Open Letter

I often rely on fellow bloggers, the news, and media for blog topic inspirations.  When the article “Urban Baby Blog: The Anti-Vaccines Movement Worries Me” from NBCLatino popped up in my inbox, the ideas began flowing through my mind.  Based on the title alone, I assumed this was a look at vaccines from the Latino community’s perspective, highlighting the concerns they have about those who choose not to protect their families through vaccination.  By paragraph two I realized I was only half right.  The author of this piece, Rachel Figueroa-Levin, started off strong, but things quickly took an all too familiar and dangerous turn as she “fully disclosed” following an alternative vaccine schedule based on the writing of Dr. Sears (we’ll  tackle Dr. Sear’s theories another time).   After that statement I found the rest of her article to be quite contradictory and decided to write an open letter of sorts to the author.

Ms. Figueroa-Levin:

As a vaccine advocate and fellow blogger you immediately pulled me in with the title of your article, but I was very concerned with what I read after paragraph one.  You disclosed that your child is receiving vaccines on a delayed schedule, but shortly after described the anti-vaccine movement as being “based on misinformation, panic, and straight up lies.”  Unfortunately, delayed or alternate vaccine schedules and the anti-vaccine movement are one in the same as both lead to decreased protection from vaccine-preventable diseases by choice.  You say that your child’s vaccine schedule is based on the recommendations of Dr. Bob Sears, but Dr. Sears himself has made it quite clear that his schedule is not based on scientific research, but rather on his opinion stating “My schedule doesn’t have any research behind it.  No one has ever studied a big group of kids using my schedule to determine if it’s safe or if it has any benefits.” (“The Truth about vaccines and Autism.” iVillage, September 2009).  And while I realize your decision to vaccinate at a slower pace is not based on a fear of autism, it is worth noting for those that do chose this path out of fear, a 2010 study has shown that children who received vaccinations based on a delayed schedule were just as likely to develop autism as those who followed the recommended vaccine schedule.
I do agree with you in terms of herd protection.  Herd protection is only useful in protecting those who are unable to protect themselves based on medical conditions such as severe illness or allergies, not because a parent decides their perfectly healthy child should not be immunized.  What strikes me about your stance on this theory is that you say “You have a responsibility to vaccinate healthy children to protect the unhealthy children in our communities,” but by following a delayed schedule you are potentially putting other children at risk if your child contracts a vaccine-preventable disease that she could have been vaccinated against if she were immunized as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Just as you encouraged those considering not vaccinating their children to reconsider, I ask you to reconsider delaying vaccinations.   You are correct, there is no conspiracy theory, vaccines are safe, and there is a vast amount of research available showing that vaccinations do not cause autism.  However, that same scientific research also shows that vaccines should be given as recommended and not on a delayed or alternative schedule which puts children and their peers unnecessarily at risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.  Encouraging parents to “get the basic most dangerous disease” vaccinations not only goes against what any credible medical expert would recommend, but gives the impression that some vaccine-preventable diseases are “safe.”  Any vaccine-preventable disease can be fatal.  There is no safety net.
As you wrote your article I have no doubt that your intention was to encourage parents to do the right thing and protect their children through vaccination, but delaying vaccinations is just as dangerous.  Vaccinating on time, every time is the safest option.

Best Wishes,

Alana Bethea

It Only Takes One

I’m pretty sure every graduation and motivational speech I’ve ever heard ended with the same message: one person can make a difference.  I find that we often scoff at that sentiment.  Writing this blog has become an outlet for me to share, and hopefully educate and motivate others to vaccinate themselves and their families, but in the world of vaccines I feel like a small blip on the radar.  Am I really making a difference?  Whether I am or not, this is a topic that I am passionate about and if only one person chooses to vaccinate because of my words, then I consider it to be a success.  But how can one person make a difference on a larger scale?  Does it really happen?  Is it really even possible?  Well I am here to tell you that it most certainly is.  You may be expecting a positive story about a vaccine champion who helped save lives by encouraging communities to vaccinate, but this story is not one that has such a happy ending.  In fact, the words of one man had quite the opposite effect.

If you follow the ongoing vaccine “saga” in this country, you probably know the name Andrew Wakefield.  Wakefield, a former British surgeon and medical researcher, famous for his fraudulent and now discredited claim that there is a link between the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the appearance of autism and bowel disease, is a prime example of one person making a “difference.”  Unfortunately, the “difference” Wakefield made has left tragic repercussions not just in the U.S., but world-wide as low vaccination rates have brought about a reemergence of childhood diseases that had nearly been eradicated, endangering young lives in the process.  Since the publication of Wakefield’s research in 1998, (which has since been retracted) no one has been able to replicate his data.  In fact, the Autism Science Foundation says it best: “There is no data to support an autism vaccine link.  There never has been.  Vaccines don’t cause autism.”  The Foundation goes on to reiterate that the research is very clear, providing the results of multiple study findings that show absolutely no link to autism.

