Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tristen's Story: How Pediatricians Can Make a Difference

By Tristen Warner

I was terrified to vaccinate my son. I am a pretty crunchy mom, and had been hearing non-stop about "problems" with vaccination. My fears kept growing, but I decided that I needed to have real information on why vaxing was horrible. Until then, I’d protect my son the best way I knew how. And that was going ahead with the vaccination schedule.

So I went ahead and put my son through the whole vaccine schedule, but decided to skip the chicken pox vaccine. As a “crunchy” mom, it was impossible to avoid the blogs, posts, and articles about the so-called “dangers” of vaccinating. My chiropractor hated both the chicken pox and the hepatitis b vaccines; he and many other people warned me away from them. And yet I was given nothing but false information wherever I turned, including admonishments about “loading down his system” with an “unnecessary” vaccine.

Still, as my son’s next well baby visit approached I decided I would not vaccinate him against chicken pox. I was fine, my partner was fine, no worries, right? I thought back to when I had Chicken Pox as a child. I itched. I slept a lot. My mom brought me a ton of books from the library and I snuggled with my cats eating soup. How bad is chicken pox really, I thought to myself. I had never heard of any horror stories related to chicken pox (at least not until I joined a pro-vax Facebook page). 

The night before my son’s appointment, I talked to my mom again. Our conversation that night prompted me to ask more questions and give our doctor a chance to actually give me information before I made up my mind--though I will honestly say that as I walked in that exam room, I had already decided not to vaccinate. Still, I wanted to act like I was being fair.

The initial part of the visit went well. Then my doctor politely mentioned which vaccines were due at this visit. I held my breath and started asking questions, many of them based on misinformation I’d heard from blogs, websites, and other parents. 

“Can you get shingles from the vax?” 
“How bad is chicken pox, really?”
“Why all this worry?”
“Is chicken pox a form of herpes, and can you get herpes from the vax?” 
“Do you have to re-take the vaccine ever ten years for it to remain effective?”

With grace, patience, and ease he answered each of my questions, even though some of them were probably "momma-worry-stupid" type of concerns, but never once did I get the impression that he thought any less of me. He took all of my questions seriously. Nothing was brushed aside.

His honesty when answering each question, and his respect for my intelligence and my desire to protect my child, made me feel safer. There were, of course, potential side effects to the vaccine, just like they are for any medication. The fact that he didn’t gloss over this fact helped ease my mind as well. He didn't push and he didn't make me feel like vaccinating was part of a big "agenda." His calm kindness, soft humor, and real information I felt more at ease with the idea of giving my baby the chicken pox vaccine. After all, if he didn’t need to get sick to develop an immunity that would help him later in life why should I force that on my little guy?

When I got home and talked about my decision with my mom I heard a sigh of relief over the phone. My mother had had chicken pox herself as a child.

She had almost died. 

I realized then that I had the best pediatrician in the world.

Tristen Warner is a first-time mother to a one-year-old boy, an artist, and a critical thinker. :-) She was a vaccine-hesitant parent, but changed her mind through research and soul searching. 

Editor's Note: If you are a parent who choose to vaccinate and would like to share your story or otherwise contribute to Moms Who Vax, please contact us at momswhovax AT gmail.com. Dads are especially welcome.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Daughter's Legacy: One Mother's Story

