Immunity

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This was originally posted in April of 2014, well before the measles issue broke and well before I had any followers to speak of. I think it gives insight into my family and at the same time addresses some of the vaccination controversy.

I am on the front lines of the immunization debate as a primary care physician. Periodically I get questions about whether or not I will allow children in my practice who are not vaccinated or whose parents wish to make up their own vaccination schedule.

My honest response to them is this:

“You probably don’t want to discuss this with me.”

Invariably there is a shocked look. And then the question, “Why?”

First, let me say that I feel for parents struggling to do what is right by their children. It is particularly difficult when it comes to wading through conflicting data about vaccinations and autism and mercury and all manner of crap out there. Not everyone is trained in the evaluation of research. They do not necessarily know where to look for reputable sources. And let’s face it, medical professionals have a lot of mud on their faces as we waffle back and forth on all sorts of guidelines and the pharmaceutical industry itself cannot be trusted. Who to trust? Children are our most precious commodity, after all.

But I will admit that I am not able to approach the topic free of bias.

Why?

Because my father had polio.

He missed the mass vaccinations in his community by two weeks. He spent almost a year of his life being experimented on in a hospital that would not allow his family to visit except for a few hours once a month. Imagine a second grader coming down with a terrifying illness, realizing that he will never walk properly again, undergoing multiple experimental and painful surgeries at the charity hospital because his family could not afford medical care elsewhere…all of this without getting to have his mother hold him or kiss him and tell him it would be OK.

But he was one of the lucky ones. Do a Google search for iron lung to get a picture of what it was like for others.

Imagine growing up with a man who was consumed by anger and hate and spite as a consequence, so much so that almost every day was a misery.

Was polio to blame?

Yes. Partly.

Over the years I have watched my father tortured and suffering. I felt how it affected myself and my family. There were more victims of polio than the ones who actually had the disease.

My father is not the only one I know who had polio. There are others. Some bore the effects of their disease with dignity. Some carried the burden, buoyed by anger. But these people are dying off and with them, their stories of the hysteria, the fear, the pain. And then we will all forget.

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111 thoughts on “Immunity

  1. My “like” is for your sharing this painful story, not the story itself. Your poor father, and ultimately your family! I imagine his experience colored his opinion, at least in part, about your going to medical school.

    Liked by 1 person

      • For us, no issues, we had it, he got it…you can go bonkers reading all the sometimes well meant stories but can create confusion with loving parents because it can be blown out of proportion. We wanted immunization, but we paid more and got a doctor’s office to do it rather than government clinic, that was what we decided best for our son.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so glad you shared this.

    I spent a few days in a coma after one of my childhood immunizations. I know that the particular vaccine was since modified to omit the cell wall and that it is now much safer.

    And yet, when it was my turn to vaccinate D?. The thought of my mom looking upon my comatose self and wondering if I would ever wake up was a terrifying one. What if I had to endure that? For something I chose?

    D’s pediatrician was comforting. More than that, she immediately knew how to frame it so I saw it as she did:

    “I have seen children die because they weren’t vaccinated. I haven’t seen a single child die because they were.”

    That wasn’t to say there was no possibility of adverse consequence, of course, but to demonstrate–effectively–the comparative risk.

    I cried, but I vaccinated.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. I’m glad that you have brought this back for discussion. If it helps just one child then this article is a success. The HPV vaccine is just one that comes to mind. Some states have not made it mandatory and I think, my state, Texas, is just one of those. Thanks to the Bible thumpers who think this promotes teens having premarital sex, clearly have not thought about issues that arise when the girl is older. Marrying or living with a man who is carrying the virus can infect the older woman. I don’t trhink this is merely something that is acquired as a teenager. But maybe I’m wrong, so please correct me and erase most of my comment if this is so.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Once a vaccine-preventable illness decreases in incidence so impressively, it’s easy for people to forget the dangerous illnesses these vaccines prevent. But the current measles outbreak shows all too well what happens when we get lax. I think all health professionals saw this coming. The number of vaccine refusals since I finished residency in the 90s has increased dramatically. But it was hard for the voices of science to be heard above the sexy celebrities touting the evils of vaccines. It’s amazing to think how much damage a discredited researcher and a Hollywood actress caused.

    So sad about your father. We can only hope polio doesn’t make a comeback in the US.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Wow, what a horrible experience for your father. As the mom of a first grader, I can’t imagine him having to go through that.

    The effect fear can have on people is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your story brought a memory rushing back. I grew up sharing everything with my best friend. Everything except his polio, that is. And the endless surgeries that were only available thanks to Shriners Hospitals. He finally died a couple of years ago — I say finally because the doctors had been telling him for over a decade that he wasn’t expected to live that long. Every doctor he saw wanted to “write a paper” on him because he was the longest-term polio survivor they’d ever seen. He naturally got fed up with being treated like a freak in a side show.

