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

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