I am a pediatrician's worst nightmare. I am the mom who comes in with a list of questions that will take longer to answer than the ridiculous amount of time I had to sit in their waiting area. I'm not trying to be a pain. I'm trying to be a parent.
I had the distinct privilege of speaking with Dr. Paul Offit or who I like to call, the "Vaccine Man" a few weeks ago. Calling him "Vaccine Man" saves me from having to list his 4,000 credentials, that include "creator of the Rotavirus vaccine" and other things that I can't spell without looking up in a dictionary.
Due to a highly controversial debut episode of Eli Stone, where a family sues a drug company because their child got autism from a vaccination, Dr. Offit along with the organization "Every Child Under 2" decided it would behoove them to speak to bloggers in the hopes of putting a kibosh on the possible boycotting of vaccines by desperate parents everywhere.
Cue public health crisis. Cue resurgence of measles. Cue pediatricians everywhere doing one hell of an "I told you so" dance for parents who so as question a vaccine.
You know, if doctors actually did such dances.
In other circumstances, I probably wouldn't have cared much. The show itself looked pretty dumb to me, with all the George *I'm desperate for attention that doesn't have anything to do with me shaking my wanger in public* Michael appearances. But thanks to the writer's strike, there is nothing new on television except reality shows (God help me another Survivor?), and I could see their concern.
People were desperate for anything to watch and would probably tune in.
So in response to the controversial show, several news outlets featured articles debunking the claim that vaccinations, specifially the MMR, causes autism, and Dr. Offit spoke to bloggers, kindly answering all my 22.3 questions.
In that vein, he is owed much credit (although he did say my birth canal was full of over 2000 bacteria -- but I won't hold that against him).
To be honest with you, I wasn't as concerned about the relationship between the MMR vaccination and autism. As someone who has worked with children with autism and their families for many years, I'm aware of the arguments. I'm also aware of the ten plus studies that show no relationship between the two.
Ten totally flawless studies, of course.
We are all inclined to believe the good doctor, and should, because quantitative research in this country has afforded us answers to many difficult questions. And ten quantatitative studies providing similar results is pretty damn good. But being a researcher, I just have to say that unless you've got robots conducting the research, collecting the data, and analyzing the results, there is still a possiblity for error.
We are humans after all.
So the studies say the vaccine doesn't cause autism. Families continue to say that something wasn't wrong before the vaccine and something is wrong now. And conducting a qualitative study about the experiences of say 4000 families with video analysis of their child before and after takes up way too much time.
We believe the studies. Or do you?
When you decide to vaccinate your child, it is an issue of public health. But it is also an issue of personal health. And until I am forced to vaccinate my child on a specific schedule, no questions asked, then I will take what I have read and the opinion of my doctor, and form the decisions that I feel are right for my own child based on my own situation.
I want an honest answer when it comes to injecting my child with a shot that will cause him a full-week of fever and discomfort. Has there been a resurgence of Polio in our area that I need to give my child the IPV? Does my situation warrant me to get the DTaP, a shot that almost every single family member on either side has had a negative reaction to?
But if you've tried to ask your pediatrician about a vaccine, then chances are you may have had the guilt trips, the "bad parent" speeches, or my favorite "if they die, it's going to be your fault" comments.
Yes. I've really gotten that one.
The response from the panel is that pediatricians are busy. They see upwards of 40 kids a day and there's not enough time to have indepth discussions about each and every vaccination.
Fine. I get that. Let's get a democrat in the office and change our fucking health care system. (Can I get an "amen"?).
*But with the cases of Diptheria in this country at 20 last year (20!) and Tetanus at just a bit higher, why are we still giving the highly reactive DTaP, when really, the most prevalent illness, at least for our children right now, is Pertussis.
Convenience (to quote Dr. Offit).
Is that good enough for you? It might be. For me, it's not.
I realize I'm a responsible parent who keeps track of everything. So, it's not a huge issue for me. But for people who don't have access to regular medical care, and whose work schedules and everything else they have to do to survive don't allow for them to keep regular doctor's visits, then I get why they need that DTaP right on schedule.
But that's not me. Can't there be a marriage of public and personal health, without making the parents feel like asshats?
Take the Hepatitis B vaccination, given immediately after birth in the United States.
As I was reminded by Dr. Offit, there are 9,000 cases a year of Hepatitis B.
"But who are these people?" I probed.
Half are children of mothers with venereal diseases, and the others are just kids who contract it from somewhere, somehow.
"And the other half are upper middle class kids, right?" I asked, knowing what his answer would be.
No. These are low income kids from urban settings.
So yes, the vaccine is pure. And yes it might be worth getting. But depending on your situation (like how many genital warts you're sporting, or preferably not), they may be just fine without it.
My rage about this topic is that parents are not given adequate information by their pediatrician to make an informed decision. Currently, it's still our right to agree to or refuse vaccinations (depending on your state school requirements, your child will have to be vaccinated for school unless you use a religious exemption).
So don't give me a hard time when I ask questions that you don't have time to answer. Many folks feel comfortable bringing their kids in and completing the vaccination schedule as is. And many parents do not. That does not mean they are against vaccinations. It just means they need more information.
I look at my own situation. I am a wife of a pilot who travels domestically to large urban cities, but not internationally yet. My children do not attend daycare or school. We do not travel overseas often, nor do we live in an area of high immigration.
I am less concerned about Hepatitis B. I am more concerned about Meningitis, possibly Polio.
You've got to look at the odds. Of course, vaccinations nowadays are incredibly "pure" (as Dr. Offit stated), and are much safer than they were even 10 years ago. And the benefits of not contracting a disease greatly outweigh the risk of the vaccine (if you believe the 10 studies, or don't and delay the MMR vaccination until post 15-months which many families are doing).
I pay high premiums and cheap co-pays for "personalized" care -- you know, the tender-loving care that requires them having to look at the chart to remember who I am and why I'm standing there in front of them with a half-naked baby. And if my trusted pediatrician (who I've found in the 'burbs of Atlanta, thankfully) looked at my situation and said "your kids really need this vaccination" then damnit, I would get it.
But don't push me aside and ask me to hold my child's legs still without offering me some type of respectful explanation. Because one man's pure vaccine might be one parent's pure nightmare.
And that's enough for me to ask questions.
*I'm well aware that the low numbers of deadly disease are, in part, due to vaccinations. However, when it comes to a vaccination that kids often have an adverse reaction to, I think it might behoove us to take a better look at why we're giving that vaccination the way we are.
Separate and unrelated note: I loved this book. I forgot to link it yesterday.