Wait? My Kids Don’t Have To Get Chickenpox?

It is interesting that you can know someone since your early teens but never really know their story.  On that note I would like to welcome this week’s guest blogger, Sarah Medley.  Sarah and I attended a small private school together just one grade a part.  My high school graduating class consisted of only 38 people so I was surprised when I recently learned she had spent over a decade of her life dealing with the consequences of varicella (chickenpox).  Her story is a very important reminder that even vaccine-preventable disesases that were once considered a “childhood rite of passage” can have serious consequences.   A very special thank you to Sarah for sharing her story.  Enjoy!

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When I was three-years-old I went through what for most people my age was considered a childhood rite of passage.  I contracted chickenpox.  They were itchy.  It was miserable.  I still remember being dotted with Calamine Lotion and objecting to the placement of socks over hands before bed.  I healed and moved on but I wasn’t just left with pox scars.

A few weeks after the virus cleared up my mom noticed I was squinting away from light.  She took me to the doctor and, ultimately, they determined that the virus had settled near my left eye.  In the process of fighting the virus off, my immune system attacked my cornea.  This eventually left scarring that made my eye look cloudy, similar to the way an eye with cataracts looks.  It also was like looking through clouds.  Memories of my childhood are dotted with the many attempts to treat the problem including laser therapy that resulted in migraine headaches after each treatment, having to wear a patch off and on throughout elementary school, after school evenings with monthly appointments at the ophthalmologist and, eventually, a cornea transplant at age 16 that restored my vision and left me with a more normal appearance.  I went into rejection once while we were driving to various universities where I was performing auditions in hopes of a vocal scholarship.  I woke up in the middle of the night in intense pain and had to ride from Dallas to Houston with a pillow over my head because the faintest light caused a searing pain.  Fortunately, I was able to be treated with a series of shot anti-rejection meds and the cornea has been fine ever since.

All in all, in daily life, I don’t think too much about these events.  One of the beauties of childhood is that a sense of normalcy is still being defined and we maintain a level of resilience we might find we long for later in life.  I grew up, went to college, got married, moved to London and had twins.  We spent the first three years of my kids’ lives there.  If I thought about chickenpox, it was because of news stories on the legality of sending infected lollipops through the mail service or hearing a friend, coping with their own child’s illness, pacify herself with the comment that it is better to get the virus out of the way now because of the toll it takes on adults.

Two important reasons Sarah chooses vaccinations.

Two important reasons Sarah chooses vaccinations.

I took my kids in for all their vaccines in the UK.  (I have doctors in my family with whom I discussed my options and that was what felt right to me.)  My family returned to the U.S.A. when my children were just shy of their third birthday.  I made them their first well child checkup, national healthcare in the UK doesn’t provide for them, and had them looked at by our first ever pediatrician.  She casually asked me if I wanted my kids to be vaccinated against the Varicella (chickenpox) virus.  I had no idea there even was a vaccine for that.  I know it doesn’t make sense statistically for me to fear my children would have the same outcome from the illness I had and I didn’t even realize how much it weighed on me until the moment I knew it was something that wasn’t an inevitable part of life.  I was just relieved.  I know most of the time chickenpox seems relatively harmless, but for me, it wasn’t and I’m glad a vaccine was available to my children.

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

Rachel CunninghamAs part of our guest blog series please help me in welcoming Rachel Cunningham, MPH from Texas Children’s Hospital.  Rachel is the primary author of Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story.  Rachel is also the Immunization Registry and Educational Specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Immunization Project.  Her focus is primarly on educating health professionals and parents about the importance of vaccines.

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To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

That is the question many parents spend hours, perhaps even days, contemplating.  We talk to our friends.  We talk to our pediatrician.  We google.  As the new mother of an 8-month old, I’ve googled everything from baby schedules to sleeping problems to teething.  Like all parents, my research is intended to make the best choice for my child.  However, not all information is good information and bad information can lead to dangerous choices.  With vaccines, this is too often the case.  More and more parents are deciding to space out, delay, or entirely refuse vaccines.  Oftentimes these decisions are based on the belief that vaccines cause harm.  But what is the harm in not vaccinating?

