Saturday, May 28, 2011

Join In

For so many of us, immunizing our children is just another part of the insanely busy work of being a parent. It is so routine that many of us feel complacent when it comes to the dangers posed by those who don't immunize. Today I ask you to shake off that complacency and consider joining the effort to bring up immunization rates in every community in order to protect infants, immuno-compromised children who can't be immunized, and vaccinated children who fall in that tiny percentage of the population for whom vaccinations are not effective.

Join our mailing list by e-mailing us at momswhovax[at]

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peace of Mind

As a new or expecting parent, you'll have to get used to the idea that your child will be sick. A lot. It's part of life, this acquisition of viruses and bacterial infections. And while it can be hard to watch your child cough, sniffle, become feverish, battle a sore throat, etc., at least we know her immune system is growing stronger and figuring out a way to let her live among other human beings without being crippled by illness. 

That being said, you can probably expect to feel the way I still feel, after two kids, every time my kids get perhaps a little sicker than usual: anxious, worried, and perhaps even a little obsessed. For example, my nineteen-month-old has been sick for the last five days with what was a mysterious but brutal ailment. She was listless, not herself, eyes red-rimmed, running a high fever, and crying a lot. Her brother had been complaining of a sore throat. A visit to the doctor, and the follow-up three days later, showed no strep. He was off to school a couple days later, none the worse for wear. But my daughter was just not doing well at all. I found myself looking through my book of childhood illnesses, scrutinizing symptoms, wondering what she might have and if I should bring her to the doctor (my son's doctor didn't think it necessary to bring my daughter in, since his strep test was negative). 

As soon as I opened the book that old familiar feeling appeared. Blood and heart racing, getting hot, almost sweaty, feeling panicked. Measles? Meningitis? Mumps? Pertussis? I churned for about half a second, until I realized: wait, my daughter has been vaccinated against these deadly diseases. At least, I thought to myself, I don't have to worry about those. The peace of mind I felt instantly upon realizing that I had vaccinated my daughter (and son) so they would not contract these awful, sometimes fatal diseases was one of the greatest endorsements of my decision to vaccinate. Sure, I could move on to other worries, like strep throat (which is what it turned out to be after a visit to Urgent Care), but I no longer feared for my daughter's life. And while that may sound an extreme reaction to your child's illness, trust me, it's sort of a boilerplate reaction. Somewhere, in the back of your mind, a parent wonders if the sickness might be something awful.

My thoughts turned to parents who don't vaccinate. How, I wondered, could they cope psychologically with common childhood illness, not knowing if it was measles or the rather harmless roseola? Could it be pertussis or just a bad cough? The uncertainty would be my undoing. And in the middle of an outbreak, like the measles outbreak of Minnesota and the pertussis outbreak that killed children in California, the fear would be too much to bear. 

If you are trying to decide whether to vaccinate your children, consider your future self, waking up in the middle of some future night, and finding your baby running a terribly high fever in her crib. You don't what's going on--this is your first, perhaps. Do you want to run, in your head, the gamut of all the potential deadly vaccine-preventable diseases your child could have, signaled by this fever, that rash, this cough, these enlarged glands? Or do you want to have at least the peace of mind to know that the odds are hugely in your favor that your child is protected from the worst childhood diseases out there, and that this fever might indicate Fifth's Disease or Roseola or another annoying but basically harmless childhood virus? Do your future, sleep-deprived self, and your child, a favor and immunize.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Father of Three Autistic Boys Speaks Out--in Favor of Vaccines

Please take the time to read this post from Rob's blog Lost & Tired. He is the father of three boys, all of whom fall somewhere on the spectrum.

Biography of a Measles Outbreak

Wondering how a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak can spread? Wired offers a clear-eyed view from the Arizona measles outbreak. As parents facing the choice about whether to immunize our children, we owe it to them to understand the truth about the presence of vaccine-preventable diseases in our country and communities, how they get here, and how they spread. You can read the story of the Arizona measles outbreak here, but below you'll find an excerpt from the play-by-play of how that outbreak unfolded. If any non-vaccinating parent has told you that these diseases are effectively gone in the United States, and that immunization is unnecessary, take a look at how measles spread in Arizona. Please also take special note of two facts: one, that the outbreak was started by an adult who had traveled to another country and returned to the United States and two, that many of the victims were children who had intentionally been left unvaccinated as well as infants who had not had a chance to be vaccinated:

In February 2008, a 37-year-old Swiss woman who had never been vaccinated against measles arrived in Tucson after a visit to Mexico. She developed breathing problems and a rash and went to a local hospital’s emergency room. They suspected she had a viral illness and admitted her.

