Tip/Thought of the Day

Vaccines Protect The Community, Not Only The Individual

When I was eight years old I remember getting sick. I have a vague memory of multiple doctors coming to visit and then whispering to my parents in the hall after. I stayed home, in bed, for two weeks. I slept through most of that time, but to this day I’ll never forget the look in my mother’s eyes as she sat next to me and put a cold cloth on my head to cool me down. It was the look of pure fear. I knew something awful was going on, but I had no idea what or why she was so worried. I just knew she was scared and no one else was allowed to visit.

You have to understand. I came from a big family- a sister, 3 brothers, multiple aunts, uncles, cousins. . .I had never known a moment of quiet or solitude to that point, yet not one person came inside the room other than my mother. Dad blew a quick kiss from the doorway and an,
“ I love you,” before he too was gone.

It was me, the TV I was never allowed to have in my bedroom, and my Mom. She firmly believed you “sweat” the fevers away, so I was forced to swelter under reams of blankets while roasting and dripping up a storm. I spent those days in and out of consciousness unaware of the turmoil and anguish my illness was causing.

It wasn’t until I was in medical school that I thought about that episode and questioned my mother. Uncomfortable about reliving those memories, the most I ever heard was that the doctors were at a loss to explain the long bouts of high fevers and body rash. My pediatrician was adamant it couldn’t have been the measles since he’d documented I had them years before. The other physicians had been convinced it could be nothing else. So I was kept quarantined, at home, until I emerged on the other side unharmed. 

When my daughter was fifteen I experienced a similarly frightening experience when she had MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) pneumonia. It was advertised as the “flesh eating bug” making its way through the schools in Tucson. Highly contagious, it starts looking like a benign bug bite or pimple. The problem is that we’ve thrown so many antibiotics around that what used to be easy to kill has now transformed into a resistance so dangerous few things in our arsenal can attack it. Skin manifestations were one thing but in her lungs? That could be catastrophic.

Watching my daughter fight for breath, barely able to walk a few steps and begging with her eyes for help was heartbreaking. Thankfully the correct combination of antibiotics, coupled with her youth, health and resiliency pulled her through. But it was two agonizing weeks I never want to repeat.

Illness is always hard to bear in a family. Doing everything we can to minimize the issues and maximize the best outcome is all that matters. That’s why vaccines are so important. As I discussed in Monday’s post, we don’t just help ourselves, we help our families, our neighbors, and our communities when we vaccinate. You may never get sick, but by getting immunized you’re increasing the odds others won’t as well. 

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious diseases that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to that infection. This then helps to provide a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune. It’s imperative to keeping us all safe.

I couldn’t offer that to my daughter in the case of a MRSA infection. And my parents didn’t have the option to vaccinate their children until the MMR became available in the 1970’s. The country finally breathed a collective sigh of relief that no more children would suffer. Until now. 

There have been over 1,200 documented cases of measles to date in this country. A disease the CDC declared eliminated in 2000 with the advent of the vaccine.

Ask questions. Look at all the data. It was recently brought to my attention that search engines don’t give the same links to the same question to every person! I was shocked. I asked the very same question of Google that two others did, and we each got different links, or a different hierarchy of the same links. My top result was the fourth result for someone else. A result on another person’s search didn’t even appear on my search results. Why?? Who decides what is offered and to whom? If we’re only sent options thought to be welcomed based on our prior searches, then how do we get a neutral, unbiased source?  

When I was a child, encyclopedias offered the same data to everyone. As did libraries. Searching for information on vaccines would have brought us all to the same books, regardless of individual preferences. Why should today be any different? Don’t let someone else’s perception of what you may want to read be all you get to read. We all want to make the best decision possible. The only way to do that is to gain access to both sides of an argument or question and then decipher what’s truly accurate so we can discern the truth. In my lifetime we eradicated disabling, life threatening diseases like polio, small pox, tetanus, mumps, diphtheria. Don’t let them rear their ugly heads again.




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