As I recently watched my kids gathering items for show and tell at school, I found it bringing back memories of show and tell when I was a child. Perhaps my most vivid memory of show and tell from my childhood is of a girl named Ingrid. I can see her at the front of the classroom, her hands moving almost too fast to follow as she described the pictures pinned to a board behind her. The interpreter struggled to keep up with Ingrid, and we the students were captivated and horrified by the pictures of a young child lying in a hospital bed with all kinds of tubes coming from her body. Ingrid was that little girl, and she spoke to us through an interpreter because the meningitis that had ravaged her body when she was 18 months had also left her profoundly deaf.
Before vaccinations were developed for Strep pneumo and H. flu, two of the most common bacterial causes of meningitis, stories like Ingrid’s were all too common. Because vaccination again H. flu started well before I began my medical career, I have never seen an active case of H. flu. Sadly, though, I have taken care of children with extensive brain damage after their bout with H. flu. Vaccination against Strep pneumo, however, did not start until 2000—too late for one beautiful little five year old girl who came into urgent care when I was an intern. She was so sick with her meningitis that she could not walk or talk, and her parents had put her back in diapers because she no longer could use the toilet. When I performed her spinal tap, pure pus came out. She died the next day.
As parents today, we are fortunate that our children are protected from meningitis, whooping cough, polio, and epiglottitis. We aren’t afraid that a trip to the swimming pool will result in life-long paralysis for our children. Nor do we fear that every little fever could be the beginning of a fatal case of meningitis. I grew up hearing about my great-aunt’s baby who died as a toddler in the hospital of another manifestation of H. flu, something called epiglottitis. My grandmother and his mother brought his little body home in a taxi cab, and they cried the whole way. No longer do we worry that a croupy cough could actually be the beginning of epiglottitis. Our infant and childhood mortality rates have declined dramatically—and we have vaccines to thank.
I know that many parents are afraid of vaccinations. I am afraid of the diseases that vaccines prevent. These diseases can kill or create permanent, severe disabilities in children. A once vibrant, active child can become wheel-chair bound, feeding-tube dependent. No parent wants that to happen to his child.
As you consider the immunization schedule for your child, I urge you to talk to your provider about the vaccinations. Learn what the diseases are, and discuss the risks of the diseases and vaccines. Think about the children who have suffered from vaccine-preventable illness—children like Ingrid. Although I will not turn you away for choosing an alternative vaccination schedule, I do want you to make an informed decision about protecting your child and other children within the community.