Here’s what you have to know, to understand what happened next. Measles is extremely contagious; up to 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed to it will get it. And if someone nearby has it, youwill get exposed — because coughed-out measles virus can travel across a room, and hangs in the air for hours. The best protection against spreading measles in a hospital is putting someone in a negative-pressure isolation room, which is engineered so no air can leak out into the rest of the hospital. It took two days to get the Swiss tourist into isolation, because measles is rare enough in the US that it was not the hospital personnel’s first thought.
A 50-year-old woman who had spent an hour in the ER at the same time as the Swiss woman caught the disease from her. Patient 2 got taken care of, went home, and started feeling feverish nine days later. She had difficulty breathing and thought at first she was having an asthma attack, so she went back to the hospital and was admitted for two days. That she had measles would not be discovered until six days after that.
While she was  in the hospital, Patient 2 unknowingly infected a 41-year-old health care worker who took care of her — and who was scheduled to get a measles-vaccine booster shot that very day, because the hospital was also caring for the tourist. Patient 2 also passed measles to an unvaccinated 11-month-old boy who was in the same ER while she was waiting to get checked for asthma, and to two unvaccinated siblings — 3 and 5 years old — who were visiting their mother on the same hospital floor after Patient 2 was admitted.
Patient 3, the health-care worker, passed measles to a 47-year-old woman in her emergency department — who later  ended up in an intensive care unit with measles pneumonia — and later to a 41-year-old man in his home. Patient 4, the toddler, gave the virus to an unvaccinated 1-year-old while they were both in the same pediatrician’s office. Five other people were infected somewhere in their everyday lives: a 2-year-old boy who had never been vaccinated and who also ended up in an ICU with seizures brought on by high fever; a 9-month-old and an 8-month-old, also unvaccinated; and two adults, 35 and 37, who might have gotten one dose as children, but had no documentation of receiving a second dose.
Those 14 are just the confirmed cases. In addition to them, there were 363 suspected ones, and today’s paper makes clear authorities believe there were more illnesses than they know. And for every known case, there were dozens or hundreds of exposed people who had to be checked: 145 passengers on the tourist’s flight from Mexico, 1,795 patients in the ER that treated Patient 2, 25 people who attended church with Patient 7, 10 kids in the same day care center as Patient 8.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I'm Mad, Part One: Mercury/Thimerosal

New and expecting parents are bombarded with information about all the bad things they'll need to keep their children away from: BPA in bottles, parabens in lotions and bath supplies, phthalates and PVC in toys and teethers. It can be overwhelming. And yet the science linking these three chemicals to negative health effects is thus far nearly conclusive (I will link to CDC studies on these chemicals at the end of the article). Luckily, phasing them out of your life is a risk-free and mostly hassle-free endeavor. Most if not all baby bottles today are free from BPA; in some states, including Minnesota, phthalates are not allowed in children's products. Parabens are easily identifiable in personal products (look for methylparaben, butylparane, propylparaben) and can be avoided. There is no trade-off. You are not putting your child at risk by choosing a BPA-free bottle.

So after crossing those things off the list, new and expecting parents often turn to vaccines. And many of them make the same mistake I made as a new parent. They turn to Google, the place where eminent scientific mind Jenny McCarthy says she got her "degree."The first sites we find are not Every Child By Two and the Centers for Disease Control, the Gates Foundation and Partners in Health. Instead, we find sites like the so-called National Vaccine Information Center, which masquerades as an impartial watchdog agency (hence the "org" in its web address), and, which claims that vaccines cause all sorts of diseases and allergies. For the neophyte, it is nearly impossible to sort the wheat from the chaff here, and the effort to do so can be absolutely terrifying.

You will hear lots of terrible things about vaccines. Nearly all of them are lies. The word "lie" is inflammatory, but I use it here deliberately. It is a word, and a characterization, you will not see on public health websites, from the CDC, from Every Child by Two, or any of the sites of organizations whose job it is to study the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Even though they know this is true. 