    We shared good times and bad, apartments and girl friends. Yet I was a grandfather before I found out about the pain. I thought that because the muscles in his arms and legs were wasted, so were the nerves. I was wrong. I never asked, and he never complained.

    He did the best he could with everything he had to deal with. He could be a real SOB and he had anger issues I only thought I could understand. He wasn’t the best husband, father, or grandfather in the world, but he was a good friend to me for over 50 years and I miss him.

    Thanks for reminding all of us that there are real world complications to being an anti-vaxer. Too bad my friend never had the choice.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. My mother had polio, too. She was a young mother of one, pregnant (1st trimester) with her second baby. She was in the hospital for months and underwent electric shock therapy. My brother, that baby, has always been odd, and I’ve always thought that was the reason. In addition to the EST, imagine what else they pumped her with! It happened to her before the vaccine; she wasn’t bitter. She was a beautiful woman, though, and photos distorted one side of her face. But she lived, she walked, she didn’t infect any family members. My father shuddered about the whole episode for the rest of his life. Mom was more resigned.

    The anti-vaccination folks make me crazy. They are endangering me and a whole lot of other folks with their pitchfork wielding.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m going to reblog this if that okay. I find it nearly impossible to control my temper with this issue. The arrogance of people who dismiss science and the brilliance and hard work that went into coming up with theory of vaccination and then to put into practical application is simply stupefying. Vaccines are not only one of our greatest medical accomplishments but in many ways our greatest military accomplishment.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I so well remember the fear on my mothers face when my brother caught a cold and complained of a pain in his neck. It wasn’t polio but we didn’t know for a week or so. We were out in the country and miles from town. If you ever get the time read “I Can Jump Puddles” by Alan Marshall. It is by a boy who contracted polio in a small town in Australia but he was lucky and went onto become an important Australian author.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My mother had Polio as a very young child. This was long before the vaccine was out. She was one of the lucky ones who had very few lasting problems with it. She made sure I got the vaccine when it came out. There was a big deal made, of avoiding public places in the summertime, because of Polio.
    Terrible disease.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am surrounded by the vaccination debate a lot because I hang out with hippy mums a lot (myself being one of them, but not when it comes to vaccination). I have seen enough misery amongst children growing up in India and could not wish it for my child at any cost. And a lot of polio…that’s one of the worst when it comes to quality of rest of one’s and one’s family’s life.
    But I did survive after catching measles just fine as a child…so not sure if it’s fatal enough to generate the debate today.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. My brother also just missed the mass vaccinations for polio, and it left him with a paralysis on the left side of his face. I was very young, and leaving home soon after, I don’t recall if he had any other problems from it, but if he did, they weren’t severe enough to keep him out of the Navy which he entered at the age of seventeen. I guess he was one of the lucky ones, relatively speaking of course. I have no problem in general with vaccinations, but I start to get concerned when the number of different ones starts to climb astronomically, and then I begin to wonder if they are ALL necessary. Like you said, I don’t have all the information that you have from which to make a decision.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I heard a snippet of ‘news’ from two professionals that stood on opposite sides of the “compulsory” issue. I loved the one who said, People can only make informed decisions if they are educated. We don’t spend any where near enough money on education.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Agreed! I had an exhausting conversation with a mom today about vaccinating her 5 month old. She asked great questions that I truthfully did not know the answers to. I will have to educate myself!

        Like

      • I’m all for personal choices, but not when these choices can have a dramatic impact on somebody else’s life. Using another car analogy, we don’t make drunk driving a matter of personal choice, and we shouldn’t.
        And by the way, this isn’t even exactly a personal choice – this is not an adult who decides to get or not get a vaccination, it’s a choice they make for someone else – their child.

        Like

      • This is a debate that has been raging for hundreds of years, even to the point of riots, ever since inoculation against smallpox was discovered. Coercion is not the answer. Law is not the answer, necessarily beyond what is already in place. Social pressure and education IS. I have had more people show up in my office wanting their kids to get vaccinated the past month than ever before. Why? Not really because they are afraid of the measles. They are afraid of being found out as an antivaxer and are starting to get the message that vaccines are not all that bad. Laws have not changed. The second you mandate it you get push back like what happened with the HPV vaccine in Texas which took a good vaccine and made it evil. I have been fighting that mess ever since. Don’t get me wrong, though. I think everyone should get vaccinated and I push very hard for that in my practice.

