Another Important Fact About Childhood Vaccines

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After posting Should I Vaccinate My Children? yesterday and “sleeping on it” I realized another important piece of information needs inclusion.  Any parent considering or reconsidering whether to vaccinate their kids needs to know this:  it’s never too late.  If your child is school-aged (even a collegiate) and never been vaccinated or only partially vaccinated, age-appropriate “catch-up” protocols exist.

Grown ups may also apply.

Should I Vaccinate My Children?

I‘m going to give this to you straight. As in 23-gauge needle straight:

∗Vaccinate your kids.

∗ Let them eat dirt.

∗Don’t freak if they eat their boogers.

∗(Do freak if they eat someone else’s.)

Evidence supports doing the first two. The third falls under the “can’t hurt ‘em” line of thinking.  And the fourth, well, goes without saying.

What can hurt, as we know, is the sting from a needle delivering a vaccine, often several administered in rapid succession. But what can hurt even more are the repercussions from choosing to forgo “shots.”

Childhood vaccines:  two words that generate a ton of talk.  Banter from when my kids were toddlers still continues a decade later.  The debate comes to a rolling boil when parents consider whether or not to vaccine their children and hits flash point when families defend the choice they make.  But I am not writing this post to put forth my feelings on this topic.  It’s far more important to promote the facts and dispel the myths circulating about childhood vaccines.  So I write this to contribute to the body of accurate cyber-information, with the goal of helping parents make a well-informed, not emotionally-charged, decision.  This will not be one of those strongly-worded pro- or anti-vaccination rants (I actually read one written by a physician who repeatedly dropped the f-bomb).  Decisions regarding the health of our children, and by extension that of our communities, are far too important to be clouded by emotional rhetoric. Instead, I’ll dispel some common myths regarding childhood vaccines and talk real information that you can use.

Myth #1:  Diseases are eradicated, so my children don’t need vaccinated.

Simply put, in order to eradicate we must vaccinate.  Smallpox is the only disease considered to be non-threat and that was accomplished with worldwide…vaccination.  And to have a shot at wiping out more diseases that carry devastating, widespread consequences, we must vaccinate against those as well.  But as has been seen in recent years, many of the diseases for which vaccines are available are “alive and well.”  Prime examples:

Pertussis (Whooping Cough).  There were 28,639 cases of pertussis diagnosed in 2013.  Most victims were infants, but coming in close second were children aged 7 to 10 years.  Children, who if vaccinated, should have peak immunity from pertussis.

Measles.  As of this writing, there are 73 confirmed cases of measles in the Western United States, 50 apparently contracted at Disneyland.  Last week, of the 34 known cases in California, 28 patients have never been vaccinated against measles.

Tetanus (“lockjaw”).  Tetanus is ever-present in dust and soil.  As its elimination from our environment is impossible, vaccination is our only defense.  There is no treatment for this disease and unfortunately 1 in 5 people who contract tetanus die.

Polio, the good news.  The last cases of naturally-occurring polio occurred in the U.S. in 1979.  And no cases of vaccine-related polio occur in the U.S. because the IPV, the inactivated, or “dead” version, is now the only one used.  So we have a safe vaccine against polio…one reason the U.S. can boast near, but not complete, eradication of this debilitating illness.

Finally, as polio and measles are both viruses, there is no effective medication to treat either.  Don’t expect a trip to the emergency room will provide a cure, it won’t. Prevent both by vaccination.

Myth #2:  Everyone else vaccinates their kids so I don’t need to.   More and more parents believe they can rely on herd immunity to protect their children against infectious diseases.  Now this phenomenon is not a given,  for it to exist it literally takes a village:  95 percent of the population eligible for vaccinations must actually receive them in order for a community to have effective herd immunity.  In essence, non-vaccinators depend on nearly everyone else to vaccine their kids.  But fewer children are getting vaccinated, and communities are not hitting that 95 percent benchmark;  therefore, no herd immunity.  Case in point:  only 85 percent of the children in my kids’ elementary school are fully vaccinated; in fact, none of the elementary schools in our district have achieved herd immunity.  And our community has pertussis.

The real reasons we need compliance with childhood vaccines?   A new baby brother or sister who cannot yet get vaccinated but is highly susceptible to infectious disease.  Elderly grandparents and the immunocompromised who cannot fight disease as effectively as their younger, healthier counterparts.  Herd immunity is for those groups of people, not for families who simply don’t like the idea of vaccinations.

