The Best Awful Thing I’ve Ever Done for My Baby

Hannah and Mia

Hannah and Mia

By Hannah Richards

This happens to almost every new parent. I know it does. Because the nice nurse at the front desk of Intermed Pediatrics told me so when I came running out of the exam room with tears and mascara all over my face and breastmilk squirting through the front of my shirt.

Your child goes to the doctor’s office for their first set of vaccines, and the smiling nurse assistant comes waltzing in with fun BandAids and a teddy bear toy, and they stick 3 or 4 needles into your baby’s itty bitty thighs and….nothing happens.

It’s kind of like time stops….and the room becomes completely silent.

And then…it happens.

Screaming unlike any screaming you’ve ever heard. A scream that could not possibly be coming from lungs that small. And the nurses start blowing gently in your baby’s face to remind them to breathe in. And you realize that this could quite possibly be the first time your little bundle of joy has ever felt pain. And by the time you can curb all of your sobbing and pull the daggers of guilt out of your heart – you realize that your adorable baby is sleeping peacefully in your arms.

Getting vaccines is not fun. For anyone. Mostly for mom. But I’ll tell you what is much, much worse.


And Hepatitis – and Meningitis and Polio and Pertussis and a bunch of other diseases that most babies in the United States will never have to experience thanks to vaccines. As long as we keep up with them, that is.

Now this is coming from someone who won’t even take Asprin for a headache because I am generally distrustful of drugs. I grew up on homeopathic remedies and breastmilk. BUT, I always had all of my vaccines. And my daughter will too. Because kids still die from diseases that have no business even existing anymore. And like most parents, I would literally give my life to protect her. Vaccines just happen to be way easier.

Since I’m not a doctor, scientist or immunologist, I’m not going to elaborate any further about the safety of vaccines or how incredibly important they are. But if you’re interested, there is some excellent research here and here.

Instead I will offer all of the new moms (and dads) out there some tips we’ve picked up along the way for making those ouchy little life-saving shots more tolerable for everyone. Here we go:

1. If you are breastfeeding, ask the nurse if you can breastfeed your child while they give them their shots. Breastfeeding is seriously a miracle cure for all things (skin rashes, eye infections, chapped nipples, etc.) – and shots are no exception. As soon as I learned this little tip, Mia’s crying time during shots went from 3-5 minutes to nothing at all.

2. If you are not breastfeeding, ask to hold your baby in your lap during the shots, and offer a bottle or pacifier. Again, I am not a doctor, but my personal experience would indicate that the sucking motion is an extremely soothing exercise for babies – and when they are sucking, they are not screaming.

3. Ask Dad to come with you. I don’t know why this is true, but when my daughter Mia was an infant her daddy always had the magic touch for calming her down. I think it was because he was able to keep his cool, whereas I was bubbling over with anxiety and fear – and Mia could feel it. Also, since I was breastfeeding, anytime she was in my arms, but not currently nursing, she got very, very angry.

4. Go easy the rest of the day. Mia was always a little bit sleepy (hallelujah!) on the days she got her vaccines. So I let her spend a



little bit more time in her swing or in my arms, just rocking or nursing. The nap schedule and feeding schedule went out the window on vaccine days, and I limited visitors. I chose not to give her Tylenol (even when she had a slight fever) because our doctor told us the fever was a good sign of her body developing antibodies, and that we should let it do its thing. However, if your baby is really uncomfortable you should do what feels right, or as your doctor advises.

5. Know your baby. All babies are different, and they all react slightly differently to vaccines. Some barely notice or care, others get uncomfortable, or sore – or a fever. Don’t try to compare your baby’s reaction to someone else’s – or worse – Dr. Google. Instead, trust your instinct and your knowledge of your own baby, and keep in touch with your baby’s doctor if you have questions.

The bottom line is that vaccines are hard. They can be painful for baby, and even more so for parents – and they can make the already difficult job of caring for a newborn even more tenuous. But they are the best awful thing you will ever have to do for your baby – and for everyone else’s babies. Especially those too small, or too weak or too immunocompromised to receive vaccines themselves.

I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to receive such advanced and lifesaving healthcare for myself and my baby. I do not, and will not ever take that for granted.

For more great posts by Hannah, check out her blog Oh Baby Richards.


You might owe your life to Maurice Hilleman. So why don’t you know who he is?

by Eric Ward, October 2007

by Eric Ward, October 2007

This article originally appeared on HealthMap’s Disease Daily on June 10, 2014. It has been reposted here with permission by the authors. 

By Robyn Correll Carlyle and Jane Huston


“If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman. Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history.”- Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV

When you think of famous names in immunization (assuming you’re a vaccinerd, and prone to thinking of such things), you probably think first of Edward Jenner, creator of the smallpox vaccine. The next name might be Jonas Salk, the celebrated scientist who developed the first polio vaccine. You might have to think for quite a while before Maurice Hilleman comes to mind… or you might be thinking Maurice Hille-who?

Yet Hilleman is a veritable superstar in the world of vaccines, with more vaccines to his name than Beyoncé has #1 hits. While Hilleman never won a Nobel Prize or had his name in lights, he was revered by his peers in the scientific community and is credited for saving tens of millions of lives — maybe even yours.

And it all started on a farm in Montana.

Hilleman was born in 1919. Having lost his mother days after his birth, he was raised by his uncle and worked on the farm. He took an early interest in science and graduated first in his class at Montana State University with a degree in chemistry and microbiology. Later, he earned his doctoral degree in microbiology from the University of Chicago, where (fun fact) his graduate work led him to determine the true cause of chlamydia and laid the groundwork for discovering its treatment.

He helped develop his first human vaccine in 1944 to protect American soldiers overseas from Japanese encephalitis. The vaccine would eventually be replaced by others, but Hilleman was just getting started with what would be a long career in vaccinology.

We won’t tell you his full story — you can get the cliff notes here or a more detailed account in his biography. But trust us, it’s impressive.

He developed eight of the 14 currently routinely recommended vaccines and is the reason we are protected from measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningococcal disease, pneumococcal disease, and Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib). Thanks to him, diseases that once claimed children’s lives or left them with severe disabilities are now largely a distant memory. During his career, Hilleman developed a total of 36 vaccines, making him perhaps the most successful vaccinologist in history.

So why haven’t you heard of him?

Hilleman was not one to brag. He didn’t name any of his discoveries after himself. He never sought recognition. He accepted praise humbly and quietly.

But perhaps the greatest reason why his name is largely unknown is because the successes that he achieved were silent. When public health practitioners do their job, the results look like… nothing. No one gets sick. Diseases don’t spread. Children don’t die. Life pretty much goes on as normal. But behind the scenes, there’s actually lot of work that goes into preventing kids from getting measles, or containing an outbreak of hepatitis A, or delivering clean drinking water to your home. All of those things are public health, and all of them are easy to take for granted.

And we have taken them for granted.

Right now, we’re in the midst of a cascade of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. Measles, a disease once declared officially eliminated from the United States, is popping up left and right. According to the CDC, there have been over 334 cases this year in the United States alone, the most in a single year since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000 — and we’re not even half way through the year yet. Ninety percent of those cases occurred in unvaccinated people or people with unknown vaccination status. Measles may not be circulating in the United States the same way it was pre-2000, but we’re still vulnerable to travelers importing the virus from other countries, as what’s happened so far in 2014 clearly shows.

That vulnerability is why it’s so important to keep our vaccination rates high, and to bring up coverage in any corners of this country where rates are low. Encourage your friends and family to check to see if they’re up-to-date on their vaccinations. If some of them have concerns, guide them to trusted, science-based resources like the CDC, World Health Organization or the American Academy of Pediatrics, and encourage them to speak with their primary care provider.

Every time you think, speak or advocate for measles immunization, you’re shining a little light on Maurice Hilleman and his amazing career. And while he may not have received as much recognition as he deserved while he was alive, we can still honor him and his accomplishments by protecting the hard-fought progress made in the fight against preventable disease.

Jane manages the Vaccine Finder project at Health Map, the host site of the Disease Daily. Robyn is a contributing writer for the Disease Daily and works as a project manager for The Immunization Partnership. Both are fully up-to-date on their immunizations.

What public health threats are scarier than ebola?

You might have heard a lot on the news lately about the ebola outbreak in West Africa. There have been roughly 7,500 cases and 3,500 deaths so far this year, with no sign of slow down. And now with a case in Texas, many people are concerned about this potential public health threat.

But not to worry. Dr. Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos he was confident that the single case in North Texas would not ignite an outbreak like that raging in West Africa.

