My Thoughts As I Protect My Children

29 Jun

By Charlotte Moser

It’s that time of year—school’s out, summer’s here; it’s time for the kids’ annual physicals. In our family, yesterday was the day.  As we sat waiting for their names to be called, both of my kids showed traces of being apprehensive, but they knew what had to be done.  For my son, the most important parts were finding out how tall he is and getting the signature on his sports physical form. For my daughter, the most important part was simply getting done. For me, it was the vaccines that I knew were coming. My son was up-to-date, including having had the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. But my daughter is eleven, so she was due for several vaccines—Tdap, meningococcus, and HPV.  Since one of my other hats involves understanding and explaining the science of vaccines, I knew how important yesterday was.  Pertussis outbreaks have been occurring throughout the country. HPV is typically transmitted later in the teenage years and meningococcus often occurs as kids become more social, sharing not only drinks on the sidelines, but bacteria and viruses that they may not have encountered previously.

As a mom, I would like to believe that even without a vaccine my children would not be affected by these diseases, but the reality is that we just don’t know who will be affected. Because of my job, I have probably talked to more families affected by vaccine-preventable diseases—either meeting them as members of important support groups who share their stories and give each other strength or simply in day-to-day conversations when I say what I do.  I’ve met moms whose children have died from meningococcus, Haemophilus influenzae type b, measles, chickenpox, pertussis, and influenza. I know people who have cancer caused by human papillomavirus, were hospitalized with rotavirus, recovered from shingles and survived polio. I’ve looked in their eyes and witnessed the depth of their pain, the strength of their passion, and the gravity of their concern as they work to spare others an experience they wish they too did not know.

Of course, sometimes when I say what I do, people become tense and don’t want to talk to me at all. I know they think that I am biased, and I guess I am. But not because I make a lot of money saying vaccines are important or because I am being told to say they are safe. I am biased because I have seen the ravages of these diseases. I have read the clinical descriptions and statistics; I’ve heard the sounds and the stories; I’ve seen the pictures. My fear is not that the vaccines will hurt my children, but that they won’t work. What if my child doesn’t respond to the vaccine? What if my child gets an infection that we can’t yet prevent with a vaccine? As moms, we can always find something to worry about—even those things which are statistically unlikely to happen or theoretical at best—but I have done the reading and asked the questions, and I can feel comfortable that I have done all that I can to protect my kids from the diseases that we are working to conquer. Now, I am waiting for vaccines to protect them from the wrong crowds, poor decisions, and any other bad thing that may happen to them. If only all parenting concerns were as easily fixed with a shot.

Charlotte Moser is the Assistant Director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and co-author of “Vaccines and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction.”

One Response to “My Thoughts As I Protect My Children”

  1. Christine Vara June 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm #

    Charlotte, Thank you for taking the time to write this post. You express a wonderful balance of motherly concern and medical understanding. By the way, you are right! Vaccine advocates are biased – but that’s because we know that vaccines have the power to protect. As you mentioned, parents will always find something to worry about and we must accept that vaccines are not a 100% guarantee against disease. That is why, as a mother of 5 girls, I’m glad to hear that your son received the HPV vaccine and why we want to continue to encourage other “parents to protect”. After all, your decision to vaccinate your children not only impacts your children, but mine as well. From one mother to another, thanks! Christine Vara, Shot of Prevention (

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