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Friday, March 4, 2011

please ma'am, stab my daughter

The subject of immunising children, particularly babies, is a very controversial one. Nobody (well nobody worthy of breathing air) actually LIKES seeing their kids in pain. Nobody really LIKES the idea of their precious angel being injected with live virus or bacteria or synthetic bits and pieces. Nobody (again, no decent human being) would ever consider it fun to physically hold a small child down while someone jabs them with needles repeatedly. Many of us question what is actually in that magic little vial and whether the whole thing is worth it. Is it safe? Is it worth the pain? Is it worth her looking at me like I'm a monster for a few minutes?

Today I took my daughter to the family practice, where a doctor checked her over, measured her and gave her the all clear. We then waited for the nurse, who chatted politely with Alexis a little bit, apologised, stabbed her three times, praised her for being such a brave girl, showed her an amazing windmill, wrote in our book, and sent us on our merry way. We thanked her very much, waved goodbye to the admin ladies, and ordered lunch. We went shopping quickly, picked up lunch, then went to my parents place. Alexis played happily with her grandad for hours before coming home for a nice long sleep. She woke up happy, had a nice dinner, played some more, and is now soundly sleeping again. No nasty side-effects. Not even any swelling at the wound site. Then again, my darling is special.

The whole experience wasn't that bad. The god-honest truth is that she put up more of a fight when the doctor tried to measure her head circumference then lie her down to measure her height. She chucked a mega wobbly when we tried to lie her on the scales. She wasn't very phased by the needles. She didn't cry at all or even flinch for the first needle, she cried briefly for the second, and the third needle's scream was short-lived. I have seen her protest more over nappy changes. She seemed to know it was going to be OK because her daddy, the nice pretty nurse, and I all were calm. "We know it hurts but it's for your own good sweetheart," we said, and we meant it.

Some friends of mine think I'm an ignorant fool putting my child at risk unnecessarily for "conforming to governmental pressure" in vaccinating my kid. I'm sure they have their reasons, and I am not going to judge them for that. However, it is my personal (and dare I say professional? Trust me, I'm a scientist... :p) opinion that it is not only my civic duty to vaccinate Alexis, it is an incredible privilege to be able to do so, and for zero cost to myself. In Australia we are so lucky to have our children protected from diseases that kill. We are so lucky to be "bullied into" taking advantage of free vaccinations that parents in developing countries would do just about anything to get their hands on for their children. Call me a fool? Well then let me ramble a little further.

I studied at uni about bacteria, viruses, and immunology and worked in an infectious disease lab. I learned a bit about the diseases, and how a little exposure can help your body make an "immune response". Basically it preps your immune system, allowing it to form a "special ops" army particularly "trained" to knock out that particular pathogen "bad guy". It means if that "bad guy" ever does come your way you have "soldiers" on the job incredibly quickly. A few minutes can be the difference between life and death with these things. The vaccines are designed to deliver just enough stuff to mount a response but not enough stuff to cause disease. They often use "stuff" that they've changed in some way to make it less dangerous but still as recognisable to your immune system. It's really hard to explain unless you have some idea of how immunology works, but basically there's markers on the surface of bacteria and viruses, that are kind of like a uniform. In a very simplified way I guess you could say it's like sending in a uniform, or a uniform on a dead body, or a uniform on a live bad guy but with no weapons and no arms. You will still know what the enemy looks like next time you're faced with them. It's sort of a bit like that.

The problem is that sometimes vaccinations can go wrong. What if the dead bad guy is just sleeping? Or what if he's full of poison gas? What if the "weaponless guy" has a knife hidden in his boot or explosives tied to his body. OK so I'm taking the analogy too far, but occasionally people get sick from vaccinations, or, they are sick anyway and they blame it on the vaccination. It can be hard to tell the difference. Babies get colds all the time. Babies get teething pain all the time. But if baby is difficult after a vaccination, then the parents are going to blame the vaccinations. Also, there is concern about what is snuck into the vial with the "modified bad guy" so to speak, such as immune stimulants (designed to help your body deal with the pathogen, kind of like espionage information I guess) and other components such as aluminium, acids, salt, mercury, and phosphates. Yes, this other stuff they shove in is concerning, however there is more chance of getting mercury poisoning from eating fish, aluminium from cans, or phosphates from the fertiliser on your fruit and veg. For me, personally, it's a case of risk (both calculated and severity) of vaccine complications (which do occur but are rare) verse risk and severity of disease complications.

