I went on a trip to Philidelphia to tour the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine plant. My flight, hotel, cab fare and meals were covered expenses. The opinions represented in this post are all mine and were not compensated in any way.This is a VERY long post, and yet I feel strongly about it and would really appreciate if you would take the time to read it in it's entirety.
I've been writing my main blog for about 8 years now. Maybe a little bit longer, for I remember writing about my 8 year old when she was a baby and mentioning how quiet she was. Yeah, as if THAT continued. I've met some really phenomenal people while doing this awesome thing called blogging, and I've had some amazing opportunites offered to me. I'm not one of those bloggers who makes an enormous amount of money from blogging, doing reviews or selling ads. I've been really lucky to go on some awesome trips and luckily, one of those opportunities presented itself this past week.
When I was a child, I vaguely remember the topic of vaccines coming up, but not ever in a questioning kind of manner. More of an "ugh, why do I have to do this?" type thing. When I had my first child, I remember being scared of vaccinating him, especially as I had friends who were solidly and adamantly in the anti vaccine category. My mother was emphatic in her thought that I absolutely should vaccinate, and my husband was equally adamant.
And so I vaccinated all six of my children, on schedule and fully. Except for the chicken pox. I'll get to that discussion in a minute.
And then last year occurred. My family was hit with the H1N1 and it was brutal. Each one of my children was seriously ill for more than a week and one of my daughters missed school for two solid weeks. This experience - which ended up with a couple of them diagnosed with pneumonia - colored my vision about the flu and how it wracked my children. It was the hardest hit we've ever been with any illness. I will never avoid the flu shot again.
I was offered a trip to Philly to tour the GlaxoSmithKline plant to see how vaccines are manufactured and hear what they had to say. I will admit to a healthy bit of skepticism - after all, I'm sure that they would never say anything wrong about their product - and just because I DO vaccinate my kids on time and with the vast majority of the recommended and required vaccines - doesn't mean that I'm a sheep. I have read the manufacturer's inserts for many of the vaccines. I have researched, probably more than is healthy, the mercury/autism debate, thanks in part to my daughter and her spectrum diagnosis. I worry about overloading the delicate immune systems and wonder each and every time that each shot may not do what it is supposed to do.
In preparation for my trip, I asked my mother her reasons and history for vaccination. Here are her words:
As a child growing up in rural Missouri, I was not vaccinated. My parents refused to allow the school to
give us the vaccinations, not even tetanus and we all stepped on plenty of rusty nails! I was never told why but was probably a mistrust of the government. When I was in 6th grade, I signed my mother’s name to the sheet and received the smallpox vaccination. I don’t remember her ever noticing my scar. As a child, I had whooping cough, both measles and mumps as did my brothers, sisters and probably all the children in our little one room country school. My mother told us that they all had Small pox when
they were growing up and were quarantined because of it but also told us that they snuck out at night
because they had to work! When I applied for nurse’s training, I had to have up to date immunizations and got them without an argument from my parents. There was never a question about whether I would
vaccinate my children. I had taken care of children in my ped’s rotation who had whooping cough,
or measles and several times a year we, as student nurses, then later as nurses would be exposed to someone who had TB, so my children were vaccinated.
We were taken to the vaccine packaging and filling plant early Friday morning. After a long ride through some of the most beautiful countryside of Lancaster County, we arrived at the plant. We were greeted warmly and after grabbing some (more! There's never enough in my book) coffee, we sat down to listen to the first part of the presentation. Do More, Feel Better, Live Longer is their new motto, and it is one that they are definitely committed to spreading globally. Each and every person that spoke to us was passionate and animated about their work.
I am an avid reader and I've read many books detailing the history of disease and the evolution of vaccinations and antibiotics, and it fascinates me. As recently as 100 years ago, families lost members, even babies, to diseases that we just don't think about any more. Plagues and flus transformed the structure of society in ways that I almost cannot comprehend. Entire populations were wiped out by diseases that I would not recognize if I saw them today. Mothers routinely died after childbirth and only the hardiest babies survived.
i know that there is another side to the discussion. I've studied the vaccine debate in detail, and my heart breaks for those who have suffered disfiguration and those families who have lost members due to vaccine trauma. I do believe that there have been issues and problems. Nothing is ever free from strife.
But for us, I believe in vaccines.
We learned the process of vaccines coming to market - how detailed the research is, how incredibly demanding and consuming the FDA regulations are, and the many steps necessary to bringing a vaccine into public use. I was struck by the fact that each person who spoke to us was excited about their work and passionate about helping people. One of the speakers - and I'm so sorry, I didn't catch a name, because the cold that my hubby was so gracious in sharing had begun to take root and the cold medicine I had taken was making me a bit sleepy - had been a pediatrician. He left that job to work for Big Pharma. THAT was how strongly he believes in vaccinations. (Edit to add: His name is Len. :) )
We heard about babies who have recently died from pertussis, even though they had been partially immunized against pertussis - for it isn't a complete vaccine until they have done all the courses. And adults are the number one carriers of the disease, because no immunity is life time and most adults are lax about getting their boosters. Tetanus we hear about because of the rusty nail connection, and many women of child bearing age are screened for rubella in the first trimester of their pregnancy and immunized - but but have you been encouraged to update your childhood immunizations?
Over and over, we heard about stringent guidelines for cleanliness and levels of sanitation that must be followed. After all, these substances are being injected into the bodies of people around the world. One stray hair, one speck of dirt, even something as small as a label not applied correctly - and the entire lot could be destroyed.
We were gowned up and taken on a tour of the plant. No cameras were allowed, and for this I am grateful, for the world has no need to see me in a hair net, booties, lab coat and lab glasses. I saw stations where people sat for hours every day, holding the finished vials up in front of white paper and then black, to inspect them for defects, chips and flaws. I saw a company that follows ridiculously stringent levels of sanitation. I even saw the line shut down briefly for an error in labeling. Rather than just relabel the vials, they were discarded.
I was impressed. I didn't get the idea, either, that they were putting on a show because there was a group of bloggers present. In fact, it seemed at times that we weren't welcomed, by the looks on the faces of some of the employees we saw - but, you know, we DID look like aliens in coats and goggles.
On the way back to the hotel - and then straight to the airport, for this was the shortest trip I've EVER been on, just 25 hours - we discussed vaccines at length. The best part of any of these trips is the opportunity to chat with some of my favorite blogging pals and to meet new idols. And people way smarter than me. Hearing the stories that other people share is what makes these trips for me.
I am a believer in vaccines and the lives that they save. My kids are getting their flu shots on Saturday. I hope to be well enough - for this truly EVIL cold that my husband so kindly shared with me morphed into a whole entire bunch o' gunk in the lungs, as befitting an occasional asthmatic - to join them.
Will you be getting a flu shot? What about your other vaccines - are they up to date?