By Stephanie 

I’m a mother of three children and a forthright vaccine advocate. However, only two of my children are vaccinated. My daughter was stillborn in April 2010. Losing her, finding out that her heart had stopped beating within my womb, has been the most shattering experience of my life. She was a beautiful little thing, weighing five pounds and twelve ounces. She had dark curly hair, perfect oval shaped little fingernails, blonde eyelashes and ruby red lips. My husband and I never found out why she died, her stillbirth was one of the “unexplained” ones.
When she died, the profundity of what had happened hit me like a sledgehammer. My baby died. I was a mother with a dead baby. For the rest of my life, I would have to deal with this fact One of my children dying had been my worst nightmare for as long as I could remember. I actually am incredibly sensitive to any story of a child being harmed or dying and often am found crying over news stories or magazine article that portray stories of these tragedies.
I never thought it would happen to me. But it did.
This is the crux of the anti vaccinationist movement. You will hear the cries “my child was born with a perfect immune system! Why mess with it? You never see these diseases anymore! My neighbour’s sister’s boyfriend’s son got measles and he was VACCINATED!”
The anti vaccinationists think it won’t happen to them.
This is because of the overall success of vaccines over time. There are a number of diseases that just are not in circulation in the Western world any more, such as Diphtheria, Rubella and Polio. Anti-vaccinationists have not seen, first hand, the horror of Diphtheria wards in the 40’s; they have not seen a child affected by Congenital Rubella Syndrome. (Editor's Note: Click here for photos of children with Diptheria and Rubella)
Neither have I, of course, but I truly believe that these people are blind to real situations where things can go terribly, terribly wrong. I, on the other hand, am constantly on the lookout for ways to keep my children safe and protected. Vaccination is a perfect example of a way to keep your children safe and protected.
Our youngest son was born during the peak of a Pertussis (Whooping Cough) outbreak. Well before he was born, we were advised to have our Pertussis boosters organised, but because I was so concerned about the spread of Pertussis, I had received mine back in 2009, just before I became pregnant with my daughter. Despite this, I still received another shot. Our older son, of course, was up to date with all his vaccinations. When the baby was born, my husband had his jab immediately.
Two weeks before my son was born, another little baby arrived in the world, on the other side of the country to me. This little boy died of Pertussis when he was 5 weeks old. My baby was 3 weeks old when we heard the story on the news and health authorities urged anyone with newborns to keep them indoors and for parents and carers to receive their DTaP vaccine.
For somebody who has already buried a child, this news was terrifying. It made me angry. It made me angry because the reason that this baby had died was because of the perpetuation of misinformation, spread by people who have no critical thinking skills, who cannot evaluate sources, who were urging parents to not vaccinate their children...and as a result, Whooping Cough had managed to penetrate the community. And the most vulnerable members of society, newborns, were paying the price. This little one was amongst many infants who have passed away from Whooping Cough. Dana McCaffrey, Callie Von Tornhout, Carter Dube.
See, it’s all about herd immunity, isn’t it? The more people that are vaccinated, the less able an organism is able to infect a person. Without ample hosts, the disease will die. But the diseases are coming back with a vengeance, because parents are choosing not to vaccinate anymore. There are more available hosts and as the anti vaccinationists bleat “if your kid is vaccinated, why do you care?” we must remember that not all vaccines are 100% effective. There will always be someone who doesn’t mount a good immune response, and so they might be unlucky enough to contract the disease. Furthermore, there are those who cannot be vaccinated, such as those who are immuno-suppressed, women who are pregnant, newborns and people with a genuine contraindication to receive vaccines.
I have always been a supporter of vaccination. But after experiencing the death of my daughter, my advocacy increased, I became a vocal proponent of vaccination and I didn’t care who knew it. In fact, the more people that knew it, the better! I believe that having to have deal with the death of my baby has made me all the more sensitive to children’s health issues and to avoiding unnecessary deaths. As someone who has experienced infant loss first hand, I will campaign to ensure that all parents know the facts about vaccination because I never want to see or hear about another small baby, or any child, for that matter, needlessly suffer the repercussions of a vaccine preventable illness. I am unapologetically outspoken about this cause, it is well known that it is a passion of mine. 
For some, they find it confronting and uncomfortable. I have been unapologetic about not allowing anyone who was not up to date with their boosters to visit my new baby until he had finished his series. I have also been vocal about close family members getting their DTaP, and they did. Not just for my baby, but for all the babies out there who need us to be protected in order to protect them. I have been “unfriended” on Facebook for entering into a debate about the Pertussis vaccine, and as the parties of the debate vehemently purported a range of untruths and incorrect information, I took them to task on the simplest of mistakes. For example, their claim that Pertussis was a virus. Now I asked them how on Earth they expect people to take their assertions seriously if they themselves don’t even have a grasp on basic immunology?                                
This is why I am unflinching  in my quest to increase the amount of correct information regarding vaccination. Because I need to challenge those who are proliferating claims that are downright wrong, influencing parents who don’t know any better, which in turn contributes to the fall in herd immunity. And as this happens, our children are in danger. My young baby, who was not old enough to receive the full series of his immunisations for Pertussis until he was six months old. That was six months of terror that he would be exposed to this insidious bacteria and I would lose another child.
I believe that if my daughter, as little and pure as she was, wanted to leave any sort of legacy, it was this. For her outspoken (yet civil) mother to light a fire underneath people, have as many parents as possible vaccinate their children and themselves to protect our newborns.
Stephanie is a teacher and mother who lives in Australia. You can read more of her writing at www.bornstill-sybella.blogspot.com

