Congratulations on Your Super Healthy Kid

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Detail from “Vaccines Work: Here are the Facts” by Maki Naro

I am not a scientist.

I say that to get it out of the way and let you know up front what sort of blog is this is going to be. There are plenty of articles and blogs out there that provide ample research and reasoning in support of vaccinations. The comic I’ve excerpted to the left is a great primer and is fun to read to boot. It gives a basic rundown of the objections raised by the anti-vaccination crowd and answers them in the best format for communicating ideas man has yet created (yeah, that’s right). If you’re looking for something more detailed, this exhaustively hyperlinked blog has basically done all the work for you. The point of both the comic and blog is this: vaccinations are good and believing otherwise is not a good idea.

You want to debate the science? Go check out the above links. I’m gonna approach this topic the only way I know how: as a parent.

* * *

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to sum up the entire vaccinations issue with one sentence: You don’t mess with Disneyland.

Wait. Let me add periods for emphasis:

You. Don’t. Mess. With. Disney. Land.

It’s no wonder the internet exploded with rage when kids with measles started pouring out of Disneyland. What’s happened since is a collective freakout the likes of which we only see once in a young, blue pop star. Because you don’t mess with Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on Earth. You’re supposed to come back with a Mickey Mouse balloon, not a fatal disease.*

I think we’ve all been more or less content to go along with the existence of the anti-vaccination crowd and not bother with them too much for this long because, until now, they never stopped anyone from going on Space Mountain. Now, they have. Now, we’ve got our Hannibal Buress moment. There’s a new spotlight on the issue and it’s bright.

I hate even bringing this up. Not only do I have family on the other side of it, but I’m very much a “let people decide for themselves” kind of person. I respect a person’s right to conduct their family affairs and raise their kids how they want. I believe in choice. I believe in agency.

But I guess I don’t believe in my kids dying.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. “Dying?” Man, what a jump and a mighty gun that is. That kind of language is just inflammatory. I mean, there’s sick and there’s death. One doesn’t always–or even usually–follow the other and lots of kids have had measles through the years and not died from it. Tons of them just get brain damage or go deaf. Sheesh.

While that may be true, for my middle daughter Cami and for a lot of kids just like her, certain sicknesses–sicknesses like the ones (hopefully not still) in residence at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and preventable by vaccinations–are a likely death sentence.

So you can imagine my joy a couple months ago when she got a bad case of Whooping Cough that quickly developed into pneumonia. There was a time when we made a yearly visit to the hospital to get Cami the proper care for an annual battle with pneumonia. How fondly I remember holding her weak little hand while she did her best to breathe through her wheezing. Last month, it was with the greatest of nostalgia that I looked forward to (not) sleeping on the ER floor and subsisting on a diet of vending machine crackers while wondering if my daughter would live through the night.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Being old pros at this, my wife and I got Cami in to her doctor within hours of the pneumonia symptoms showing up and righted that ship in time enough for her to not be admitted.

“But wait,” I don’t hear you saying. “That all started with Whooping Cough? Maybe I need to go back and read this blog again. Aren’t you advocating for vaccinations? How did Cami get Whooping Cough in the first place if she’s current on her vaccinations?”

Great question. Well done. How did Cami get Whooping Cough?

As a child with special needs, Cami has a lot of challenges in life. One of the challenges my wife and I have to pay special attention to is her weak immune system. Some people forget about kids like Cami when they say things like “Theoretically the only people who should be getting the measles are those who are not vaccinated.”** Even setting aside the issue of children who are not eligible for the MMR and other vaccinations due to cancer or age (but who are still very much susceptible to the measles, et al), and herd immunity and the accumulative wrongness of too many people making what they think is a purely “personal” decision at the same time, it is simply gross ignorance to assume that vaccines are 100% preventative. They’re not.

Cami was vaccinated against Whooping Cough and she still got it because she’s weak and it was around to get. That’s it. This disease that was on its way out is roaring its way back and mowing down kids like Cami in its path. We were fortunate in that the only bad things to come out of her bout with Whooping Cough were a short case of pneumonia and a persistent, violent cough that will probably be sticking around for another four or five months. I can even hear the cough waking her up in her bedroom right now as I’m typing this late at night.

Cami was vaccinated but some kid or kids around her were not, so she got Whooping Cough. My wife and I have now been shoved kicking and screaming into a whole new era of parenting: Cami’s pediatrician is advising us to keep her away from all children who have not been properly vaccinated.

If that sounds impossible to you then you’re sane.

In trying to deal with this new paradigm, we sent out an email to our extended family to ask for their assistance in keeping Cami safe. Here’s an excerpt:

We do not intend to offend with this email, but if you choose to not vaccinate that puts us in the position of also having to make a choice.

Obviously, the only sure way to keep Cami safe is to put her in a bubble and hide her from the world. That’s kind of ridiculous. However, if we know Cami is headed into a situation where adults or children are present who have not been vaccinated, then we will act on that knowledge, and when we don’t know and can’t know—at school and the grocery store for example—we will proceed just as we always have.

We admittedly don’t know what all of the far-reaching implications of this policy might be. We’re doing our best over here to deal with what’s been handed to us.

All we really know is that we’ve got to do what we can. This is our sacrifice to make, so if any of you will be attending a family function who might be a risk to Cami, we are not asking you to stay home. We will keep Cami home.

A calm, reasonable person wrote that email. We weren’t trying to berate anyone or force them to do anything other than what they felt best, we just wanted to protect Cami. That was our only motivation.

But I’ll be honest with you and admit I find it increasingly more difficult to keep a cool head on this issue. I respect everyone’s right to choose, but I find myself wondering if, on this matter, I really should. Where does your right to choose end and my child’s right to live begin?

I’m far from the only one wrestling with this. One father in Tiburon, CA has already made his mind up about it. He wants to take the choice away from the parents in his school district for the sake of his son with leukemia. Is he a good dad or a villain?

And what does it mean when the LDS (Mormon) Church (a religious organization that cites personal agency as one of the basic tenets of its faith) implores its members to get properly immunized and actively assists in efforts to immunize the world? 

Not to be inflammatory (but, let’s face it, that’s totally what I’m about to do), but how much difference is there, really, between driving drunk and choosing to not vaccinate? In both instances you’re talking about a “personal” choice that could result in negative, life or death consequences for the individual or those around them… or not. It’s the “or not” part that empowers the inebriated the world over to climb into two ton vehicles and clumsily weaponize them on the open road (the alcohol helps, too). If you don’t vaccinate your kids, I can’t help but want to protect my child from your drunk driving.

See, my child is Disneyland. She got Whooping Cough and was fortunate enough to not get measles (so far), but she’s my Disneyland.

And you don’t mess with my Disneyland.

Bottom line: if you’re going around thinking everything is fine and all of this worry is for nothing because vaccines are evil and your kid is fine and can run and play just fine and your decision to not vaccinate only affects you and your child anyway, I’m sorry, but that’s simply not the case. There’s a lot of kids out there who are not as strong as all that. And there’s going to be more every day if you keep not vaccinating.

But, hey, congrats on having super healthy kids. I truly hope they stay that way.

*If I was a Disneyland cast member, I’d be ticked. Do you know how hard they work to keep that place clean and disease free? I swear if you drop a piece of trash there it disappears into another dimension or something before it hits the ground. You could eat pizza off those sidewalks. (But not the pizza in Tomorrowland. That stuff is gross. Sorry, Mickey.)

**Actual quote from a recent discussion on Facebook.