Prevention is better than cure, right? So why do so many people get all agitated at the notion of vaccinations?
It’s one of the few areas of parenting where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you do vaccinate, you are introducing foreign elements into your child’s system, the effects of which you can’t be sure of. If you don’t vaccinate, you are willfully putting your child’s health at risk.
Before my eldest was born, I researched the pros and cons of vaccinations. Or, to be more accurate, I tried to. I found it very difficult to get balanced information from any source.
I found that middle-class and affluent women in their thirties were most likely to shun the notion of vaccinations. When I asked why, I was told that ‘things like polio are dying out naturally, anyway, so there’s no need to vaccinate’. I asked for evidence and was met with stony silence.
One friend blithely told me that as long as I was breastfeeding, my kids would be fine because they would get my antibodies. Her theory was that I didn’t need to give much thought to vaccinations until my kids were no longer breastfed. That idea didn’t stand up to rigorous scrutiny, though.
Pharmaceutical companies have their own agendas – naturally (or unnaturally?!) – and they can be very persuasive, so doctors tended to be biased in favour of vaccinations.
Dr Google left me bleary-eyed and none the wiser.
When my eldest daughter was born, I looked around and saw children with the paralysed arms and legs that result from polio. There was no room for a blasé attitude; Ishthara was vaccinated.
Since then, both my children have received nearly every vaccination they were offered. Last year, the Swine Flu vaccine was rolled out. Ishthara has asthma and I asked my doctor’s advice on whether or not to get her vaccinated.
‘It’s a no-brainer,’ my GP told me. ‘She already has a chest difficulty. This flu is a chest-based virus. We don’t want to play with that.’
I read what I could, took my GP’s thoughts onboard and had Ishthara vaccinated. Kashmira and I – who do not have asthma – were not vaccinated.
Apart from the strong impetus provided by the visual of seeing people damaged by a preventable disease, personal experience prompted my decision to vaccinate my kids.
When my sister was 4, she got measles and she got them bad. She was so ill that the paediatrician called to the house. In serious silence, he examined my sister.
‘She needs to be in hospital,’ he told my mother before adding ‘But she’s too sick to take her there.’
To my 12 year old mind, this made no sense. How could she be too sick to go to hospital? It was only years later that I realised what he meant; the journey would have killed her.
I remember my mother – who you would not call ‘maternal’ or ‘loving’ by any stretch of the imagination – sitting up two nights in a row keeping vigil by my sister’s side. She was sure the child would die and she wanted to be with her when she went.
Today, my sister is a strapping six-footer of 30 who plays rugby and loves cats. But she was so very nearly a three-foot-six-inch corpse. I didn’t want that experience for myself, so my kids were vaccinated against childhood illnesses.
The following year, my youngest brother was born with whooping cough. It wasn’t diagnosed until he was 4 weeks old. He spent a further 4 weeks in hospital. Twice, when my mother went to visit him, she was met with a nurse saying ‘We nearly lost him last night’.
They were words I never wanted to hear, so my children were vaccinated against whooping cough.
Kashmira received her initial vaccinations in Singapore and the one for TB, which blisters and scars, was delivered to her buttock – for cosmetic reasons! In order to leave arms blemish-free for the wearing of sleeveless and short-sleeved tops, doctors are in the habit of giving the shot in the bum rather than the arm.
Somewhere between 2002 and 2004, I learnt that Singapore (where we were living when Kashmira was born) offers the vaccination against chicken-pox to children over the age of 12 months. We left before she was a year old, so she wasn’t vaccinated. Neither was her sister. I thought chickenpox was a fairly innocuous virus – a bit like a cold. I revised that thought when both girls got a really bad dose, and Ishthara ended up in hospital as a result.
I’ve never regretted getting a vaccination, but I have regretted not getting that one.
When it comes to the health of our children, no parent wants to compromise. Vaccinations are a thorny issue, but I would urge every parent to weigh up the pros and cons and make informed decisions.