“Here in the U.S., I remain quite confident we will not have a widespread outbreak,” he said. “We will stop it in its tracks, because we’ve got infection control in hospitals and public health that tracks and isolates people if they get symptoms.”

We can all breathe a little easier knowing that.

So if we don’t need to worry about ebola, what should we be worrying about?

The Immunization Partnership‘s President and CEO Anna C. Dragsbaek outlined 5 public health threats in Texas that are scarier than ebola in an op ed published in Texas Tribune’s Trib Talk on October 1, 2014:

5 public health threats in Texas scarier than Ebola

By , Oct. 1, 2014


There’s no doubt about it: Ebola is scary.

The disease has a high mortality rate and no known cure. No vaccine is available to halt its spread. And now it has arrived in Dallas — the first confirmed case in the U.S.

A media firestorm is brewing, and the public is understandably concerned. But the threat of Ebola spreading in the U.S. is nominal. Highly advanced disease surveillance systems, well-developed quarantine and isolation laws, adequate hygiene and sanitation, and top-notch medical services will keep the U.S. from facing a crisis similar to the one sweeping through West Africa.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried about infectious diseases. In fact, there are at least five other preventable threats right now that are far more menacing — and Texans would be wise to pay close attention to them.

1. Influenza: Last year, widespread influenza in Texas led to the deaths of 20 children, most of whom were unvaccinated. The flu vaccine is widely available through clinics, workplaces, churches, commercial pharmacies and schools, but influenza vaccination rates among adults in Texas remain low. In Texas, only one in three young adults (who are most likely to have small children in the home and to transmit the virus to them) were immunized against influenza last season. Children died not from a rare infectious disease but from a vaccine-preventable disease that we didn’t protect them from.

2. Pertussis: In 2013, Texas reported 3,985 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough — more than any other state in the U.S. This disease is particularly dangerous for infants, which is why the vaccine is recommended for pregnant women and caregivers. Yet only about one in four adults who live with infants have been immunized against it.

3. Neglected tropical diseases: Chagas, Chikungunya, dengue and other so-called neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, are all circulating in Texas. Several of these diseases cause long-term disabilities and even heart defects. Yet despite the potentially devastating impact of NTDs, doctors don’t always diagnose them properly, and many cases go unreported due to inadequate surveillance and a lack of funding for vaccine development. To determine the true burden of disease, the Texas Legislature should appropriate funds to expand the capacities of existing clinics to detect a host of NTD threats.

4. Measles: So far this year, 595 cases of measles have been reported nationally — as many as the previous five years combined and the highest number in 20 years. Texas has seen its share of cases, with outbreaks in Tarrant County and a few cases in Houston. Unlike Ebola, measles is an airborne disease and is highly contagious. Simply being in the same room with someone who has measles can — and almost always does — cause an unvaccinated person to be infected. A highly effective vaccine nearly eradicated the disease, but it has recently made a comeback due to the surge in children who are not fully immunized, which leads me to the fifth threat:

5. Vaccine refusal: Texas allows parents to opt out of vaccines for their children based on personal beliefs. This means that your child could be in a school with unvaccinated children, who would present a significant risk of spreading diseases like measles, chicken pox, meningitis or some other vaccine-preventable disease if there were an outbreak. In 2011-12, nearly 30,000 children in Texas schools were unvaccinated, most of them for non-medical reasons likely due to fears about vaccine safety that have been thoroughly refuted by the medical community. But due to regulations about how data are collected and stored, Texas parents don’t have access to any information about the immunization rates in their children’s schools. The parents of a child with an immune-suppressing illness have rights, too. The virus of vaccine refusal is based on pseudoscience, but it’s spreading every day in Texas, and we’re poised for a preventable tragedy.

Having spent six years living and working in Sierra Leone in a rural missionary hospital and later as a relief worker during the civil war, I’ve been watching the spread of Ebola in my former home with a heavy heart and a deep understanding of the overwhelming challenges facing the country. Given Sierra Leone’s brutally hot climate and lack of resources and public health infrastructure, it’s no surprise that the epidemic has quickly escalated to a public health emergency and humanitarian crisis.

But we can and will avert widespread outbreak in the U.S. The real threat is complacency and a disregard for the scientific evidence of vaccine safety. Texas must increase funding to fight vaccine-preventable disease, reform our laws to prioritize public health and respond to constant threats that jeopardize the health of our community.