Friday, November 11, 2011

Moms Who Vax: Dr. Kate O'Brien's Story

Editor's Note: To mark World Pneumonia Day, Moms Who Vax, along with a number of other blogs, will run this commentary by pediatrician Kate O'Brien from Johns Hopkins on her experience with her own child's bout of pneumonia. 

By Dr. Kate O'Brien

I’m a pediatrician, an infectious disease pediatrician at that.  We’re supposed to know what to do when a baby has pneumonia---apparently that’s not always true.  I’ve treated hundreds of such cases --- but this time was different.   When it’s your own infant none of that experience matters.  Jack looked at me with what seemed like panic in his eyes.  Coughing, crying, breathing fast, sleeping in fits and spurts.  Babies aren’t supposed to breath that fast.  He lay beside me in bed. It was the day before Christmas and I just kept telling myself that we’d be better soon---apparently that’s not true either.    We both had influenza, I’m sure of that.  If you’ve had it you’ll know what I mean---I felt like hell, exhausted, muscle aches, every time I coughed it felt like sandpaper scraping over my trachea.  But since I’m an infectious disease doc, of course we were vaccinated!---well, apparently that wasn’t true this year.  I had every intention of getting that done weeks earlier, but life got in the way.

The middle of the night always makes things worse, or at least things seem worse.  So, we became ‘that family’, calling our neighbors in the middle of the night to care for our two-year old while we drove to the hospital with Jack.  So many times I was that doctor we were about to meet in the emergency room, scratching my head wondering, “Why did they wait the whole day at home and decide to finally come in at 2 in the morning?”  Well, now I knew.  Sometimes it doesn’t get better.  He had pneumonia on the chest x-ray and needed antibiotics.  

Every day, of every year, millions of children get pneumonia and struggle to breath; more than a million of them don’t get the treatment they need and die.  

Every day of every year something unimaginable to the mothers we are, happens to mothers we don’t know, over 90% of them living in poor countries in Africa and Asia ---their child dies in front of their eyes from pneumonia.  It’s senseless.   It’s inhuman. Vaccines against the biggest pneumonia causing bacteria, Hib and pneumococcus, along with other simple strategies can prevent these deaths.   

So, this year on World Pneumonia Day, look at your kids and remember to get them vaccinated, remember to get yourself vaccinated and remember that not every mother is so lucky….yet.  The GAVI Alliance is helping give those mothers the same opportunity for their kids, faster than ever before for any vaccine.  At a time when the world seems to be more complicated than ever, this seems like a pretty sensible thing to do.

Dr. Kate O’Brien, pediatrician, epidemiologist, Deputy Director of the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, USA,
Winner of the 2011 US Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An Attachment Parenting Mom on Watching "The Greater Good"

