Vaccination – Ouch

So, here is my contribution to the Great Vaccination Debate. Although I’m not going to take a stand, and I’m not going to try to convince you of anything, so in the “debate” format, this is a dubious addition. What I am going to do is tell you a story.

Here is the story of how we finally got to the Pointy Doctor. That’s what my son calls her. It was a much-delayed trip; the older children had their vaccines years ago, but the youngest is nearly 4. There were all kinds of reasons for this delay on the vaccines, mostly to do with not having a doctor, but partly to do with H1N1 vaccinations hijacking public health so they refused to do any well baby visits for months and months, and eventually most of a year. But part of it had to do with fears – mine.

I have seen the word “arrogant” batted around fairly freely in reference to people who choose not to vaccinate. I can understand how it looks that way to someone outside my head. The medical community knows best, right? The doctors and the CDC and WHO all say, “Vaccinate early, vaccinate lots. The risks are small. You have no reason (or right) to refuse.”

But sitting in the office with a perfectly healthy child on my lap, I am handed a piece of paper to sign that says (in the fine print) that I may be back in the hospital in two days with a child with encephalitis and brain damage, and it’s completely unpredictable, but the risk is very low, and it’s a risk that they are willing to take. And I know that the risk of ‘catching’ measles in the next two days is nearly zero, and the risks of complications are low, and I’m measuring vanishingly small risks against one another, and I have a perfectly healthy child in my lap, and if I take this action and something happens it will be my fault. That’s what the piece of paper says. If I consent, I am accepting this risk and the responsibility for it. If this vaccine kills my child (and it might), it Will. Be. My. Fault.

And I chicken out. I defer. I go home and think about it a little more. And I know the lifetime risk of the infection exceeds the lifetime risk of the shot, and I know that the autism connection wasn’t well-shown (and might actually be fraudulent.) And I know that we are so lucky that most of us don’t even have a conception of how sick children can really get because we’ve never had to watch our babies through weeks and months of recovery from scarlet fever or polio, and I know that (almost certainly) nothing will happen but irritability and a mild fever that can be controlled with ibuprofen and acetaminophen. And I know all those things and I steel myself, and I go back to the Pointy Doctor (the one physician in town who does vaccines for children who don’t have a doctor of their own.) And it is over in an instant, these tiny needles putting the tiny quantity of hamstrung and killed virus into my baby’s legs, and he whimpers, and scowls, and snarls, “I said I didn’t want to go to the Pointy Doctor.” (It is his second trip.) And I feel relief of sorts. The action is taken, the outcome is beyond my control. Even if (whisper) something happens (end whisper), I have done the best I can to make a good decision. A scientific decision. A rational decision. The best decision I can make under the circumstances.

But right now, I find myself in that two week period after the MMR, where probably nothing will happen. I accepted that risk. But the piece of paper haunts me… what if my child is the one that must be sacrificed to keep the others safe? This does not feel like arrogance. It feels like fear.

7 responses to “Vaccination – Ouch”

  1. I am pro-vaccine and it has little to do with WHO or MDs being all that bright or even the “right or reason” thing.

    It comes down to my basic belief that risk management is part of my job as a parent.

    Yes, there’s a risk of something very bad happening. It is a small risk. The risk of something moderately bad happening increases with every kid that isn’t vaccinated. And some of the vaccines are for things that do moderately bad things(where moderate is severe scarring, damage to the way their bodies develop, etc – not life threatening, but pretty damned emotionally threatening). Higher risk level for a moderately bad vs lower risk for a very bad. Risk management – that’s all this is ever about.

    There is a larger risk of something very bad happening letting him out the door in the morning. And that will be my decision too – I’m the one who said “Sure – you can play in the park”

    It’s perfectly reasonable to be afraid. Letting your fear make your choices for you isn’t reasonable.

    Then again, I suspect I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already konw.

    • That’s exactly what it all came down to, but just FINDING honest numerical assessments of the risks was almost impossible. Generally a 1/10,000 risk is portrayed as Very Low if it is on the side people are arguing for, but Non-Zero if it is on the other side. Getting somebody to tell me Exactly What I am Risking without trying to bias my decision is just about… well. Impossible.

      Regarding fear and risk management: Each 2-day-delay is rational, but the overall risk of the disease is cumulative, whereas the risk of the vaccination stays the same. Anyway, you see where my decision wound up. Now, of course, it’s flu season.

      Whee! Won’t that be fun.

      • So stop looking at the rest of the argument – just find the numbers and make the assessment yourself. Absolutely, those providing the numbers will have conclusions they want you to come to. Review lots of material and then come to your own – you know how the gig works.

        And yah – each two day delay is rational, and you’re enough of a grown up to know when someone’s stalling. Pause for thought & review is one thing. Stalling is another.

        And as I understand it, if he just got the shot, it’s value towards the flu season in the short term is pretty damned small.

        But then again, influenza has a pretty high risk level for wee ones as well, so.

        I point out – this is my $0.02. You know me well enough that I expect you to make your own decisions and to be able to tell me “thanks for your opinion, now feck off, I’m doing my own thing” when you want to.

        Love you.

  2. We’re victims of our own success. We’ve been efficient enough at vaccinations that modern man hasn’t experienced, even second hand, losing a child to one of these diseases. We’ve collectively forgotten what they were like.

    The fears we’re left with are the ones you describe – fear that your kid will be damaged by the vaccine. We have no fear of the original diseases anymore.

    If it helps at all: “The incidence of encephalitis or encephalopathy after measles vaccination of healthy children is lower than the observed incidence of encephalitis of unknown etiology.” (CDC website).

  3. Perhaps I am “lucky”.

    I grew up with a father left partially deaf thanks to a childhood case of mumps, and a friend of the family who spent her entire life disabled due to a childhood case of polio.

    The former outcome is rare (much more rare than, say, testical atrophy), and the latter typical. Both are much more likely than any serious side effect from the respective vaccines.

    The risks associated with vaccination are so small. But today’s global mobility (to say nothing of tomorrow’s) and this whole anti-vaccination movement means that our children stand a far better chance than you or I of being exposed to these diseases (which are not yet eradicated globally).

    The doctors have to inform you of the potential side-effects of immunization. Those who preach the other side never tell you the risks.

    • Steve wrote: “Those who preach the other side never tell you the risks.”

      Thanks – that particular issue hadn’t percolated up to the top of my brain, at least not in such a succinct fashion. I’ll be using it in the future 🙂