January 28, 2015
*For confidentiality purposes, the identity of the children described in this post was changed. However, their mother hopes that this post brings awareness about measles and prevents others from experiencing what her family is going through right now.
Allow me to introduce you to my dear friend’s baby. This is Jack. Jack is the happiest 10 month old boy you could ever hope to meet. He is chubby and handsome. He’s also tough. In his short little life he has already gone through several surgeries from a few health challenges, but through it all, he has the biggest, happiest smile. His mother Tiffany is one of the sweetest, strongest human beings you could ever hope to meet. We have known each other for quite a while, so I write this post not only as a nurse practitioner, but as a friend. Yesterday, I received some terrible news about Jack that led me to think about this question:
Does this sweet baby deserve to be exposed to the measles?
Why do I ask such a question? Because, unfortunately, we are living in a time where it has to be asked. Even though some of the greatest scientific minds have spent the better part of this century trying to eliminate this awful disease with a safe, effective vaccine, many parents still think it is okay to potentially expose their own children and other children to this deadly disease by not vaccinating. Why? They are incorrectly more afraid of a vaccine than the potentially-deathly disease itself. However, it is time to put this question to rest. Allow me to be clear.
It is not okay to expose Jack to the measles, or any child for that matter.
Unfortunately though, yesterday I learned that Jack became one of 195 measles-exposed children living in my own backyard. He was exposed during a simple visit to a local urgent care for a double ear infection. While seeking out treatment, he unknowingly came home exposed to the measles from another child that was diagnosed in the office at the same time. Although Jack has had each and every vaccine on time, at 10 months of age, he was not scheduled to receive his first dose of MMR until 12 months, leaving him without any protection against the measles. But the exposure didn’t stop with Jack. Every other person in that urgent care was exposed as well. Two more of those sweet little children who were exposed include Maggie and her younger brother. Maggie is currently fighting cancer. She has ALL, a type of childhood leukemia. Her baby brother is too young to vaccinate. Their father wrote about the experience of having his extremely susceptible children exposed to the measles here. He understands that measles is one of the most contagious diseases known to man. You can catch measles just from breathing the same air in a room where an infected person was up to 2 hours later. A busy urgent care waiting room is a measles heyday. Furthermore, up to 90% of people who are not immune will actually contract measles after being exposed. That’s frightening news for children that aren’t vaccinated, no matter what reason.
If Jack actually develops the measles, do you know who else would then be exposed? His older brother, Teddy, would be exposed then too (along with the hundreds of other people that this family unknowingly came in contact with). Teddy is currently tackling kindergarten. He is also tackling Cystic Fibrosis and Type 1 Diabetes. He is the definition of “immune-comprised.” Cystic Fibrosis is a life-threatening, genetic disease. Last September, a dear friend of mine passed away from Cystic Fibrosis after an infection while she was on the waiting list for her second lung transplant. She was 21 years old. I don’t think that Teddy should have to tackle measles as well, do you?
Jack and Teddy’s sweet mama now has to pray for the next 21 days that her baby Jack doesn’t develop measles, not only for his sake, but for his brother Teddy’s sake as well. This is what happens when people choose not to vaccinate.
Choosing not to vaccinate doesn’t just affect your child. It affects everyone. It affects my patients, my co-workers, my family, and my pregnant sister-in-law. It affects the children who attend school with your children, the families you go to church with, and the people who shop after you in the grocery store. Not vaccinating your children affects our entire community. As a nurse practitioner, it breaks my heart to see children suffering from diseases that are absolutely preventable. It breaks my heart even more to see children suffering because of the incorrect choices that others made for them.
No child deserves to get measles or be exposed to them, especially considering that the United States declared measles eliminated in 2000. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I tell you, since that time we are losing ground, and it’s directly related to falling vaccine rates. When I wasn’t taking care of patients today, I spent a good portion of my day reviewing our office’s measles policy, because it’s no longer a question of ‘if’, It’s just a question of ‘when.’ When will measles come through our door? When will your children be exposed? Like I have confessed before, I too, fell prey to the philosophy that these vaccine-preventable diseases are nearly gone and only affect a couple-dozen malnourished children in Africa. But then I actually studied infectious diseases and learned I was wrong. Disneyland should be a safe place for children, not the breeding ground of a serious infectious disease that sweeps across the nation. This is not a problem that breastfeeding, vitamins, and good sanitation will fix. The only thing that will cure these outbreaks and protect your children is the MMR vaccine.
Protect children like Jack and Teddy. Protect children like Maggie, who are already fighting cancer or other immune-compromising diseases. Protect your own children and family. Choose to vaccinate.