By Jennifer Westmoreland Bouchard

I went down the anti-vax rabbit hole the other night. I have to admit that I learned a lot. This not-so-fantastic voyage was prompted by the fact that several friends and acquaintances had recommended I watch “The Greater Good,” described to me as a dispassionate, fair-and-balanced documentary that offers a glimpse into the complex vaccine debate.
The people who recommended this film to me largely share my parenting philosophies. For all intents and purposes, I consider myself a practitioner of attachment parenting (AP). I exclusively breastfeed my four-month-old daughter, we practice elimination communication, I wear her as much as she’ll let me, and I am extremely careful about the products I allow her to use. 
But I’ve noticed an anti-vaccine trend in attachment parenting groups (I partially attribute this to Dr. Sears’ delayed vaccine schedule), to such an extent that I always feel compelled to add that I am pro-vax whenever I’m in a conversation about AP. So, yes, I've become the AP parent who vaccinates according to the routine vaccinations scheduled outlined by the CDC. Why? Because my daughter deserves better than to be put at risk for serious illness as a result of baseless claims and anecdotal evidence. Because my community deserves better than to be subjected to an epidemic, to travel back in time to a much more dangerous time in human history, a time before safe, effective vaccines were available to a majority of the U.S. population.
I’ll be honest: I knew going in that “The Greater Good” was going to be about as fair and balanced as Fox News and as dispassionate as… well, a one-sided conversation about vaccines. I decided to approach my viewing as a sociological study, as a way to begin to understand why there are still those out there who believe the myriad falsehoods and leaps of logic that run rampant in anti-vax side of the vaccine debate.
Five minutes into the film, I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the whole thing, but I pushed ahead in the name of research. In short, the film was everything I thought it would be and more. Creative (read: deceptive) editing and splicing of sound bytes, vague science, anecdotal "evidence," everything you'd expect from a film with full support from Joe Mercola (for information on Joe Mercola, visit Science-Based Medicine's post about his appearance on Dr. Oz's show). The only reasonable parts of the film were the sections featuring Dr. Paul Offit. (I guess these few scenes were the filmmakers attempt at fair and balanced), who says something logical, then the film cuts to a figure such as notorious anti-vax crusader Barbara Loe Fisher who contradicts what he said, and then it cuts to a heart-wrenching anecdote about a child whose illness was “caused by vaccines.” There were, of course, no anecdotes about unvaccinated children whose lives had been ruined by preventable diseases.
Needless to say, I would never recommend this film to anyone. It’s simply a rehashing of all of the old anti-vax chestnuts (yes, the same ones that have been debunked by the medical community over and over). However, I’m glad I watched it. It helped me understand where anti-vaxxers get their information, and how these notions of false causality become hardened truths in their minds.
Though I’m tempted to give it a go, I’m not going to pick apart the film point-by-point. This has already been done by those much more knowledgeable about vaccine debate than I. For starters, try this piece in the Vaccine Times that dissects the film’s trailer: . Or Gorski’s remarkable dissection of the entire film at Science-Based Medicine. 
Never did I imagine that vaccinating my daughter would be perceived as a political or philosophical statement. Never did I imagine that my pediatrician would noticeably relax, relieved when I told her that we were committed to following a routine vaccination schedule. It saddens and angers me that the anti-vaccine voices have become so loud, and that more and more people are being duped into refusing vaccines for their children. Good parents question the safety of everything. It’s what we do. Questioning is important, yes. But it’s even more important to base those questions on hard scientific evidence, on correct information.
We live in a climate where everyone can get a “degree in vaccination studies” at the “University of Google.” As I remind my college students each semester as we come to final paper time, Internet research is fine, just make sure you consult quality sources. Be analytical, be tough, be unrelenting when it comes to the veracity of the information you’re reading. It is my job as a Mom Who Vaxs to be a quality (re)source, to continue to educate myself not only on the science that supports benefits of vaccines, but also on the rhetoric of the anti-vaxxers (so that I can debunk it for those who are still “on the fence” about vaccinations, or anti-vaxxers who are willing to question their views). This is my best hope for helping to make our society safer for our kids, safer for all of us.
Jen Westmoreland Bouchard is a writer, teacher, translator, and mother.


Monday, November 7, 2011

From Anti-Vax to Pro-Vax: One Mom's Story

By Chrissy Ruis

When my oldest child was born in 2005, we faithfully followed the immunization schedule, knowing nothing of the controversy until a several months later, when I discovered internet forums. I have always been into natural health and foods, so when I first learned about all of the scary-sounding ingredients in vaccines, I was alarmed. And then when my son (eight months old at the time) came down with a mild case of pertussis, I was angry that he got all of his shots “for nothing.”

I dove deep into the anti-vax scene, visiting countless websites, reading all of the books I could get my hands on. I read the package inserts, medical journals, and the CDC’s Pink Book, until I convinced myself that I was making an informed choice not to vaccinate. After all, I wasn’t vaccinated and I was perfectly healthy; my father didn’t believe in vaccinations, but he never really told me why. I became an active poster on some parenting forums, taking every opportunity to share my “research”; I even created my own vaccine information web page.