One of the immunisations Alexis received today was to protect her from Haemophilus Influenzae B (HiB). Some info on this bacteria can be found by clicking here Sure this was not an incredibly common disease, but with complications in 10% of cases including death or permanent brain damage, I'd say it's quite serious. The early symptoms of HiB are almost impossible to detect in an infant: irritability, crying, vomiting, tiredness, fussiness with food, headache/neck ache.

Another one she received today was meningococcal c. This is another terrible disease, to see more click here. More common than HiB, 10% of sufferers die, a further 20-30% have serious permanent damage such as brain damage, kidney failure, or loss of limbs. The meningococcal bacteria is spread by saliva, and babies account for around 66% of cases. Even healthy adults can be dead within 12 hours of the first symptoms, so, you could imagine this could progress quite quickly through an infant. It is also very hard to distinguish early symptoms.
The early symptoms are similar to that of the flu, gastroenteritis, or even a hangover – a severe headache, fever, sore throat, lack of energy. Alternatively, it could start with a sore arm or leg, an aching joint, or pains in the chest or stomach
I've been turned away from the doctors for symptoms like these.

She also got the MMR vaccine, for measles, mumps and rubella. This one is particularly controversial due to an alleged link to the autism spectrum disorder. Apart from the original claim (which was retracted after further study) there has been no scientific evidence to support a link between vaccination and autism. The big-wigs have all concluded that any anecdotal correlation in the increase in autism is due to an increase in autism awareness and diagnosis. Measles and mumps used to be incredibly prevalent. They can have serious complications, and the discomfort is much worse than one little needle. Children die from measles overseas all the time. Mumps in older males can lead to sterility. If a lady contracts rubella while pregnant it seriously harms the baby. Sure these diseases aren't overly common in Australia anymore but this is because of vaccination. It doesn't take much in our global world for someone with the disease to fly in and if we weren't protected it would spread like wild-fire. This isn't scare-tactics, it's true. Measles is spread like the flu, and people are contagious well before any rash appears.

Sure, I agree that the best way to keep your kids healthy is to teach them good hygiene habits and feed them lots of fruit and vegetables, however, I personally am sure glad that I live in a country where my daughter can get a helping hand and receive these needles. She could still get sick from plenty of things I know, but at least I know that I did what I could to protect her against these five nasty diseases. Five nasty diseases that are all transmitted by methods so hard to protect babies from, like sneezes, kisses, respiratory droplets, or bugs living on things (they put everything in their mouths). Five nasty diseases with initial symptoms that are so hard to tell in babies (irritability, fever, sore throat, headache, pain, sniffles).

Do I feel guilty for holding her down while someone jabbed her to try to protect her from these things? No I don't. Do I feel like I put her at unnecessary risk of complication? No I don't. I know these vaccines are safe for her for a few reasons, one I've had them, and my husband had them, and we had no problems. They are vaccines that have been around for decades. I would feel uneasy giving her experimental or new vaccines. I have six months to research further into the chicken pox vaccine (this one still unnerves me, I have to read into it). There's a high chance that Alexis might never have had meningococcal, HiB, Measles, Mumps, or Rubella, even without me vaccinating her, but I do not feel like it's a risk I am willing to take. I could drive her to and fro in the car all day everyday and never have a car accident but I will still always put her in her carseat and strap her in appropriately. There's a good chance my house will never flood, burn, or be broken into, but I will always have insurance. When I worked in the lab there was a very high chance I'd never have a needle stick injury, but I still got the Hep B vaccination. We are a social society, and where there are people there are diseases. When it's so easy to protect our little treasures from these nasties, then I'm gonna do it.

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At March 5, 2011 at 6:40 AM , Anonymous Paula said...

Well said Karlee! I 100 percent agree with you. The reason these diseases, especially measles and whooping cough is becoming more prevalent is because parents are refusing to immunize their children. This is one topic I'm quite passionate about. I know of several people, including some of my family, who do not immunize their children. They are 'organic'. Yet they are so often sick, which to me, indicates that just because you eat a healthy diet and get lots of rest, doesn't mean it's enough to prevent you from contracting these life threatening diseases. Like you, I'm not judging these people but merely voicing an obvservation and opinion. Well I guess I'll get off my soapbox now!

At March 17, 2011 at 11:05 PM , Blogger thatblogyoudo said...

Hi there what a great post! I never once doubted the pluses to getting the kids vaccinated.
I'm new to blogging too, Its my new craze so if you have a minute pop over to my blog and check it out.
Thanks! Courtney.

At March 17, 2011 at 11:29 PM , Blogger The Mother Experiment said...

Thanks ladies. :) nice blog Courtney


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