones. I trust the producers of ingestibles. Everyday I eat my cereal peacefully, knowing, believing, they put no harmful chemicals in my organic crunchies. I trust the marketers of essential oils, that their non-government regulated product contains nothing that will cause me harm when I use it as instructed.
There are millions of individuals who I will never meet, but to whom I entrust my family’s safety every day. The inventors, testers, creators and distributors of vaccines are some of those people.
3. I think traveling with children is important. Whether our trips consist of a cross-country roadtrip, an adventure to visit family in Africa or a visit to Disneyland, we will unwittingly be exposed to disease. Vaccinations are not required for a cross-country roadtrip, but I have been asked to show my yellow card as proof of vaccination before entering some countries. Not being vaccinated could be a factor that limits my child’s ability to take in the glories of Victoria Falls along the Zimbabwe/Zambia border, play a pick-up soccer game on a field in Bangladesh or sit on the dirt floor of a church in Brazil during a lively worship service. Vaccines safely facilitate these life experiences.
On the other hand, you may not travel with your children, but millions of parents around the world do. Some of those parents, for various reasons, have unvaccinated children. According to the International Trade Administration, nearly two million Germans visit the United States every year. Earlier this year Berlin, Germany experienced a serious outbreak of measles that started with a child that arrived in-country from Bosnia. Any number of Germans exposed to measles can travel to the United States, just as Americans exposed at Disneyland can travel to Germany. We welcome Germans just as the Germans warmly welcome Americans. Vaccination makes this travel possible without the fear of contracting or spreading disease.
4. I am a fan of pithy slogans. In this case, no pain, no gain. Not all pain is bad pain. There are few things in the life of a young child that cause pain, yet lead to positive gain. Vaccines are one of them. (Teething and losing baby teeth also fall in that category). A few months ago I took my children to the hospital to receive yellow fever and typhoid immunizations in preparation for a trip to Africa. Kids can smell shots a mile away. No amount of reasoning and attempts at educating her to the benefits of vaccines could convince my three-year-old it would be worth it. “I’m going to cry and scream and kick,” she confided. I sympathized. “It will hurt, but not as bad as when you slammed your finger in the door or when that hot light bulb from the lamp fell on your leg.” She softened a little. “It’s okay if you cry, but please don’t kick. It will hurt me and I will have to hold you down.”
My five-year-old already knows the drill when I ask her why we get shots: “So we don’t die!” I have to rephrase her answer. “Well, we all die. But hopefully with this shot you won’t get really sick or die from that particular disease.” The shots hurt and I hate the look of betrayal on my one-year-old’s face when I allow the nurse to push a needle into his thigh. But I know this pain is something that leads to greater rewards than a pink bandaid and lollipop.
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5. I love my neighbor. But I don’t love my neighbor more than I love my children. I vaccinate mainly for the reasons already listed (well, primarily #1). However, I also vaccinate myself and my children to contribute to herd immunity, because some children cannot be vaccinated.
Some parents cannot vaccinate their child because the child already suffers from something life-threatening that has compromised the immune system. The recent case of a 6-year-old with leukemia made news when his parents requested that unvaccinated children be barred from entering his school. That parent and child are my neighbor – along with the family from church, my child’s classmate, the mom with her baby at library storytime, the dad pushing the shopping cart at the grocery store with his toddler – all with immunosuppressant conditions. These parents love their children as much as I love my own. I might not be able to donate marrow, but I can love them by helping to stop the spread of a disease that could certainly end their child’s life.
Heidi Carlson was born near the front range of the Rockies, but grew up in Portugal, Mozambique, Kenya and a few other places here and there. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy with a Masters in African Security Affairs, Heidi served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force for five years, including a tour of duty in Iraq. With a lifestyle that includes moving every 18-36 months, she enjoys making home and putting down roots wherever the family goes. She is currently exploring Eastern Europe with her husband and three children, ages five and under. She regularly writes at www.willtravelwithkids.