A couple of years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, my husband and I became very concerned with our son’s development; he was lagging behind and just seemed so…different from other toddlers. Our pediatrician was of an older generation and didn’t seem all that concerned, but it just kept nagging at me. My husband and I agreed to give it a little more time to see if he grew out of  “it,” not really knowing for sure what “it” was until soon after, on a mid-October afternoon.

Let me preface by saying I never watch talk shows, which is why it is so odd that, while waiting for my husband to finish getting ready to for an afternoon at the park, I happened to watch Oprah. Her guest that day was Jenny McCarthy, whom I only knew from the ’90’s dating show on MTV, Singled Out. Why was she on Oprah? Turns out, she was promoting her new book, Louder Than Words. The moment came where she began describing her son’s characteristic and it hit me “That’s it: autism!!” Sure, Bobby had relatively normal speech for his 2.75 years, but it was just something about the way he spoke. Everything else was spot-on: the repetitive behavior, the spinning objects, the lack of interaction, the sensory issues; it all fit. He was due for his next well-visit in another month, so I brought it up then with the pediatrician. Like I said, he was an older doctor (in practice longer than I had been alive), and was quite up front with his lack of knowledge about autism… which meant we were pretty much on our own to figure out how to proceed.

Just after his third birthday, Bobby was evaluated, given a diagnosis of autism, and enrolled in a full-day ABA program. At first I was relieved because my worries had finally been validated. Then I was angry and convinced that my child had been damaged by the vaccines he had gotten before we stopped after twelve months. Obviously, I had no intention of poisoning my newborn daughter, too.

Naturally, as the two worlds intersect, I got caught up in the biomedical movement, convinced I would “heal” Bobby by “detoxifying” him. The poor kid was on a restrictive diet, given countless supplements, clay baths. Epson salt rubs, you name it. He did make a lot of progress, to the point where he was one of the highest-functioning kids in his school. Arrogantly, I believed it was because I was so dedicated to biomedical treatments. Once he aged-out of his school, I decided to home school Bobby, as our school district had very few accommodations for him. I continued with biomedical treatments, except we were doing a lot less because money was a lot tighter than before. Home schooling was good at first, but gradually it began to take its toll; I was worn out and exhausted dealing with Bobby’s behaviors 24/7.

Then, last December brought the birth of our third child. We had a very serious health scare when I passed group b streptococcus to him during labor. I got the recommended IV antibiotics, but got to the hospital too late to get the full four-hour course before he was born. Obviously, it wasn’t vaccine-related, but it did cause me to re-evaluate my ideas about health care… including vaccines. When I’d go to the NICU to nurse my new baby, I’d look around at these tiny babies, some of them no bigger than a Barbie doll… and I was in awe of how science has advanced to where micro-preemies now actually have a shot at life.

How a simple antibiotic spared my baby from becoming very sick, or even dying.

Then it hit me that the same could be said for vaccines. I quickly tried to push that thought away, but I couldn’t escape that little epiphany. But how could I suddenly consider vaccinating? My oldest child hadn’t been vaccinated since twelve months, and my three-year-old had never been vaccinated. I still couldn’t think of vaccines as being anything but “toxins,” but I suddenly felt driven to look more closely at the pro-vaccine side.

Seth Mnookin’s book, The Panic Virus, had just been released; it sounded interesting, so I gave it a read. Wow. It made me seriously consider at least selectively vaccinating. He cites Dr. Paul Offit quite a bit, so I grudgingly decided to read his books, too. I devoured the books in one week, and during that time, every anti-vax argument I had began to crumble away.

I realized I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Mnookin and Offit’s books completely deconstruct every aspect of the anti-vax and biomedical movements, until there is just no leg for them to stand on.

