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I Vaccinate to Protect My Children and to Protect Vulnerable People Everywhere

Photograph by Twenty20

Like many parents out there, I have had my own personal doubts and fears about vaccination. When I watched my first baby get five needle sticks at 2 months old and proceed to cry his eyes out nonstop for three hours straight, I seriously wondered if this was all worth it. I questioned the method of giving kids so many shots at once and the long list of vaccination requirements that only seemed to be growing.

I questioned these things in those early years of parenting, even finding myself spooked by articles claiming that vaccines could permanently damage my child. Still, I made sure that my child was vaccinated, because when push came to shove, I chose to err on the side of caution. I decided to trust medically trained professionals who had been studying these things for decades rather than some of the "junk science" websites out there—or even my own instincts on the matter (which, honestly, swung in a million different directions on any given day).

But then, when my son was 2 years old, he had his first asthma attack. It followed a bad cold and cough, but it seemed to come out of nowhere. Let me tell you, watching my small child’s chest tightly retracting—and looking at his scared face as he struggled to take in a breath—was absolutely terrifying. Luckily, we were able to rush to the doctor, where my son received his first nebulizer treatment which had him breathing better in no time.

After a few more respiratory-related asthma attacks, my son was diagnosed with Reactive Airway Disease, a kind of childhood asthma that is mainly triggered by colds and coughs. Once his little brother arrived, he was also diagnosed with the same thing. There were still some scary moments here and there, but overall, I count myself lucky to have kids with mild asthma, and access to good doctors and health insurance.

Do you want to know something, though? My sons’ asthma attacks seemed to vary according to what virus they had caught. If they were to catch a really bad respiratory virus, their asthma attacks could be much worse, sometimes even requiring emergency room treatment. When I realized that, I was so happy that they were vaccinated against some of the most dangerous respiratory diseases and that I hadn’t ever questioned vaccinations enough to actually forgo them.

Sure, your child might be fine forgoing some or all vaccines, but people need to realize that vaccination isn’t all about them.

I also realized something else: I felt grateful that we live in a community where most of my son’s schoolmates—and the community at large—are vaccinated. Because vaccination isn’t just about protecting your own children or yourself from harm. It’s about protecting those in your communities who are most vulnerable to illness. Sure, your child might be fine forgoing some or all vaccines, but people need to realize that vaccination isn’t all about them.

It’s about protecting kids like mine with sensitive lungs.

It’s about protecting the thousands of people out there with compromised immune systems.

It’s about protecting newborns, who are too young to get shots, who are much more vulnerable than the rest of us to even the most common viruses out there.

It’s about protecting those who are undergoing cancer treatments, recovering from surgery, or are elderly or frail.

It’s about protecting those who are unable to be vaccinated because of allergies or other medical conditions.

You can argue all you want about vaccinations, but statistics don’t lie. The World Health Organization (which is an international organization, NOT a business and NOT connected to “big pharma”) estimates that vaccines prevent 2 to 3 million deaths per year. While no one is arguing that vaccines never cause complications or adverse reactions for certain recipients, I don’t think anyone could argue that vaccines harm more people than they help.

As a new parent, I think it’s hard to see beyond the life and needs of your own precious baby. I truly understand why the idea of vaccination feels scary or uncomfortable for some parents. But it’s important that we all step outside of our bubbles for a minute and just do the right thing—for our children and our fellow citizens.

My sons have basically outgrown their illness-induced asthma. From a healthcare standpoint, they would likely fare relatively well if they came down with something like whooping cough or the flu. But I continue to vaccinate them and get them their boosters, because I know that when they were young, I hoped that everyone around us was doing their duty and immunizing themselves and their kids.

The least I can do is afford everyone else the same courtesy.

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