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Luskin: On Immunization

02/16/12 5:55PM By Deborah Luskin
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(Host) Vermont has the second-to-last rate in the nation for childhood immunizations. Commentator Deborah Luskin thinks that Vermont parents who opt out of vaccinating their children put their children, themselves, and other Vermonters at risk for preventable disease.

(Luskin) When we were expecting our first child, my husband and I visited local cemeteries in search of old fashioned, New England names.

I was drawn to the flat, black, slates that predate the Revolutionary War. I read with some foreboding about twenty-year old Elizabeths and Susannahs who were buried with their infants in their arms. As an older first-time mom, I knew pregnancy carried risks for me as well as our child. But I was healthy, optimistic and had access to twentieth century health care.

My husband, a physician, was drawn to clusters of marble headstones from 1918, the year the Influenza Pandemic killed more than 20 million people around the world. He stood before two large stones with a half dozen small ones between them: a whole family wiped out. Vermont was hard hit, with more than 6,000 cases reported in a single week.

Tim pointed out small, hundred-year-old headstones marking the graves of infants, toddlers and young children. "Whooping Cough, Croup, German Measles - these were all fatal diseases back then," he told me. He pointed to a stone of a man who died in his thirties. "My age," he said. "This guy could have died from a cut. Without the tetanus vaccine, Lockjaw was common - and lethal."

Our children were all born healthy, which is a mercy in itself. They were immunized against polio, pertussis, tetanus, diphtheria, Rubella and Mumps.

My children had healthier childhoods than even I did.

I'm old enough to remember my whole family trooping down to the local junior high, where we ate sugar cubes laced with the new polio vaccine. My parents, who'd spent their childhood summers avoiding movie theaters and public swimming pools in fear of contracting the disease, were vaccinated as well.

My children have flourished in Vermont, and have traveled to less healthy corners of the world. Before leaving for Turkey and Russia, they were vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B. For trips to India, Rwanda, The Rift Valley, Siberia, Northern Thailand and Morocco, they were inoculated against Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Japanese Encephalitis. They also had Polio and Tetanus Boosters, and took medication to prevent malaria.

Back home and off to dorm life, they had shots to prevent HPV and meningitis. Every year, they're inoculated against influenza. I get a yearly flu shot, too. But none was available for H1N1 the first year Swine Flu circled the globe - and put me in bed for four miserable days. Global travel is a boon to the spread of disease; no fence along a border can keep viruses out. Only our own immune systems, triggered by vaccines, can effectively do that.

My physician husband calls vaccines the most profound medical advance in human history. I call them peace of mind. Thanks to immunizations, my children are not likely to contract deadly, communicable, and preventable diseases. In Vermont, they're in much greater danger of being hit by someone driving under the influence. Too bad we can't provide immunity for that.

Related Links

http://www.vpr.net/episode/53029/vaccines-stir-strong-opinions-at-statehouse/
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