Fighting with my eight–year–old, Daniel, to get his annual flu shot, I wonder to myself if this is worth it. But the answer is always ‘yes.’ My two kids—Daniel and Kaitlin (11 years old)—are now beginning to understand why they have to get those dreaded but all too important shots each year. Kaitlin is old enough to remember getting the flu once and being miserable for over an entire week. She now talks about her immunizations with pride. “I’m vaccinated, so I won’t get cervical cancer,” she told her teacher after finishing her three doses of the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine last winter. Vaccines are important for our children’s health as well as the public’s health. For me they are not optional but required to keep my children safe.
As a biologist and policy scholar, I never questioned vaccinating my children. I’m very aware of the controversies in the late 90s starting with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine’s link to autism, which, reviewed in an article by G.A. Poland’s 2011 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, turned out to be fraudulent. The MMR–autism paper was retracted and the author, Andrew Wakefield, lost his license. I know about the wealth of data on vaccine safety. I also realize that if people begin to opt out of vaccinations we cannot rely on herd immunity—a phenomenon where we do not get exposed to vaccine–preventable diseases because immunized individuals afford protection for the entire group. In my home state, the Texas Department of Health & Human Services has found emerging pockets of preventable diseases such as whooping cough (also known as pertussis) because of under–or unvaccinated individuals. I’m also conscious that Kaitlin and Daniel’s grandparents are in their late 70s and are part of the immune–compromised elderly population that relies on herd immunity. Choosing to opt out of vaccinating my kids could have a huge impact on many people.
Finally, the cost of vaccinations pale in comparison to the costs associated with treating the disease. A 2014 Pediatrics article by Zhou et al determined that for every $1 spent on vaccines $13 is saved in direct (medical costs and nonmedical costs including travel or special needs programs) and indirect costs (such as productivity loss). Epidemics and outbreaks also have costs associated with medical care and public expenses. For instance, according to the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, approximately $4 million was spent in 2014–2015 to address the Disneyland measles outbreak that impacted 131 individuals.
So not only do I vaccinate my children, but I also advocate for others to vaccinate their children. I checked the vaccination rate at my children’s private school to make sure it was sufficiently high, passing over a school with a lower rate and a higher chance of outbreaks. I’ve also been known to talk frequently about vaccinating children with other parents. Once while registering my daughter (who was 6 months at the time) for a church day–care program, I got into a heated argument with a mother who believed her kid was “healthier because he got whopping cough instead of being vaccinated.” While I’m aware that getting a disease might allow for long–term immune protection from that disease, I had to point out that she also placed her child’s short and long–term health at immense risk by exposing him to pertussis. Furthermore, she put other children in the program at risk, since their immune systems were not fully developed, as well as the older retired caregivers. Afterwards I was [End Page 172] embarrassed by the fact I was so vehement in my opinions, but in the next week the staff approached me specifically thanking me for my comments. They were not allowed to respond but were happy someone did and could do so articulately. Many are not in the position to speak when they want to support vaccinations, and it’s our job as advocates for our children to correct inaccurate or misinformation when we hear it.
Since then I try to advocate when I find an opportunity. I...