Yesterday I stopped by my local Target pharmacy to get my flu shot. This should have been uneventful enough. Since I work with small children, I routinely get the shot as soon as it comes out in the fall. I know that the shot does not always cover all the strands of the flu, but I have not had a true case of the flu since 1981. The person who gave me the shot can best be described as swarmy and unctious. Something about him made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. He gave me the shot, looked disappointed and said, “You did not cry.” I said, “Well, no.” He sighed. I waved my autism tattoo at him and said, “This tattoo did not make me cry and your shot certainly won’t.” He sighed again, then brightened and said, “Oh well, maybe you will cry in the car.” “Not likely” I said, and left as fast as humanly possible. I finished my shopping and heading to the checkout aisle. As I handed the checker the $5 coupon I had gotten for getting my flu shot I commented,”It seems silly to me to give me $5 off for something I would do anyway, but here you go.” He took my coupon and said, “Well, so many people are talking about vaccines that doctors are doing everything they can to get people to come in and get vaccinated.” I looked him in the eye and said,” I am the mother of a son on the spectrum and I vaccinate.” The checker literally stopped what he was doing, looked back at me and said, “Thank you for speaking the truth. Vaccines are very important.” “I am glad that we feel the same way ” I replied. This spared me from having to give my Andrew Wakefield faked his data and lost his medical license in Great Britain speech and autism is genetic and not caused by a vaccine. Whew! He finished bagging my groceries and we both vowed to do what we could to prop up herd immunity and went our separate ways.
The week before I had an interesting conversation with a nurse at my kid’s pediatric clinic. I noticed that she looked tired and commented on it. She said that from November through May of this year the clinic had served an overwhelming number of small children who had fallen sick with the flu. They had not had the flu shot and were very ill. Many of the children came in first with strain A (which the shot did not work against) and then exactly a month later came back ill with strain B. With strain B came horrible breathing problems which often landed these toddlers in the PICU. Much of this misery could have been avoided if the parents had taken 10 minutes to have their child vaccinated. She was hoping that this fall more parents would vaccinate. I assured her that I would get both my children the shot.
I rarely wade into the vaxxers versus anti-vaxxers fray. I have been verbally and physically harassed by too many ardent anti-vaxxers over the years. But, I feel I can not longer keep silent. Vaccines do not cause autism and they prevent much unneeded suffering and sometimes death. Our memories do not go back far enough to a time when polio routinely closed pools and theaters every summer, killing and maiming countless children and placing others in iron lungs. We don’t remember what it is like to see our children suffer from smallpox, measles or mumps. We are a generation that is blissfully unaware of such things. Yet, these diseases are creeping back and there is no longer enough herd immunity to protect us all, particularly the vulnerable, the immune suppressed, those undergoing chemo, etc. The United States is not a third world country, but sometimes it seems as if our attitudes towards vaccinations are backward in nature. So, here I stand. I am an autism mama and I vaccinate my children. Even if you choose not to vaccinate, maybe the herd immunity that my children and I provide will keep you and your children from getting sick.