Realizing how wrong I had been, how easily I could have allowed my children to become seriously ill, and how much money I wasted on biomedical scam…I was so angry with myself. Unfortunately, with everything else going on in my struggle to balance my children’s needs, home schooling, and coping with a severely colicky newborn, I cracked. Literally. I had a mental breakdown and needed to be medicated. Money was tight, so the only way we could afford the co-pays for my medication and therapy sessions was to cut out Bobby’s supplements and the specialty foods to keep him on his diet. I was terrified that he would regress and lose all of his progress, but guess what happened: nothing! He got neither better nor worse, which means we had been throwing money down the drain for nearly three years.

Next came the moment of truth: bringing my kids to be vaccinated. First up was my three-year-old. It was traumatic for her, but we got her up-to-date. I had originally planned on a much delayed schedule for my new baby, but I realized there was just no logical reason to delay, so we went ahead with the recommended schedule. They are both fine and developing typically. With Bobby, I hadn’t planned on getting him any vaccines, but once we decided to send him to public school (we moved to a new district with a better special ed department), I knew I didn’t want to send him without any protection, lest he bring home preventable diseases to the new baby. He got the few he needed to be up-to-date for school and despite my dreadful fears, guess what happened: nothing! He didn’t regress, and if anything, he actually had a developmental leap in his social skills (coincidentally, of course!).

Maybe, just maybe, vaccines had absolutely nothing to do with his autism; he never had a regression or anything, just developmental delays that, two more babies later, I can recognize.

I became very angry at the whole anti-vax movement. Angry at the subtle sleight-of-hand and the exploitation of concerned parents. Angry for the desperate parents of autistic children, who are being scammed like I was. Angry at myself for encouraging so many others to stop vaccinating. I’m slowly making amends, though. I am vocal about my change in beliefs and can (and do!) debate circles around any anti-vaxxer.  The kids are all up-to-date on their vaccines, and are as happy and healthy as ever.

I even got my first vaccinations, too.

Editor's Note: If you are a parent who would like to share your story about why you vaccinate, please contact us at momswhovax AT gmail.com

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Rubella Files

Jennifer McDonald is a mother of two, with one on the way, and is a member of the Facebook group “Wear ‘em, Nurse ‘em, and Vax ‘em, too.” She wrote in to share a story from her own family history that underscores her decision to vaccinate her children.

When Jennifer’s grandmother was pregnant with Jennifer’s mother in 1960, she was exposed to—and possibly caught—German measles, or Rubella, one of the most dreaded diseases a pregnant woman can get. At this time, because of the high rate of severe birth defects associated with exposure to Rubella, doctors routinely advised termination of the pregnancy. And this is what Jennifer’s grandmother’s doctor advised her to do.

“He’d seen many mothers regret not terminating once their measles-exposed babies were born, and he’d seen firsthand the effect this had on them,” Jennifer says. In fact, the rubella vaccine was developed in order to prevent transmission of the disease to the fetus, because the effects can be so devastating: miscarriage or stillbirth, an infant with severe heart disorders, blindness, deafness, and other organ disorders.
But Jennifer’s grandmother declined to follow her doctor’s suggestions and proceeded with the pregnancy. “And my mother,” Jennifer says, “was born, presumably defect-free.” So they thought.

Because of the exposure to Rubella when she was a fetus, Jennifer’s mother’s chances of being able to have her own children were very slim. Despite this, and a miscarriage, Jennifer’s mother beat the odds and did give birth to four healthy children, including Jennifer. 

“Looking back,” Jennifer says now, “if things were just a tiny bit different, there's a good chance that I wouldn't be here today.” And while she remains grateful, Jennifer says knowing what she does about rubella, it only heightens her frustration with anti-vax activists who say vaccine-preventable diseases are rare and are not as harmful as we have been lead to believe. 

Rubella remains one of the most dangerous diseases for pregnant woman and their fetuses. It is the reason your ob/gyn or midwife makes certain you have rubella immunity when you come in for your first appointment (a blood test can reveal this if you don’t remember if you were vaccinated as a child). 

When considering the rubella vaccine (part of the MMR vaccine), you need to think not just of your children, but of your grandchildren-to-come. That's because by immunizing your child today, you are preventing the heartbreak of rubella transmission from your child to her own child--your grandchild. 

Note: If you have a story about how vaccine-preventable disease has affected your family, either in the past or recently, please contact us at momswhovax AT gmail.com