Consider this.  Since June 2009, more than 8,300 cases of pertussis or “whooping cough” have been reported in California.  Ten infants have died.  Nine of which were less than 2 months old.  In 2009, more than 3,300 cases of pertussis were reported in Texas alone.  In 2008, 138 cases of measles were reported in the U.S. and 20 children were hospitalized.

However, statistics are oftentimes too abstract.  How can bad information about vaccines lead to a dangerous choice for your child or other children?

Let me introduce you to Julieanna Metcalf.  Julieanna was 15 months old when she nearly died from Hib meningitis.  She had to undergo emergency brain surgery, was hospitalized for a month, and had to re-learn how to walk, talk, and eat.  Despite having received all of her immunizations on time, Julieanna was vulnerable to Hib because of an undiagnosed immune disorder.  Unfortunately, many parents in Julieanna’s community had chosen not to immunize their children.  This choice resulted in 5 children contracting Hib – including 1 who died.  Four of the children were unimmunized.

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By now you’re probably wondering where you can get good information.  First and foremost, talk to your pediatrian.  After all, they are the experts.  Second, visit a reputable website with reliable information.  Below are a few I’d recommend:

www.vaccines.texaschildrens.org

www.cdc.gov/vaccines

www.immunize.org

www.vaccinateyourbaby.org

Hopefully, we can draw from Julieanna’s experience and gratefully acknowledge that the choice to immunize is not only what’s best for our children but for our community.

Julieanna’s story is an excerpt from Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story.  Please click here to learn more

You’re No Superman (or Woman)!

Erin BainContributing this week’s guest blog is vaccine advocate Erin Bain.  Erin recently returned to Texas after living on the East Coast for six years.  She and her husband, Joe, met in college at Texas A&M University and married in 2004. In late 2011 they welcomed daughter Genevieve, a blue-eyed, redhead who’s a social butterfly, to their family.  After working full-time as a fundraiser she is now staying home with Genevieve and working part-time as a fundraising consultant.  Erin recently started her own blog, Domestic Improv, where she shares her ventures in the kitchen and life raising a toddler in Houston, Texas.
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Have you ever felt invincible? Your life is full, your plate is full, you and your family are healthy, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. A year and a half ago my husband and I were feeling that way. Our first baby was due in a few months, we were both working long hours, we were about to move, we had just returned from vacation… then we were stopped in our tracks when my husband was diagnosed with a serious illness and a few months later our daughter arrived five weeks premature.
Happily, all three of us are healthy now but these events changed my perspective on many things, including community health. I became acutely aware of how the people I came in contact with everyday could possibly impact my little family and our health. Every time a co-worker came to work looking feverish or the person next to me on the bus coughed I held my breath and said a prayer hoping I wouldn’t bring an illness home to my husband or daughter and their compromised immune systems.
We moved from New York City to Houston just as the flu was beginning to hit Texas hard and I started thinking about community health again. I knew I needed to protect my family from the flu as best as I could, but I also wanted to protect those who may be vulnerable in the way my husband and daughter were during the last cold and flu season. So, one of the first appointments I made was for my daughter’s nine month check-up where she received her vaccine and the next day, with her in one arm a pharmacist administered my shot in the other.
A few weeks later I had a popular medical talk show on in the background and stopped in my tracks. One of the experts on the segment said she did not recommend getting a flu shot unless you were at risk for complications from the influenza because the effectiveness rate was too low (roughly 60%) to warrant the need for the vaccine. I wanted to shake her through the T.V. and say, “Flu shots don’t just protect a healthy person from getting sick!”
A flu shot is one of the simplest ways to protect yourself, your family and your community from spreading this common, yet potentially deadly disease. So, if you’re feeling invincible when flu season arrives, think about the new mother in your office whose infant is too young to receive the vaccine, or the man behind you in line who’s going through chemotherapy and can’t receive a flu shot or the sweet elderly woman you sat next to at church who the vaccine is the least effective for—then, think about getting a flu shot.

