My colleagues and I are often asked about vaccines outside of our work in the office, and here’s what I’d say to the parent who asked my Twitter follower and friend @SeattleMamaDoc about vaccines: “Yes, new father with the sweet baby tucked up next to your heart in that beautiful, Ergo infant sling…I’m one of those people who remembers infantile paralysis. That’s what they used to call polio when I was a young child. Yes. I do believe in vaccines.
I remember my great grandmother saying, “Don’t play over on Shiloh Street because that’s where the little boy died of polio.” I grew up in Pittsburgh where the initial polio vaccine trials took place, but even so, I cannot imagine saying to my own kids that they can’t go out to play because they might catch a germ that could kill them!
When I was growing up, mothers in my neighborhood had the opportunity to be a part of history, to vaccinate their children with something that might save a life. In the beginning, nobody knew for sure that the vaccine would work without unacceptable side effects. They only knew that too many children died or were left paralyzed by this horrible virus. My great grandmother, who wasn’t afraid of anything, embodied the visceral fear that this germ could claim the life of her grandchild. That memory left its indelible mark.
I’m a physician now, and I have more immunology and biochemistry in my head than my great grandmother could have ever imagined. But I’m also a mother. I don’t ever want to fear a germ that could take the life of one of my children. I believe in vaccines, because they are the only way I know of to ensure that an epidemic like polio (in its day) or influenza or pertussis in our modern day can be averted.
I would be sure to say how grateful I am that I live in a place where we have the luxury to think about the risks and benefits of vaccines. I’d say how much I wished pediatricians were better ‘rock stars’ with our message of prevention so we could be more effective in the media limelight. I’d speak my own willingness to touch the hearts of the families I care for, to carry the bag of fear and worry for them, perhaps lessening their load a bit.
I’d ask Ergo sling dad if he ever meets a media guy or a venture capitalist up from Silicon Valley to remember me and the children. I have a project in mind to help. Let’s make a PatientsLikeMe website for vaccine surveillance, for all the variant schedules, for measured antibody titers, for experiences of side effects. Let’s study what the vaccine-reluctant people have so easily questioned and feared. Let’s ensure that doctor’s have evidence to support current recommendations and that the current vaccine schedule need not be replaced by a better one.
I’d say, “Yes, new father with the sweet baby tucked up next to your heart in that beautiful, Ergo infant sling…I do believe in using the body’s natural, God-given ability to save itself from disease. Vaccines give us a way to make immunity without paying the huge price of illness, maybe even death, to get that protection. Yes, I believe in and am grateful for vaccines…just like my great grandmother.”
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD