Why Vaccinate? For the Fragile
Too many of my friends have ailing children right now. One one end of the range is the simple, a child running a fever after his first day at school. On the other is the heartbreakingly complicated, a young autistic boy recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his spine, who is now going to have to be strapped down for frequent MRIs because he can’t lay still that long. And of course, you know about Beatrix.
Those aren’t what have me fuming today, though. Let me tell you a little story.
A friend of mine is a writer. He doesn’t have a job outside the house, but he’s nothing like a full-time writer either. This is because he’s a stay-at-home dad to a severely disabled daughter. We’ll call them Matt and Carrie, although those aren’t their real names.
I won’t tell you what Carrie’s condition is called, either, because it falls just a little shy of being rare enough to identify her. Suffice it to say her brain didn’t develop normally in some very important ways. She was prone to seizures at a very young age, though I’m happy to say she’s been seizure-free for a while. She also has lots of problems with motor control, including swallowing. She has a feeding tube to deal with that last part.
For all that, Carrie is doing well. Her parents recently sent her off to start first grade. She’s in a school with a large number of other children who also need special care, but she’s got the same team assigned to her as she had last year, so she’s well looked after. She’s having a grand old time from what I understand. Well, she was.
Right now, Carrie’s sitting at home, and Matt isn’t getting a lot of writing done as he keeps her entertained and watches her carefully. Why? Because on Friday, one of the school families sent their two kids with pertussis to school.
That’s right. Pertussis. Whooping cough. This:
No, I couldn’t watch the whole thing either. But that’s what Matt is waiting for, afraid he’ll see in Carrie. Unlike almost all children, Carrie couldn’t be given the pertussis vaccine. It’s not recommended for her because, while the vaccine has been cleared in causing epilepsy in children with no previous history, it increases the risk of seizures among children already prone to them.
If Carrie has been infected with pertussis, what then? Here’s how it goes in the otherwise healthy:
- The cough occurs in sudden, uncontrollable bursts where one cough follows the next without a break for breath.
- Many children will make a high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode. Whooping is less common in infants and adults.
- During a coughing spell, the person may vomit.
- The person’s face or lips may look blue from lack of oxygen.
- The cough is often worse at night.
- Between coughing spells, the person seems well, but the illness is exhausting over time.
- Coughing episodes gradually become less frequent, but may continue for several weeks or months until the lungs heal.
Carrie, of course, is not otherwise healthy. She’s prone to seizures, one of the rare complications of pertussis. She also has that problem with swallowing.
Think back to the last time you had a bad coughing fit. It’s gross, but think about the saliva and the mucus. Think about the last time you threw up. Now imagine all that together, along with gasping for air–and not being able to swallow.
If Carrie gets pertussis, she’ll almost certainly get pneumonia. Well, she will if the doctors can keep her from choking to death first. There’s a very good reason that pneumonia is a common complication of pertussis, even without Carrie’s problems.
I don’t know whether she’s strong enough to survive it. Honestly, I’ve been too cowardly to ask. Matt and his wife will know, though. They’ll have been thinking these same things, trying not to let their worry show, as they try to keep her entertained while she’s home from school. Other parents at the school will have been thinking similar thoughts. As I mentioned earlier, Carrie’s school has a large population of medically fragile students. Some of them won’t have had the vaccine for sound medical reasons. How many of them could survive pertussis?
As for the family with two children who already have pertussis, I have to hope they’re selfish idiots, that they don’t have two kids in a situation like Carrie’s. The chances are good. Two such disabilities in one family are unlikely. If they’re not the selfish idiots, then it’s someone else whose child infected these kids. And the long line of parents before them who didn’t have their children vaccinated. I have to hope, as well, that the full impact of what they’ve done to their kids–and what they’ve risked, exposing children like Carrie–settles heavily on their shoulders.
I don’t want them to hurt the way Carrie would. Most of them haven’t quite deserved that. They’ve been deceived by the promoters of infectious disease, the people who tell them that a jab in the arm is so much more dangerous than the disease, that disease is so rare that they shouldn’t worry about their child contracting it. They’ve been terrorized by Andrew Wakefield, Dr. Sears, Jenny McCarthy, people who claim to want to help.
Those are the people who should be put into Carrie’s situation and somehow infected with these diseases they’ve already been vaccinated against. They’re the ones who should be worrying about how they’re going to breathe, whether they’re strong enough to make it through the illness and all of its complications. Let them look up at the eyes that are trying very hard not to betray the seriousness of the situation.
Not Carrie. Carrie’s got much better things to do, like going back to school.
This entry was posted on Friday, September 11th, 2009 at 6:02 am and is filed under Stephanie Zvan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.