When I had my first baby, I would say I was “vaccine-hesistant.” By that, I mean that I was worried about how many shots he was given at once (not a worry), what vaccines contained (also not a worry), and a lot of other things I had heard about from Dr. Google. By the time my second son was born, however, we had come around on all of them. None of them scared me. I lined my kids up for their jabs for the good of themselves and the good of society. But some fears still lingered, especially about vaccine reactions.
About live vaccines.
About the dreaded MMR: measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.
Live vaccines are vaccines that contain weakened but attenuated, or live, strains of the virus. According to vaccine.gov, they provide a longer-lasting immunity to the disease. Most, in fact, provide lifetime protection. I didn’t have a good reason for being afraid of live-virus vaccines; they just sounded scary.
The CDC recommends children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, one between 12 and 15 months, and the other between 4 and 6 years of age. With two doses, the vaccine is 98% effective at preventing measles, an average of 88% effective at preventing mumps (this can vary according to the strain), and 97% effective at preventing rubella. Nonetheless, this was the one that scared everyone on the internet, the one vaccine groups really railed against. But my oldest son had received it without a problem: the same general fussiness any kid gets with a vaccine, that’s all.
So, we took my younger son in. He was about fifteen months old.
I actually read the package insert on the vaccine. It said the vaccine reactions could include a fever. Yeah, yeah, standard. Everyone’s kid runs a fever after they get immunized. It also said that “moderate events” include “rash all over body.” Okay. We could roll with that. But that was a moderate event. That meant it didn’t typically happen.
The next day, August was fine. No fever. He didn’t even seem like he had any pain at the injection site. I had expected him to run a 100 degree fever, like most of my babies have seemed to do after a their immunizations. He wasn’t even cranky. I thought we were in the clear.
I was so wrong.
Five days later, tiny little August had a fever of 104 degrees and had broken out in a terrible rash. Terrified, I called the pediatrician. It was rare, she said, but it happened. I looked up the data, and she was right. According to the University of Oxford, 1 in 10 people who get the MMR vaccine experience a “fever, loss of appetite, and measles-like rash.” It happens, they say, when the measles part of the vaccine starts to work, and can last for 2-3 days.
One in freaking ten.
I should have heard about this. My pediatrician should have told me about this. But to this day. I’ve never met anyone else whose kid has undergone this type of vaccine reaction.
That was a long-ass two to three days, let me tell you.
I’ve had doctors tell me that this reaction means August will have a more robust immune response if he ever encounters the wild measles virus. I can find no scientific study or documentation to back up this statement.
But still, August got his second MMR shot, right on time. We made sure to clear out several days afterwards in case he had the same response. But zip, nada, nothing. He was fine. No reaction.
A lot of my friends — especially my “crunchy” friends — questioned our decision to give him the second vaccination, or even to continue vaccinating at all. After all, our kid had had one of those dreaded vaccine reactions. Wouldn’t that make us distrust vaccines in general, Big Pharma, and everything that went with it? Wouldn’t it prove to us that vaccines were unsafe, at least for our kids, at least with live viruses? How were we willing to take the risk again?
My husband and I had a long talk.
Yeah, August’s reaction sucked. It was scary.
But August will never get the measles, mumps, or rubella. At least, there’s a 98% chance he won’t get the the measles, and those are damn good betting odds. Mumps breaks out in college dorms all the time, and can have serious repercussions. He’s 88% unlikely to contract it. He’s also 97% unlikely to get rubella.
He’s also 98%, 88%, and 97% unlikely to spread the diseases. That includes to elderly people. To babies too young to receive the MMR vaccine. To people who have compromised immune systems due to diseases such as cancer or HIV, or who are receiving medical treatments like radiation, immunotherapy, steroids, or chemotherapy. People who have tuberculosis. In other words: the most vulnerable among us.
Let me tell you a story of what happened to a little girl who was casually exposed to measles in the grocery store while she was undergoing chemotherapy.
The treatment of other children with cancer was disrupted when they had to shut down the infusion room. The exam room was shut down for cleaning. The girl was quarantined for a month. The little girl had to wear a face mask when she took a plane ride home. Another children almost had to be given a shot with known painful side effects.
Another boy spent a month in isolation after a measles exposure because he had received a heart transplant.
One woman who has undergone chemo said she’s scared every time she picks up her kids at school.
Those are the reasons we chose to continue to vaccinate our children.
We worried about their own exposure to deadly diseases. But we worried more about them exposing others. So in the end, all of our kids got their necessary immunizations. All of them, except August, had little to no vaccine reactions: maybe a little fussy, maybe a small fever, some pain at the injection site. All of them are happy and healthy boys.
So we vaccinate, despite our son’s “moderate” vaccine reaction. Which was scary. And horrible. No one wants to see their child in pain.
But no one wants to see another child go through what I described above, either. Far better for my son to go through 2-3 days of a fever and rash than another child be isolated and put in serious danger. It’s part of the social contract. It’s the right thing to do. We care for one another’s children. We look out for them. We do our best by them.
And to me, that means vaccinating my own.