When I fell pregnant with my son, I had all the usual blood tests in the first few weeks. I sat excitedly in my doctor’s office getting the all clear and he casually mentioned that in the course of my blood testing he noticed that my rubella vaccination as a child hadn’t been effective. I was at risk of contracting the vaccine preventable disease.
Rubella, if you aren’t aware, can cause fevers, rashes and generally make you miserable. Luckily for most, it has a minute morbidity rate and certainly isn’t as scary as some of the other vaccine preventable diseases (or VPDs) we face. Unfortunately, that safety net doesn’t extend to pregnant women. Rubella can have a rather nasty and potentially fatal effect on an unborn baby. Rubella babies are at serious risk of deformities, major birth defects or miscarriage. When my doctor explained the risks he took one look at my horrified face, laughed and patted my knee.
“You’ll be fine, your chances of contracting it are remote. Don’t go to the Ekka this year and just get the shot once you have your baby.”
When he meant that my chances were remote, he was of course referring to herd immunity. My precious little cluster of cells was safely protected by those around me who had been vaccinated. I hadn’t heard the concept ‘herd immunity’ before and I had no real opinion on vaccinations. I decided that it was time to learn.
In the following months I researched vaccinations. I was inevitably exposed to the widely spread and factually inaccurate theory that vaccines cause autism (SPOILER They don’t.) I was more disheartened to read people describing autistic children as damaged or somehow problematic. I have a few friends with autistic children and their kids are brilliant, vibrant little people. Autism isn’t scary. Death by polio is what’s really scary.
I heard all about the deadly mercury content, which sounds absolutely terrifying. Then I found out that it was used in miniscule traces as part of an organic compound, Thiomersal, which is a preservative agent. Thiomersal was removed from vaccines in 2000 and replaced with another organic compound that’s mercury free. Regardless, you’re exposed to over three times these levels eating a tin of tuna. So I crossed that one off my worry list.
I read articles from anti vaccination campaigners who told me that infectious childhood diseases weren’t fatal so vaccines weren’t necessary. I followed up those articles by reading about meningitis, measles, polio and many more VPDs. I read survivor stories of people who suffered these diseases and were significantly and permanently impaired as a result. And then I read about those who hadn’t survived, stories from parents who had lost children and babies.
Herd immunity, the term that my doctor had thrown at me during those first few visits, cropped up often in my research. I came to realise that it was a fantastic result of the vaccine movement; we were preventing the outbreak of dangerous diseases by presenting an insurmountable barrier for those nasty little critters. Adults and other children can be protective superheroes for those in our community too sick or too young to be vaccinated.
Brilliant, as it turned out, considering there was an outbreak of whooping cough in the months leading up to the birth of my baby. As a tiny, brand new little human, he was unable to be vaccinated and whooping cough is just downright scary for children. Luckily for me, my immediate family members had happily traipsed to their respective doctors for a booster jab and yet again, my much anticipated baby was protected by those around him. When my son was old enough, I took him for his vaccinations. I’m now confident that my child is protected and can extend that protection to those around him that are unable to be vaccinated.
Herd immunity is only an effective tool while we maintain it. You can’t raise an umbrella over your head in the middle of a downpour and expect it to keep you dry if you’ve poked holes all over it. I personally had no opinion on vaccinations until I was pregnant. I researched extensively, and while I was bombarded with opinions, articles, misinformation and scientific facts, at the end of the day I made a choice that I believe and still do keeps my child safe from diseases that would harm him. I stand by that choice and wholeheartedly endorse those who protect their children through vaccination. And for the parents of immune compromised, sick or newborn children? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
The parents of a baby boy, Riley, who died in Perth after contracting whooping cough are urging parents to immunise their children.
The Hughes family has set up Light for Riley, and released a heartfelt message – asking parents to look at this photo of his sick son, when thinking about whether to vaccinate.