In celebration of National Immunization Awareness Week, I thought I would write about my work and why this job will stay with me, even after I leave my paid position in a couple of months.
Let’s begin at the beginning.
When little D was born, I was anxious. About everything. My anxieties were mostly the common anxieties of a first time mom: Was he eating enough, pooping enough, sleeping enough, looking around enough? And what was that little red spot on his body; would he survive the stuffy nose he got at 3 weeks, and that irritation from the diaper, what should I do about that? All of these anxieties were grounds for extensive Google searches.
At the time, in 2005, autism awareness was increasing, with a campaign on DirectTV which, before you got to your TV guide, gave you signs of autism to look for in your child. In my anxious state, I would screen Little D daily for these signs. Also around the same time, a connection between vaccines and autism was being touted by celebrities in the media.
It stands to reason then, that the impending 2 month well baby check where Little D would receive his first set of vaccines, was cause for concern to me. I talked with friends, I ruminated, I Googled, and then, I asked my family physician about immunization. She is the expert I trust to fix us when we are not healthy, so why wouldn’t I ask her about immunization, a way to prevent future visits with her?
My first question about vaccines was about the connection with autism. Dr. G. was unequivocal in her response and pointed me directly to the research. She said to me, “you work in health research (I did at the time), read the literature”. She gave me key words to search in PubMed, and off I went.
A few hours later, I was convinced.
1. The proposed connection with autism had not been replicated. The proposed association was extremely weak and the temporal relationship was not proven (i.e. the babies showed some signs before they were vaccinated with the vaccine in question).
2. I would be protecting my baby from terrible diseases some of which, thanks to vaccines, are largely absent from our community, but which reappear from time to time, and are only a plane ride away.
2. I would be protecting my baby’s aging great-grandparents, and our friends’ newborn babies whose immune systems were compromised or who were not yet fully immunized.
3. I would be protecting others in my community for whom immunization was not an option or who had compromised immune systems.
I understand that it can be scary and uncomfortable to have your baby injected with a needle (or four). I understand that we all fear the unknown. But to me, the fear of a sick child, trumps all that discomfort and anxiety.
At 4 months of age, Little D came down with pneumonia. Whether that pneumonia was one that we are immunized against is unknown, but I can tell you that those hours in the ER were not fun. I would do anything to prevent that from happening again.
This year’s National Immunization Awareness Week’s theme is Vaccines Save Lives. Just 100 years ago, many children did not reach their fifth birthday because of infectious diseases.
Nanny R. was in a wheelchair due to post-polio syndrome. At her funeral in the oldest cemetery in our city, I noticed her mother’s gravestone (my husband’s great-grandmother). It was a family gravestone which listed her name, and 2 of her children, ages 2 and 12, both of whom succumbed to what are now vaccine-preventable diseases. In that one immediate family, there were 3 children who either perished or were severely disabled.
As we walked back to the front of the cemetery, I couldn’t help but focus on all the gravestones marking the little buried bodies of infants and children in the first part of the 20th century. Again, my eyes were opened to the value of vaccines.
So, here I am, just about five years after questioning vaccines, working as an immunization advocate and educator.
In two months, I will leave this position to go work for my little bosses at home, but I will not leave be able to leave behind advocacy for immunization.
Happy National Immunization Awareness Week. Please make sure that you and your loved ones are protected.
To those of you who immunize, thank you for all the work you do. I’m sure you don’t hear that enough (especially from the kids).
Great resources on immunization in Canada are available at immunize.ca.
Complete info on immunization available in Canada, Canadian Immunization Guide
Easy to read, evidence-based book, Your Child’s Best Shot