Monday, January 9, 2012

Thoughts on a vaccine reaction

After experiencing a very unpleasant reaction to the pneumonia vaccine last week, I find myself with a little bit more understanding of where anti-vax parents may be coming from.

That is absolutely not to say that I agree with them or that I’m even a little fine with their decision not to vaccinate their children. But ultimately, we’re not just trying to win an argument. We’re trying to figure out how to get these parents to make the decision to vaccinate, and I think understanding why they’re reluctant to do so is crucial to attaining that goal.

Let’s start from the beginning.

The Student Health Center was deserted last week since undergraduates were still on break. I figured this was the perfect time to go in and get caught up on my vaccinations. I needed a Tdap booster as well as a pneumonia vaccine (PPSV) (recommended due to asthma).

The next day, the PPSV injection site went from normal “I just got a shot” pain to a small, red tender area. By the morning after that, the back of my arm was largely swollen, red, and painful to the point I couldn’t really use that arm. And on a fever and chills, and I was absolutely miserable. I had to miss two days of lab.

I like to think I’m a fairly rational adult. I can look at this situation and say, hey, although this hurts, it hurts a whole lot less than pneumonia. Vaccines always have a slight risk of side effects and I happened to be one of the unlucky few this time. But it was never life-threatening, which a case of pneumonia could be to someone with respiratory illness.

I imagine the whole situation would feel very different if I were a small child with a worried parent. Or if I were that worried parent, watching my child in pain because of a shot I made them get.

This is about the illusion of control. If you or your kid gets sick, it might seem like it was something that just randomly happened, and you had no control over it. If you or your kid gets sick because of a direct action you took, like getting a vaccine, it seems more like your fault. As though you personally caused that pain.

What I want these parents to understand is this: choosing not to vaccinate is an action as much as choosing to vaccinate is. If your unvaccinated child catches or spreads a vaccine-preventable illness, it was due to your actions just as much as if they had a reaction to a vaccine you made them get.

I don’t have the magic answers on how to translate this concept into an argument that will win over reluctant parents. But I do feel like I understand just a little bit more why they are so reluctant to start with.

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