Despite the loss of Andrew Wakefield’s medical license, repeated assurances from doctors that vaccines are safe, and scientific data that virtually eliminates any link between vaccines and autism, people are still afraid because of the words and actions of one man.  Vaccines save lives, plain and simple, but it only took one person to cause a level of panic and fear that still exists more than a decade later, putting children at risk of developing vaccine-preventable diseases.  Remember, one voice can make a difference.  Make sure your voice is used to help save lives and promote the importance of vaccination.

Myth Buster

I think it’s time to set the record straight once and for all.  I’ve heard this excuse one too many times (often from my own husband) and with flu season just around the corner, there is no more time to let this little misnomer continue to churn through the rumor mill. Sixty-two percent of people who refuse the flu vaccine fear immunization could cause them to contract the illness, but it’s time to spread the word that the flu shot cannot give you the flu!  I know, I know, you’ve heard it over and over from your friend, your spouse, or even the lady down the street who fell ill shortly after being immunized, but I’m here to tell you that vaccination is not the culprit of their ailments.  While the influenza (flu) shot does contain the actual flu virus, those viruses are killed during the manufacturing process meaning they can’t give you the flu, plain and simple.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the vaccine is double checked in randomized, blinded studies, to make sure no live virus survives.  Each batch of flu vaccine is tested to make sure they are safe.

I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking, then why did I (or my friend, cousin, etc.) get the flu the last time I got a flu shot?  There are actually a few potential reasons.  One possibility is the individual came into contact with an influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period that it takes the body to gain protection after vaccination.  Exposure during this time period can result in a person becoming ill with the flu before protection has time to take effect.   Still not convinced?   People may also become ill from non-flu viruses, such as rhinovirus, that cause flu-like symptoms.  What is thought to be the flu, may not be the flu at all.  Another explanation?  There are many different influenza viruses that circulate, but vaccines cannot carry protection from all of them.  If a person is exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses included in the vaccine there may not be protection from that specific strain.   Still not convinced?  A very small number of people who receive a flu vaccine can remain unprotected despite vaccination, giving yet another explanation for developing the flu after the shot.  This typically occurs in people with compromised immune systems and the elderly.  But don’t be discouraged; there is still benefit to being immunized.  Even if an immunized person contracts the flu, it is typically a milder case with a decreased risk of complications.

I don’t know about you, but I’m busy enough as it is and spending a week or more dealing with fevers, coughs, body aches (the list goes on) and possibly developing pneumonia as a result of the flu is not on my to do list! Call your doctor or head to your nearest pharmacy and get vaccinated!  Spread the word about the importance of protecting yourself, your family, and those around you against this vaccine-preventable disease and help us put this dirty little flu myth to rest once and for all!

Lights, Camera, Action!

This past Friday was an interesting day to say the least.  It started off with an interviewer, a videographer, and photographer sitting in my living room.  Not my normal segway into the weekend!  After getting miked up, and doing a final hair check before cameras were rolling, we got started.  Rachel Cunningham, primary author of “Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story” and I sat and discussed what had brought us together in the first place, my daughter’s hospitalization for rotavirus.  We discussed exactly what happened during her hospital stay, what it felt like to have a sick child, and the emotional, physical, and financial responsibilities that go along with all of the above.  Then came the part that I had kind of been dreading, time to say it all into the camera!  Suddenly all the words that I had prepared began to escape my brain.  Let me say, I now have a whole new respect for on-camera television personalities.  It’s not as easy as it looks people, but I got through it and lived to tell you all about it!  My children on the other hand love the camera (they really don’t have a choice considering how many pictures I take of them) so they were more than thrilled to put on a show.

As the interview portion of our morning was wrapping up, Rachel asked me a question, and my answer is the driving force behind my reasons for writing this blog.  She asked me “What do you want parents to take away from your experience?”  My response:  I want parents to understand this can happen to you.  This can happen to your child.  Vaccine-preventable diseases are not some ficticious ailments of the past.  They are serious, even deadly at times.

“Just as important, I want to make it clear that we as parents are the first line of defense.  You are your child’s greatest advocate.”

Learn a lesson from my family’s story.  Know what and when vaccinations are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and make sure your child is up-to-date on all of them.

This was truly an amazing experience for my family.  My husband and I are both passionate about sharing the important message that vaccines save lives and this was just one more avenue that allowed our voices to be heard.  Do I wish my children had been vaccinated against rotavirus, of course, but our hope is that our story will open someone’s eyes to the real life consequences that accompany being unprotected against vaccine-preventable diseases.  Vaccinate yourself and your children.  It could save a life.