I don’t often offer my opinion publicly; it makes me nervous. My heart beats live and let live, my fingers usually pause over the keyboard when I see an emphatic rant on facebook or the newspaper comments section that I disagree with. So what I’m about to share is only the state of my own quaking chest right now.
If you have a small child, please strongly consider vaccinating them. The claims that they harm more than hurt have been debunked several times over. The childhood diseases that used to yank children away from their parents before the children learned to speak, or worse, after they learned to walk and talk and have sweet personalities, are starting to come back. This makes me feel so, so sad. I think of children in polio sanitariums, iron braces around their small legs. I think of children struggling for each breath. The reason these diseases aren’t as prevalent now is because of the herd immunity that we carry around with us, a shield of bubbling armor that for the most part keep us all healthy.
What has me thinking about this again is that just yesterday my son received the flu mist at his doctor’s office. He missed the clinic at his school because he was sick that day with a small cold. The county we live in provides free vaccines to all children under eighteen, so the FluMist cost nothing, even in the doctor’s office.
I also just stumbled upon this photo on Shorpy, and can feel the grief that the boy in the photograph’s parents must have had shivering in their blood. My God. Let’s listen to our elders, who remember when babies were buried and their mothers hid away their small sweaters and booties. The pain would always be raw. The loss would always be real. Real as their child’s skin, once warm, then cold. In many other places other than the West this pain is an hourly occurrence. There are mothers who travel through dirt and death and danger and guns so that their children can be inoculated. They don’t care that there’s a shadowing chance that the inoculation will make their child autistic. What’s immediate and real is the threat of dehydration, of crippled legs, of collapsed lungs.
Winter can be dry, and dark, and cruelly cold. We’re lucky now, we’re lucky here, that it isn’t always so deadly. And summer is usually so bright and blue; mothers don’t have to keep their children tucked away, safe from the swimming pools that hid polio beneath the sunlight-dappled water. Let’s not go down as the generation that feared the unknown and the possibilities and the what if’s so much that we take away the strength of all that’s good in medicine. Vaccines are safe, and they’re usually free. We are so, so fortunate.
Ask your grandparents (or great-grandparents)what they remember about before children were routinely protected from measles*, mumps, rubella, polio. Ask about the children born and lost before 1920, before antibiotics, when the life expectancy was fifty and children prayed for their souls to be kept safe if they drifted away while they slept. I can guarantee you that in a family grave-site there are dozens of small, sad little headstones that will tell you what our world was like without vaccines.
* The resurgence of measles is especially concerning. It’s a hugely contagious and sometimes deadly disease.