Myth #3:  Vaccines cause autism.  The granddaddy myth of them all.  The basis for this claim focused on the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine but became blown out of proportion to include all childhood vaccines.

Some facts:

Physician Andrew Wakefield published a paper in 1998 linking autism to the MMR.  It was a poorly designed study with only 12 subjects, a major red flag.  Having only a dozen patients in a study has as much power and credibility as a hamster trying to pull a steam locomotive.

Under charges that he altered patient information and was paid to “fix” his study results, Andrew Wakefield was removed from the United Kingdom Medical Register, (aka lost his license to practice medicine) and his paper was retracted.

Currently, and I can’t emphasize this point enough:  20 studies have reviewed the ex-Dr. Wakefield’s claim and all, all, studies found no link between the MMR and autism.

Myth #4:  The mercury in vaccines is harmful.

Methyl mercury, which is found in fish (certain types of tuna, swordfish), is toxic to the human nervous system when consumed in sufficient amounts.  However, ethyl mercury, a break-down product of the vaccine preservative thimerosol, is not.  This latter form of mercury is rapidly broken down in the human body and eliminated, therefore it does not build up and cause unwanted effects.  In fact, no vaccines in the pediatric schedule contain thimerosol, with the single exception being the multi-dose influenza formulation.  However, both the single-dose injectable and the nasal (Flumist) versions are free of this preservative, giving concerned parents two other options for protecting their children against influenza.**

Good resources abound to help families find answers to their questions regarding vaccinations.  The body of online resources is expansive but finding valid websites is key to obtaining the accurate information you need.  One I use frequently is cdc.gov.  WebMD.com is another good resource.  And don’t forget about your pediatrician!  Also, please feel free to send me your questions as well, I would be happy to help you out!

Don't take a chance.  Protect your kids.

Don’t take a chance. Protect your kids.

 

**Speaking of influenza, a few months ago I addressed some of the common myths associated with the disease and the vaccine in “The Influenza Vaccine: Setting the Records Straight.”  I invite you to take a look…the information may surprise you!

 

A Reason to Recharge

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The other morning I needed to recharge.  I went to Friday Flow yoga and reconnected with some amazing people.  I got my favorite Chai from my favorite local coffee place.

“Me Time” at its best.

Maybe it was the clarity that only yoga and a jolt of spicy tea can provide, but I got to thinking about this thing we call “Me Time.”  The time we take for just ourselves.  The time we rarely indulge in because we have responsibilities and commitments.  A sense of obligation, and even guilt, makes “Me Time” sound too decadent and selfish.

But “Me Time” not only benefits the individual who takes it.  I know I feel awesomely content and relaxed having taken that break from the daily grind but I realized something:   my family benefits as well.  I am in a better place to help with homework, “run the bus” to activities and engage in meaningful conversation with my husband if I set aside my “to-do’s”  and instead recharge my batteries doing something I not only enjoy….but need.

So perhaps, rather that calling it “Me Time” that little break is better called “Restorative Time.”  That’s really what it is.  Maybe we won’t feel guilty taking five (or more) if we realize we are better caretakers for doing it.  So take that time.  Our families deserve it.

My Daughter is Growing Up. How Can I Help Her?

My daughter's room is pink.  It is fluffy.  It is soft and sweet.  Except for the pink legos.  Those are sharp and they hurt when stepped on.

My daughter’s room is pink. It is fluffy. It is soft and sweet. Except for the pink legos. Those are sharp and they hurt my feet.

My daughter.  Just yesterday I seemed to notice her again, growing taller, holding herself with the air of a budding “tween”.  Even her facial features have changed.  Why is it kids seem to take another step towards maturity over night?

Right now my daughter is in such an awesome place.  She has a great second grade teacher.  She does advanced mathwork.  Her friends are really good kids who have a positive influence on her.  Right now, this tight little group plays with dolls and is reading Harry Potter.  This is the kind of peer pressure parental dreams are made of.  When your daughter dresses her doll like Kit from the Depression Era and also wants to get up early in the morning to read before school, who can complain?

And believe me, I am not.  But my daughter is only eight.  There are lots of pitfalls ahead with emerging adolescence, the teen years themselves (as a friend of mine said, “Sixteen is going to be so much FUN!!!”) and then the self-discovery of early adulthood.  These times are confusing and a girl’s support system is not only her immediate family but also her “peer family.”  The latter becomes pretty darn important and how as parents can we help our daughters make and maintain good friends who may become part of that adolescent peer family?  It is a daunting question and task, especially as I see my girl right now in this sweet spot with wholesome friendships both of us want to last for years to come. Continue reading

The Birth Plan

And there they are, our twins.  Needing a bit more time in the oven, though.

