I received a birthday card from my dad this year that made me chuckle. On the front, it said “In my day, we didn’t need Facebook or Twitter…” and the inside read “because we all had cholera. That was the news, and we didn’t need social networking to tell us that.” The card was very fitting, because my dad is the last person you will ever see with a Facebook profile, a Twitter handle or an Instagram account. He uses the good old-fashioned telephone to communicate. And I love that about him!
Family jokes aside, the card got me thinking about a time when the topics that were “trending” were cholera, polio, and smallpox – just to name a few of the rampant diseases that were killing millions of people around the world. It made me think how lucky I am to live in a day and time where these horrible diseases are largely preventable in our country, whether by proper sanitation and water purification (i.e. cholera), or simple vaccinations (polio, measles, etc). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the year 1900, the average life expectancy of an American was 47.3 years of age. Just one hundred years later, that number had increased to 77 years of age, largely due to the development of vaccinations and other reactive treatments for disease.
I imagine many mothers in the early 20th century would have given anything to prevent their child from contracting a deadly disease. There is nothing more protective than a “mama bear” – and I understand that now, more than ever. When my daughter was born, I found myself thinking that I would do anything in my power to keep her healthy and safe. For me, that meant immunizing her on schedule, as recommended by her neonatologist and pediatrician. But other mothers in my generation are choosing to withhold vaccinations from their children, questioning their safety and value. Every mother wants the very best for her kids, and on both sides of the coin, the question we ask ourselves is “does the benefit outweigh the risk?”
For me, the benefit of immunizations absolutely, without a doubt, outweighs the risk of forgoing them; because unfortunately, many diseases have not been completely eradicated. Just last week, the Associated Press reported that the New York City Health Department had identified 16 cases of measles in Manhattan and the Bronx. Two more cases have recently been reported in Connecticut. Because families are choosing to forgo vaccination, a disease that was once all but eliminated in the U.S. is now making a comeback.
My generation is fortunate to have never experienced the fear associated with widespread diseases like polio, smallpox, measles and mumps. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not find out what that feels like. Immunizing yourself (and your children) not only protects you, it protects those who cannot yet be vaccinated, such as the very young (like my baby girl) or the very sick. Their health is in our hands.