The Real Price of “Free”

FreeEveryone loves a good deal.  And you can’t get a better deal than something for free, right?  That’s why you’ll always see a fish bowl full of business cards for a free lunch or people “sharing” or “liking” pictures on Facebook for the chance to win a prize.  But the truth is, none of it comes for free.  It takes someone, some company, or some organization using it’s time, money, and/or resources to give you that little something for free.   This truth applies to vaccines as well.  When you hear about a clinic or hospital administering vaccines for free, it costs money, plain and simple.  The price tag associated with life-saving immunizations doesn’t start with the medical provider who administers them.  In fact, there is a long, very expensive, very involved process that has to be followed before a vaccine ever reaches its intended target.  It is because of these expenses that I often find myself at the peak of frustration when I hear a person’s rant against “big pharma” and the so-called undeserved and selfish profits that they make from the development and sale of vaccines.

It’s very simple.  If you don’t make money, you fail to exist.  This holds true for every major corporation, every charity, every non-profit, every small business owner, and the list goes on from there.  The highly regulated vaccine industry is a long, tedious, and involved process.  To create, test, and produce a vaccine in mass quantities takes years from start to finish.  Researchers must first study a particular virus or bacteria before scientists can even begin to formulate a vaccine.  Once a vaccine has been studied and developed in a laboratory, only then is it allowed to begin a four phase testing process which takes years to complete and can cost hundreds of millions of dollars in bills.  Even after a vaccine has been distributed, it will still be studied for many more years to make sure there are no unforeseen side effects.  Again, this all costs money.

Nothing in life is free.  Everything costs money to produce and vaccines are no exception.  If pharmaceutical companies were unable to pay for the creation and distribution of vaccines, they would fail to exist.  So do vaccine makers profit from their discoveries and creations?  Yes.  But why is that any different from your doctor, your pastor, or even an employee of a charity being paid for their time and services?  The truth is, it’s not.  Vaccines are one of the most valuable scientific advancements the world has ever seen, and as with all great scientific discoveries there is a price tag associated with the technology, research, and safety measures that are put into place to create and distribute them.  Countless dollars are spent each year to help make our world safer through immunizations and I for one believe that these discoveries are priceless.

So Long, Farewell…For Now!

DSC_5639b2This month marks my one year anniversary blogging for MOMmunizations and The Immunization Partnership!  The opportunity to share my words and thoughts during this time has taught me more than I could have ever imagined.  I never dreamed that two weeks after posting my first article my daughter would become the victim of a vaccine-preventable disease; an experience that has further inspired me to be a part of educating and encouraging others to prevent what is preventable through immunizations.   Because of this blog and this organization I have met and developed relationships with people who have dedicated their time, efforts, and careers to promoting the life-saving power of vaccines and I continue to be amazed by their never ending efforts to make our city, our state, our nation, and our world a safer place to live one shot at a time.   While I recognized the importance of protecting my family through vaccination when I began writing the blog, I did not fully grasp the true global impact that vaccines have on each of our daily lives.   I still have a lot to learn and I look forward to the many opportunities I will have in the future to continue the process of educating myself and others on this issue that is of vital importance to the health and well-being of our communities.

With this one year anniversary also comes another major milestone in my life as my husband and I prepare to welcome our third child this month.  I am sure that our sweet little one’s birth will inspire new stories and experiences that I look forward to sharing with you all in the near future.  That being said, I am taking a short break from the blog to care for and adjust to this new addition in our lives.  In my absence, I have prepared several articles in advance and I am very excited to say that there will be some fantastic guest blogs and articles for you to enjoy each week.  I truly appreciate those who have agreed to contribute in my absence and I am certain you will all enjoy their insight and experiences.

I wish you all the best while I take this time for myself and my family.  I’ll be back soon to continue writing about this important issue.

Alana