What do you do when your son is sick for the holidays?

A germ has descended on our household. Nothing says holiday fun like a sick toddler. It adds an extra hurdle in the high stakes obstacle course of family events. The pressure is already on for little ones to be at their peak cheeriness level at every event to enjoy the family-visiting and present-opening repetitively with equal joy and excitement for all. Is this even possible? Not for most. Not for us. Not even in optimal health. Now imagine, if you will, the final grenade thrown into the day: no nap. Even though it was a recipe for an epic meltdown, Henry actually did quite well despite having the common cold and croup (verified by a last minute doctor visit on the 22nd of the month).

We ended up opting out of all Christmas Day events and stuck to Christmas Eve fun only. Had Henry had a fever or had been contagious we would have hibernated at home alone for our Christmas. You do what you have to do. Some understand. Some don’t. As soon as Henry came home from the hospital it took me zero seconds flat to stop caring if anyone held hurt feelings for missed events. Henry arrived right between Christmas and New Years in peak cold and flu season. Our holiday man.

Maybe I’m neurotic about his health. I’m okay with that. I’m a little better than I was in his first year of life. If you didn’t have TDAP or flu shot, you were not permitted entrance into our home with our baby fresh out of NICU (and I counted him as a “fresh new baby” for the entirety of the winter and spring). Everyone washed their hands. My favorite “wash-your-hands-all-day, prevent cracking-and-bleeding, feel-good-about-choosing-green” hand soap is Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap – Orange Clove, 12.50-Ounce (Pack of 3)Tobacco users had to brush their teeth, wash their face, and change their shirt: nicotine is transdermally passed to newborns. No kisses on the face or hands. This holiday season I didn’t want to stress him out any more than was necessary while he was feeling crumby. One day only of in-and-out of the car for 4 different events was enough.

I know he will get sick. I’m not disillusioned that I will be able to keep him from ever having sickness or pain. Experiencing sickness and pain are all part of growing up. He’s going to be exposed to runny noses in school. He’s going to experience some falls walking, running, and playing sports. He will probably eat things off the floor and lick dirt. He is a boy after all. Pathogens, sickness, germs, illness, infections, diseases are part of our lives, but that doesn’t mean we won’t do everything in our power to try to prevent them. Especially those diseases which are proven with absolute certainty that are able to cause permanent damage or death: measles, influenza, etc.

And so here it comes: we vaccinate. Not only do we vaccinate, we keep the typical schedule. This is a topic that parents lean heavily to either side. Now I am going to exclude parents of medically fragile children who CANNOT vaccinate their children. Those parents follow their medical team’s advice and do not vaccinate at all or adopt an alternate vaccination schedule as per the child’s medical need. These children have cancer, have certain neurological conditions, have had an organ transplant, or any disease or condition that renders them immunosuppressed or immunocompromised. The families of these children rely on herd immunity for their children to survive. They rely on everyone else who are able to do the responsible thing and protect their children by vaccinating. I’m sure there are reasons to elect not to vaccinate non medically fragile children but none stand out to me that would make me choose to risk my son’s life or the life of a child who is immunosuppressed or immunocompromised. Not vaccinating when you are able seems so selfish and obtuse to me. Why would you risk your child or someone else’s? Let’s run through a list of common reasons people cite when choosing to electively carry out alternative vaccination schedules or to not vaccinate at all.

1. Vaccines can cause autism.

Please please please just briefly google the author behind the ONE debunked study that the anti vaccination movement was founded on: Andrew Wakefield. The bottom line is that he falsified the findings of the study and had his medical license revoked. And why don’t we mention the three dozen charges proved, including 4 counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally challenged children, by the British General Medical Council in 2010. But those in this camp tend to hold fast despite any presentation of fact, but Mark Twain said it best. “It is easier to fool someone than to convince them that they have been fooled.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield

2. The preservatives in vaccines contain mercury and cause autism or vaccine injury.

The mercury based preservative in vaccines called Thimerosol was phased out of almost all vaccines. Studies on preservative ingredients used in vaccines show no links to autism or injury. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html