        Like

  13. Thank you for sharing your story. People need to hear more of these stories. The general population lacks imagination when it comes to these (previously) vaccine-preventable diseases. Sadly I think it will take people dying before any of these anti-vaxxers will accept vaccines again.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I always ponder on the personal choice versus social responsibility issue. Having spent years educating men and women on choices in childbirth, and advocating for their freedom to choose rather than be automatically medically managed through a natural event, it’s difficult to fully endorse a push to mandatory vaccinations. The logical side of me however, says that when the choice not to vaccinate may expedite disease that is preventable I find it hard to continue to voice my preferences for choice.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Hi there. Found you via John Callaghan, who reblogged this piece. I never wavered about vaccinating my kids. I didn’t have a heart wrenching story to make the issue difficult. I was vaccinated, my husband was vaccinated, therefore we vaccinated.

    Your story effectively illustrates that a choice or circumstance can have many impacts (your dad’s unhappiness around you.) It is so critical that such impacts be brought to light to increase understanding and responsible choice making.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

    Like

  16. I remember polio. I remember my mom rushing my sister and I in for vaccination the moment we could receive it, grateful to have the means to keep us safe when all around us, so many had become so terribly ill. Today I read a doctor’s statement saying he didn’t want unvaccinated kids with measles in his office whose parent’s choice could endanger the lives of others who are too young or too ill to be vaccinated. It’s about the greater good.

    Like

  17. That is a very sad story about your Dad Victo, likewise for the other commenters who have had relatives or friends with polio. It makes me very upset that it was allowed to happen. There are a lot of deadly diseases out there and it is a given. Thankfully fatal occurences are relatively rare, even for contagious diseases. I’m a Canadian, so i’m a bit more comfortable with state mandated actions. To that end, I am a supporter of any decisions that affect public health or maintenance of peace and safety, being made mandatory. i noticed you said that you are a fan of personal choice Victo, and in most appications I agree. but when the actions of one can affect the health or safety of many, then it is my opinion that the decisions be made by the state. In the case of your Dad, there would have been state sponsored follow-up to find any that had not been vaccinated. because there was and still is free choice, there would be no follow-up.

    You deal in psychologoical and psychiatric issues Victo, so you know very well that humans don’t always place the correct emphasis on each possible outcome when assessing risk and.or making decisions. Evolution has left us slightly deficient on some decision making criteria. In B-school we studied why people make the decisions they do and how they do it and some have used that info to legally screw over many. (For instance sub-prime mortgages) As an example, the proximity of an event in time adds weight to benefits accrued quickly amd reduces weight of long term issues. So for instance, if i gave a test group the option of having a filing meal in the next hour or saving the world at some unknown time in the fuiture – a surprising number would take the meal. There are many other examples of how our decision making is flawed.

    I would posit that immunizations are such decisions that many cannot make correctly, given the way we make decisions. As far as i am concerned, they should be mandatory for we are talking contagious diseases here and if one person contracts the disease by choice they will also infect others. if the negative affects of that one person were limited to damage only to themselves, then i would say that free choice would be fine. but that is not the case. By refusing the immunization, they are endangering others as well – and that should not be allowed. To my mind immunizations should be mandatory. In fact, our world has become much more populated and smaller (fast international travel, etc) since the last out break of any serious disease. If the gov’t chooses to allow personal choice in the matter of immunization and there is a mass outbreak – what do you think will happen next? Of course, mandatory immunization. I would say that right now our gov’t is suffering from the same spat of poor decision making as some of the public.

    Excellent post Victo, I apologize for the long comment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love your long comments, Paul! As for my father, he did not miss a vaccination that was already in place. It had just been invented and was being rolled out en masse to everyone. He contracted the disease two weeks before the vaccinations even arrived in Chicago. My reluctance to mandate is probably due to the fact that I expect everyone to be rational when given good data and education. Sometimes mandates take the place of education and that breeds dissent. Case in point would be the mandate of HPV vaccination in Texas that created all of the backlash. If that had been rolled out differently, I have no doubt that vaccine would be more widely accepted.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wasn’t aware that HPV vaccinations were mandated in Texas. Wait, let me see if i got this straight: The government of Texas demanded that all applicable citizens have the vaccination by law, and the good and free citizens of Texas objected? No. that can’t be! Bwahahahaha! They barely believe that it is wrong to shoot people simply because they are told it is so.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. I had an uncle who was all twisted and bent from polio. He was the nicest guy on Earth, and would give the shirt off his back. He got insulted once when some official person offered him a disability pension. He held a job until the day he died.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. We just got notified by the CDC for the outbreak of measles in the state and I have to put out agency wide training on it. So stupid not to immunize because there is no proof of the correlation to autism. I think it is grasping for an excuse as to the cause of autism…which is a toss of the dice. No blame. My brother had polio (mild) which is rearing its ugly head again in his adult life. No fault, he was born before the vaccine was around a lot.
    Mandating shots is tricky business. We mandate that all staff that see patients get the flu shot or they have to wear a mask. We wear stickers on our badges to show we got the shot. Even with the workforce we have, 75 % clinically trained, we only have a 63% who got the shot.
    It like the Ebola panic… we had to go through all these seminars and learn about the over the top personal protection garb and how to put it and off. OMG, we were laughing because we were falling over. However, it would not have been funny if anyone got it.
    Until it hits home…… people think their impervious.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. My grandfather had polio as a child. He had the one smaller shrunken leg the he had to physically move(or fling as it looked) his leg when he sat down or adjusted himself in a chair. I can relate to an extent, most things I found out about after his death. His first wife left him because she was worried about passing that illness down…. Why did she marry him? I think now that there were other factors. I never saw him angry in my lifetime during the 1 or 2 visits per year that I saw him….but there are things that I wish my grandma never told me…..

