I know that you have made a decision to not vaccinate your child, based upon information that you feel is valid and important. I’m sure that you agonized over your decision, weighing the pros and cons. I know that you are looking out for the best interest of your child and your family. Perhaps you think it is the natural way to approach parenting. I have a different view, however, and I’d like to share it with you.
I am the mother of a chronically ill child. Twelve years ago she contracted an e-coli infection, which turned into a syndrome that blocked the small blood vessels of her body, depriving them of oxygen, and killing off parts of her organs. It’s called Hemolytic Uremic Syndromes, and it’s one of the reasons that meat and vegetables are recalled when it’s discovered that they have e-coli. It’s not just a few days of diarrhea. It kills young kids when it’s serious.
My daughter was lucky. She survived. But she has many scars, literally and figuratively as a result of 200 days as an inpatient at Massachusetts General Hospital. When she was five years old, just eighteen months after the initial infection, she underwent a kidney transplant because her kidneys were so damaged from the e-coli. The transplant was miraculous in many ways. She went from needing 24 medications around the clock to needing just a handful every day. She went from sky-high blood pressure to now manageable levels. She’s still a diabetic from the infection, that didn’t go away, but like many others in the country, she has a healthy and sensible diet, and she takes insulin. Her load is a heavy one, but she handles it with grace and humor. She is a fighter and an optimist.
She is now a fifteen year old, a freshman in high school, beautiful inside and out. She is a leader on her track team, running her 100 meters in under 13 seconds. She is a striker on her soccer team. She competes in triathlons. She is a referee for youth soccer, and she speaks to doctors at Grand Rounds.
When she is healthy, life is very, very good, and we are very, very grateful.
But my daughter is immune suppressed. Like the thousands of tiny babies who can’t get vaccines yet, or like the thousands of people who are undergoing chemotherapy. For the rest of her life, in order to keep her kidney transplant, she needs to take anti-rejection drugs, which weaken her immune system, making her sicker faster and harder than normal kids. When most kids get a 101 fever, you give them Tylenol. When my daughter gets a 101 fever, it means 72 hours in the hospital, blood work, and preventative IV antibiotics. Every time. Our lives stop and we go to the hospital. We worry that this is the time something goes wrong. Every time.
That’s just for a cold, or the flu, or a urinary tract infection. 72 hours in the hospital, blood work, IV fluids. Every time.
Now let’s talk about measles.
Measles was declared cured in the United States in the year 2000, and now it’s back. It is not just an inconvenient fever and rash, just like e-coli doesn’t just cause diarrhea. For a small percentage of kids, like my daughter, it can be life threatening. It is life threatening.
Let me explain. If my daughter, or a tiny baby, or a person with cancer, gets the Measles, they get sicker faster, and harder, they go to the hospital, they might need a respirator, other unusual parts of their body will get attacked, and they very possibly could die.
My daughter could die from a disease that was declared cured before she was born.
Yesterday, forgive the term, shit got real. I received a message from Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center, that said if my daughter came in contact with any one who might be infected with Measles that I was to contact them immediately for hospitalization, for IV immunoglobulin, to prevent the infection from taking hold, or to fight the infection before it got bad.
Because if the Measles have a 90% infection rate for a normal, healthy child, imagine what the rate is for my immune-suppressed child.
So, dear Anti-Vaxxers, your decision to keep your child from getting vaccines has endangered my child. It may kill her. I understand that you were worried, but of what, exactly? The link from vaccines to autism has completely been debunked. Do you feel that it is your right to put the life of your child over the life of my child, or over the life of those too young to get the vaccine, or those struggling with a life threatening illness like cancer?
Please think of vaccines as a community service. You are vaccinating your child to protect the group. You are the strong, protecting the weak. That’s what communities do. That’s was civilized societies do. We protect the weak who cannot protect themselves. I am speaking not just for my daughter, but for all the immune-suppressed people in this country.
You do not know who walks among you, at terrible risk. You don’t know the woman struggling from breast cancer. You don’t know the age of the baby. My daughter has multiple scars on her abdomen, but there would be no reason for you to know that she is immune-suppressed. Yet your decision could kill her.
Please, please, reconsider your stance and vaccinate your child. If your child is sick, please keep them home. If your child has the Measles, please report it to the Health Department. If your child does contract the Measles, I hope it is a mild case.
If my child contracts the Measles, I hope she doesn’t die.
I’m sure that you would wish that for me too, the safety and health of my child. As parents, it’s all we ever want.
Thanks for listening.
(Please Note: This letter is also published in Medium, by me, on this day.)