3. These diseases aren’t common today.

Okayyyyyy. They are not common because of the hard work medical and research professionals put into developing vaccines! It’s kinda like spitting on the graves of the people who died from these diseases by ignoring disease prevention. And it feels like disrespecting all those who put their life’s work into the eradication of disease. I mean it’s kinda like if I was to walk up to my great uncle who almost passed away of measles and polio as a child and slapping him across the face. Not too long ago this belief was proven false, there was a large scale measles outbreak in California with the majority of children affected not vaccinated electively or they were too young to be vaccinated. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6406a5.htm

4. I don’t have to vaccinate because of herd immunity.

Herd immunity only works if the majority of the population is immune. That means the ones who can vaccinate, should vaccinate. https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/work/protection/index.html

5. Alternate gene expression in my child with T21 means vaccinations may not be as effective and may alter how reactions take place.

I get this one. I do. More than anyone. But here is the thing: I know it means booster shots… more live and dead viruses entering my son’s body so that he holds the required titer levels to be immune. I know it means I must watch for adverse reactions closely. But as his mother, I cannot justify risking known, proven causes of death for the slim chance he may have a reaction. It’s like choosing not to wear your seatbelt ever again because you hear of the slim chance you could be injured by your seatbelt. Seatbelts save lives by keeping us from flying out of the car and sustaining fatal trauma, (Operating Room trauma experience talking- and unrestrained drivers and passengers almost always end up sustaining fatal injuries). So you live through the auto accident with a bruise to your abdomen from the seatbelt or you die from being thrown from the car. I would rather Henry live with more exposure to vaccines, reaction, or injury than die of fatal disease. https://www.immune.org.nz/sites/default/files/resources/Written%20Resources/ProgrammeDownSynImac20170918V01Final.pdf

Henrys immune system IS compromised because of T21. Contracting RSV, influenza, pneumonia, etc. could mean a hospital visit, ICU stay, or that we lose our son forever. So yeah, we vaccinate. We are going to do everything we can to protect him. We expect our peers to do the same. And stay home when you and your family have been told by a medical professional that you are contagious or are running fever. We had a scary situation when Henry was less than a year old. He was in a social setting weekly with an older child who had a very suspicious cough. Being a nurse, I was wary but with HIPPA and manners in mind I did not ask his mother the important questions. I assumed. Some kids do have persistent coughs that are non contagious. No way did I believe this woman would bring a feverish, sick child to a place with a very strict sick policy. The story ends with the child had pneumonia for WEEKS, had had a high fever controlled with Motrin, Tylenol, and essential oils, had not completed his antibiotics, and was on an elective alternate vaccine schedule. When I heard all of this from the child’s mother I broke out in a cold sweat and gathered Henry up in a flash. I almost ran to the car. Henry was still too little to have all his one year vaccines. The interactions with that child could have cost my baby’s life. My only son. My heart and soul. I cried all the way home. I held him tight and obsessively checked his temperature and watched for signs of disease for days. I had to go to the establishment and explain to the director that I never ever wanted Henry to be in the same group as this family’s children EVER again. I gave her resources and cited my reasons. I was firm. I was passionate. It was a conversation of awkwardness and conflict that I would have most definitely shirked before Henry.

I advise anyone on the fence to do your research before deciding pro or anti vaccine: look at peer reviewed studies, websites that end in .org, .gov, or .edu, and/or go to the medical professional you trust. If you are into podcasts, NPR’s 1A with Joshua Johnson has a great episode worth a listen with the author of “The Vaccine Race: Science,Politics, and Human Cost of Defeating Disease” Meredith Wadman. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510316/1a?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social

Do what is best for your child, your family, and your community. If you can vaccinate, please do. If you choose not to vaccinate your typical (non medically fragile) child even after researching, keep your child at home when they break out in rashes, fevers, coughs, sweats, malaise, or experience any symptoms that may mean they have a contagion and alert your fellow parents ASAP (especially if you know their child has a fragile immune system). If you can’t vaccinate because of medical reasons, know that we are doing our part so you can breath a little easier about your child’s exposure.

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