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I so appreciate you, and the others, sharing their stories. I didn’t hear these horror stories when I had to decide to vaccinate my children. It’s just “what we did” because it made more sense to do it. I remember when I was a child, lining up at school to get “shot in the arm” with that “gun”. And it being a relief to our parents to be able to protect us. Thank you, again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had an awesome reply that apparently was too lengthy because with one touch, poof it was gone. To the point 1a-horrible experience of seeing a few high school students with shingles after tx gov mandated chicken pox vaccine. 1b- hated seeing mandated HPV scandle the gov and the invesents made 2- horrible experience with a “fill in” for my 2 year old sons pediatrician who stated “no one has ever gotten shingles from chicken pox vaccine but if you want to kill your son go ahead. ” never using him as a fill in. Two days later the local news carried a special report on the shingles outbreak associated with some young children being vaccinated with the chicken pox vaccine. 3- read your thoughts and feel my angel at age 7 if old enough to verbalized and I can hopefully see if he had signs and symptoms of shingles because I was HORRIFIED that I would not notice and he would go septic from a shingles infection. 4- in proverbs 31 a good wife is described as one who has a job to help out her family. YOU ROCK! God bless😇 Ps I will also check with his pedi and our primary about HPV vaccine 😷

      Like

  22. Good story. Do you know what is worse right now. It actually angers me.

    The plague has returned into the developing world and proper sewage and sanitation in some developing countries still is not a priority. The plague of all diseases, just why?

    Vaccinations have saved billions of lives. The medicine industry is not always led by the right people though.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Pingback: My Article Read (2-11-2015) | My Daily Musing

  24. Thank you so much! In the military we were vaccinated against anything they thought we might get, only one of the shots ever gave me trouble the one for Bubonic Plague, ran a fever. vaccinated all our children. I’ll take the odds any day compared to the misery and death and culpability in spreading disease!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. It was a day in a life for me to work with polio survivors and often the issue of vaccination is never a contest in developing countries because often its a challenge in itself to get wind of it ever coming to a village let alone afford to access them but times are changing the services goes to the people and more are given opportunity to avoid diseases preventable by vaccine.

    We ignore the global picture of a situation when we make choices for the lives of our children and with whatever choice parents make at the end of the day it’s the children’s lives are what matters now and in the future … choose well.

    Going back on Polio so far those I’ve met and worked with in the past had made something of themselves and realized early in life that there is more to it than just wallow in misery in the situation they had no control of … I just wish your Dad had better experience when he was younger it would have made his adult life happier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe the hospitals were well meaning in most cases but treatment of children was very different then than it is now. I have heard both good and bad experiences from survivors, but my father’s experience was decidedly negative. Negative is too kind of a word. Terrorized and traumatized. I wish someone had been able to see the experience through his eyes at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. I was just telling my sister the other day how sad it is that young parents these days aren’t old enough to recall anyone wearing a “polio shoe”. I’m sure anyone who may have contracted it more recently had better shoes than the old school black oxfords with the one big heel, and the metal brace attached. We had a man with polio right down the street, so we saw him every day, and I also had an aunt who had had it. I will further the point by stating that both of my children and I are all autistic, and even knowing this, I would still vaccinate them if I had it to do over again. I personally don’t believe the vaccines have a thing to do with autism, Finally, I also need to put it out there that I think sometimes as adults we may need a booster shot…because even though I was fully immunized, I’ve had whooping cough three times as an adult. It was horrible and lasted for weeks (though I am slow to heal). I know that’s got to be rough on you to have to hold your tongue. I’m always a little fearful that living here in Florida among all the theme parks, we’ll get exposed to people from countries that don’t immunize, and will start an epidemic now with all the parents who don’t believe in it anymore. Kudos to you for sharing your dad’s painful journey. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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