I'm going to tell you a story. Grab a cup of coffee. :)
Once upon a time, there was a girl who grew up poor. She had multiple siblings, and not one of those family members was vaccinated. Her mother told stories of the time that she and her family had come down with smallpox. We were quarantined, the mother said, but we went out at night anyway. We had to, to eat and get different things.
The girl grew up and remembers seeing both kinds of mumps, measles, whooping cough and the flu. When the traveling nurse came and offered the smallpox vaccine, she signed her mother's name so that she could get immunized. She really didn't want to get smallpox and be quarantined. It was the only vaccine she received until she went into nurse's training, where she was given the TD and the oral polio. Pediatric rotations in nursing school convinced her that, if she was lucky enough to have children, they would all be vaccinated.
I was one of that girls kids. She was (and still is) my mom.
When I had my first baby, I was deeply suspicious of vaccines. This teeny, tiny, precious baby and a needle full of poison? No way, no how. It wasn't until I casually mentioned the decision I'd made to my mom, while stumbling about in a new mother haze of milk and insomnia that I even heard the above story. My mother was, and is, a private person. For her to share that was big.
I guess you could say that my mama made me do it.
And I'm so thankful that she did.
While I was in D.C. last week, I was privileged to hear stories, facts and cold, brutal reality about diseases I've never seen and barely know. Polio. Mumps. Measles. Rotovirus. Mosquito borne illnesses. You see, I was a guest of Shot@Life, a movement aimed at rallying Americans to champion vaccines for children in developing countries, funded by the United Nations Foundation, which began with a donation from Ted Turner. I’d been part of the Blogust initiative in August, writng about my daughter's fifteenth birthday, and all of the participating bloggers had been invited to a Global Issues Fellowship.
Big, Fancy words.
Fellowship. Funded. Initiative. Rally. What do those words have to do with little old me, mom of six, sitting at my computer in my home?
I heard a talk about mothers in Mozambique. When their babies are born, it's not a celebration. It's not a happy time, it's very quiet, solemn and serious - and the baby is set off to the side. No one wants to bond with the baby, and in fact, babies aren't even named until after they receive their first set of vaccinations
because a child dies every 20 seconds due to the fact that they don't have access to life-saving vaccines. Why become attached to a child who might not be there tomorrow?
1 in 5 children globally lacks access to vaccines. Chew on that for a minute. The very vaccines that those of us in the United States have the luxury of debating, the vaccines that we often brush off as "Not my kid" - those are the very vaccines that mothers in underprivileged countries would beg for. Walk miles to obtain. In countries such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan - the three sole countries where polio is still present and accounted for - there is no debate over the efficacy of vaccines
because the alternative is death.
Why is your kid more important than any other kid in the world? Why is mine - just because I had him or her? That would be like me saying that I 'll never do anything to keep another kid safe - won't loan a helmet or car seat, won't keep my guns locked up, won't avoid packing peanut butter for lunch - all because it might inconvenience me. I'd rather work together in the name of the safety of OPK. (Other People's Kids)
Take a look at this map of vaccine preventable outbreaks since 2008. Red is measles, green is whooping cough, yellow is polio, blue is rubella.
I have a kid with a spectrum disorder. I'm one of those moms whose kid is held up as an example - I don't want my kid to end up like that, so I won't vaccinate! If I had it to do over again, I'd still hold her chubby little thighs and cry softly when the needles went in. Because, you know what? She's ALIVE. The study that linked autism to vaccines has long since been disproven - in fact, the doctor who wrote the study has since had his medical license revoked and the co authors of the study have removed their names from it after it was discovered that he had been paid to falsify information. The story was first published in the British journal The Lancet, and they retracted the study in February of 2011.
The studies that show vaccines save lives -
well, you can't disprove them.
No one knows what causes autism. We know what causes polio, and rubella, and measles, and diptheria. Do we really want to go back to a time when families routinely lost babies and children to these diseases? When families had many children, just so that they could have a fighting chance at two or three of them making it to adulthood?
Enough, Carmen, I get it, you are probably saying. Vaccines are good for those other countries. But we don't have infectious diseases here. Our water is clean and our country is wonderful.
Our country also has borders that are crossed every day. Infectious diseases hop on a plane along with suitcases and carry ons and they find a welcome home everywhere. And, thanks to those actions, and the reality of unvacinated chunks of our population, Measles and whooping cough are trying to grab a foothold once again.
One of my daughters had rotovirus when she was 2.5 years old. She caught it in a swimming pool at the Y. We ended up in the hospital for three days. We were fortunate to have quality health care, and that resultant visit was no more than a financial burden and a couple of sleepless nights. For families with no medical care, or in countries where the local hospital is really just a shack that is more than 50 miles away - those babies don't make it.
One of my children came down with a terrible cough. It lasted for months. Turns out, that kid had a mild version of whooping cough, which had been contracted from an unvaccinated playmate at preschool. My daughter was lucky. She had a partial immunity from her immunizations - it happens, they wear off - and although it was terribly uncomfortable for her, she's still here with us.
Not everyone who contracts whooping cough is so lucky. Every year, many people die - and a vaccine isn't 100% effective, but it can reduce the chances of contracting said disease as well as lessen the severity of the illness. I know what my daughter went through. It was bad enough - I can't imagine going through something much worse than that.
Measles are making a comeback. Polio, almost fully eradicated, is still with us today. Whooping cough has surfaced in colleges. What can we do, as a community, to help protect the health of the world?
• Follow Shot@Life on Twitter and Facebook and share tweets and posts that hit you in the gut. Trust me - you'll find them, very easily. Like this one: "It is critical for India to maintain its polio-free status" http://trib.al/NoBLb0Z #endpolio
Donations are always welcome here. Money talks - and did you know it takes just $20 to vaccinate a child for their ENTIRE LIFE? Measles vaccines cost just 23 CENTS.
• Download the free app Donate A Photo and upload a pic of your child to automatically have Johnson & Johnson donate $1 to Shot@Life and other groups.
If you feel inclined, contact your congress men and women and ask what they are doing to keep the world safe. Become an Advocate to Vaccinate. This grassroots organization is a month-long campaign engaging Americans across the country to call on Congress to support global vaccinations.
Pick something. Pick one thing, or two, or three - just do something.
My baby is your baby. Your baby is mine. Her baby is all of ours - and they all deserve a Shot @ Life.
Disclosure: my travel and accomodations were paid for by the UN Foundation.