Guest Post by Karen Ernst, the mother of three boys and sometime English composition instructor. She is a regular contributor to the Moms Who Vax blog, which is run and maintained by Ashley Shelby. Moms Who Vax publishes mother’s stories about their experiences with vaccines and the diseases they prevent.”
My children, like the majority of children in the United States, have been fully and uneventfully vaccinated. The choice to do so was not difficult for us; we don’t like being ill, and we understand that the real risks from diseases are worth avoiding. I also trusted my pediatrician and gladly followed his advice to vaccinate my children on schedule.
As my children have aged and I have learned more about vaccines, I have begun choosing them not only for my children, but for our community at large, as well. The more I learn about the positive effect we can have on our friends, family, and neighbors simply by keeping up-to-date on our vaccines, the more dedicated I become about being diligent about our shots.
It began with my grandmother. Unfortunately, she developed dementia and was unable to care for herself safely in her own home. Because she is a dear person to me and to my children, we make a point of visiting her in her assisted living center. However, we never visit when ill because the elderly have a lowered ability to fight off illness. And because influenza is particularly deadly among the elderly, everyone in our family gets a flu shot every year.
Later, when H1N1 was making its way through our schools, the topic of vaccination was on many parents’ minds. We all really wanted to know when the vaccine would be available. More than a few children contracted H1N1 and suffered from it before the vaccine became available. During that time, I had a discussion with a parent whose son has asthma. She expressed her fear of influenza. Her son, like so many children, needs a nebulizer for the simplest of colds, and an illness like influenza presented a particular danger.
While my children do not have asthma and would likely survive a bout with influenza (although, to be honest, they might not), I would feel terrible if they contracted influenza and passed it on to an asthmatic classmate. Every year, when they get their flu shots, I make a point of telling them that they get their flu shots not only to keep them from getting sick, but also to keep them from making their friends sick. I am hoping that they grow up seeing the yearly flu shot as a social responsibility.
Protecting our children means that they are not the only ones to get vaccinated. A couple of years ago, a handful of children at our school came down with pertussis. My children were up-to-date with their Dtap vaccines, but the last tetanus vaccine I had received was the Td the year before. I had a choice to make, and it wasn’t as easy as simply keeping my children up-to-date on their vaccines. While pertussis would be a nuisance in my life, I looked at the baby siblings of my children’s classmates, the elderly men and women sitting in the pews next to me at church, and the other parents at school with cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, and I decided that the extra soreness in my arm was worth protecting us all. I called my doctor, and he happily ordered a Tdap for me.
I am grateful to the other parents who choose to protect not only their own children, but my children and my neighbor’s children as well. Getting a yearly flu shot, keeping on top of my own adult boosters, and encouraging those around me to vaccinate as well are joyful tasks when they mean that everyone around me is that much more protected.