But we're parents who have been on both sides of this debate. We've been scared, too. But after looking at the science and putting things in perspective--something the anti-vax community will not do, perhaps because they are incapable, perhaps because their science literacy is so low--we got mad. 

I'm mad about lots of things. We all are. In an effort to save some new parents the same heartache, worry, anxiety that we suffered as we tried to figure out the vaccine thing--and to keep parents from delaying their children's immunizations out of fear, as a few of us did before we understood our mistake, putting our kids' lives at risk in the process--we are initiating a series of "I'm Mad" posts. These posts will address some of the most volatile but common claims anti-vaxxers make when trying to scare new parents out of immunizing their children. Today we start with the thimerosal question.

Claim: Thimerosal in vaccines causes/caused autism. If it doesn't, it's still toxic. 

I worried about thimerosal for a while. People told me it was straight-up mercury being injected into my child's body. Mercury is poison, right? It's what is causing all this autism, because although thimerosal has been used a preservative in vaccines for decades, without the attendant rise in autism, our kids just get so many more immunizations now, right? 

Well--except that thimerosal hasn't been in vaccines since 2000/2001 and autism rates continue to skyrocket. I shouldn't have to point out, but I will, that this is the exact opposite effect of what we'd see if thimerosal caused autism, as anti-vaxxers long claimed. I later learned that the preservative had been taken out of vaccines by the government and public health authorities not because of any toxicity concerns but because parents believed the Wakefield study and they feared vaccination rates would fall if this gesture was not made. Thimerosal does not cause autism (Immunizations and Autism: A Review of the Literature in the Canadian Journal of Neuroscience)

Mercury poisoning? That sounds scary. Except that your typical tuna sandwich contains much more mercury than a single vaccine. Actually, the mercury in tuna is scarier, because it is methyl mercury, a serious neurotoxin, while the mercury in vaccines is ethyl mercury, which is, even at high doses, far less toxic than methyl mercury (but in the doses we're talking about in vaccines are literally traces anyway). Bottom line: mercury poisoning is an impossibility when it comes to vaccines, even if you were to get the whole course of childhood vaccines (back when they contained thimerosal) in a single week.

But here's the main point that goes overlooked. Right now, vaccines are nearly the lowest-risk medicine we have available to us. The reports of adverse effects--which include fever and soreness at the injection site--are so low compared to the number of doses administered, that they are considered one of the safest, if not the single safest, medicine in the world. And their benefits are this: they keep your child alive. It is as simple as that.

Too few of us parents have seen measles. I know of no one who has seen polio, except for people who have lived in Afghanistan and India, where polio is still endemic. Endemic. This means it is "regularly" found in a population. Know anyone who travels to India? Might there be any children at your local school who have Indian relatives? I know there are at least eight in my child's preschool alone. I hasten to add that their parents didn't think twice about immunizing them, because of their travels and because they, too, had seen these diseases take lives when they were growing up. Is there a reason why your husband or wife might be required to get a polio shot if he/she hasn't gotten one if she/he is deployed to Afghanistan? This stuff is a plane ride away. And it is not theoretical.

Haven't seen what Tetanus looks like? Here is a photo of a child with tetanus. Here is a photo of a child who suffered polioMeasles looks like this. Is it worth forgoing vaccines against diseases like this, and many others, that are absolutely extant in our world and either in this country (or in my case, my state) or a plane ride away, carried home by an unwitting traveler much like the toddler who brought measles back to Minnesota from Kenya this winter, because of fear of a toxicity that simply doesn't exist? It's something to consider. For me, it became an easy answer when considered this way. 

Science-Based Medicine offers a look at the claims of toxicity of vaccines that you are likely to hear as you explore the vaccine question. We owe it to ourselves to read the post in its entirety before making any decisions about whether or not to get on board with some of the more inflammatory claims we still hear from people who don't vaccinate their children and don't want you to vaccinate either. 

You can also get the word from these organizations. Below are links to their statements on the safety/toxicity of thimerosal. Again, this is really a moot point, as no childhood vaccines, save the multi-dose vial version of the flu shot, contain any thimerosal. But it's a point worth making, as it demonstrates the ways anti-vax proponents will manipulate and misinterpret the science to new parents, hoping that most of them won't bother to look into their claims.