And there they are, our twins. Needing a bit more time in the oven, though.

As our twins’ due date drew near, after the baby showers and the painting of the nursery and the birthing class, it was time to face the reality of our boys’ arrival:   the delivery.  It was a bit of a revelation, with so much focus on ultrasounds and a growing tummy and intense cravings for macaroni and cheese and homemade brownies, that, indeed, these babies would soon make a grand entrance.  Somehow.

The suitcase was packed.  But other than that, we were simply waiting. The hospital of our choice (wait, who am I kidding…the hospital covered by our insurance) felt differently.  In the mail one afternoon I received a form from Labor and Delivery entitled “Birth Plan.”  Please fill in out, the staff requested, and return it to be placed the admission file we have started for you.

Given our “Birth Plan” was to have a delivery of healthy babies under the supervision of experienced hospital staff, I found this form a little concerning.  The “Birth Plan” seemed rather straightforward and obvious.  Puzzled, I began skimming the form.  There were questions about the kind of environment in which I wanted to give birth.  Who I wanted present at the birth (ok, valid security question, I get that).  And other questions about how the staff could make childbirth a most memorable life experience.  In short, these questions were mostly B.S.  I was about to circular-file the form when I stopped short, concerned that in this era of denied insurance claims I’d better comply, less we’d be saddled with a huge hospital bill for not completing a “Birth Plan.”

So here are my responses.  Some are real.  Some are my inner dialogue.

Birth Plan

What type of music would you like playing while you are in labor?

Jimmy Buffett.

Who is allowed to be present at the delivery of your baby?

My husband (who also happens to be the father of the babies), the obstetrician, the necessary nursing staff, and a Green Bay Packers fan.  A Rabid Cheesehead can scream “Go!” like nobody’s business and I may need some encouragement.

Do you wish to have drugs (an epidural, spinal, etc.) to make the laboring process more comfortable?

Hell, YES!

What videos would you like to have available to watch during your time in Labor and Delivery?

The Exorcist.  Oh, and The Sound of Music.  It’s my absolute favorite!

Would you like a mirror so you can watch your child being born?**

Hell, NO!  I’ve seen babies being born and well, it’s yucky!!!  Their birth is the first and final huge mess my children will make that I WON’T have to clean up so leave me totally out of it!  Plus I don’t want anything in the way of the doctor catching my kids as they come out…these little guys are slippery!  ARE YOU PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR MINDS?!?!

Anything else you’d like us to know?

I’m going to give it to you straight:  our “plan” is to have healthy babies delivered by skilled staff.  Staff that can minimize the risk of complications and have the foresight to do so.  Amen.

So there you have it.  For the record, there was no Jimmy Buffett music at our boys’ birth,  no Exorist or cute kids singing “So Long, Farewell.”  There was no mirror, either.    My husband and I wonder what happened to that “Birth Plan,” if anyone ever read it or filed it or pulled it when I was admitted to the hospital.  But in the end, it doesn’t matter.  Because we got exactly what we hoped for:  our two healthy baby boys.

And no one needed a form to know that’s what we all wanted.

**I kid you not, this was an actual question.

From the Desk of…an Eight-Year-Old

Children are astute observers and acutely grounded in reality.  And when they take their perspectives to paper, the results can be hilarious, especially when combined with a glaring absence of auto correct. Or a filter.  They are kids after all…honest and real and curious. So, for example, asking a veteran, “Did you like fighting in the war?” doesn’t seem out-of-line.  (Yes, a second grader wrote this in a letter to my father-in-law this past Veterans’ Day…).

That said, my daughter loves to write.  Recently I found some notes on her desk that would push the envelope if written by an adult but fit her eight-year-old level of development.  They are funny, scary and embarrassing, all at the same time.  Here they are:

1)  In order to fix this one I may have to don my Glinda the Good Witch costume for the next Tooth Fairy visit:

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Translation:  “Dear tooth fairy,  ‘A’ lost his first molar!  He thinks you are fake.  He thinks that you are Daddy.  Love, ”

2)  Someone anonymously posted a note in our mailroom threatening residents with the authorities if their dogs bark a lot.  Below is my daughter’s ire in writing:

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Translation:  “Dear Sheriff, you can not take my dog.  You are drunk so I will kill you for your insolence.  If you dare do that to Dakota he will bite you.  Your friend, ‘D’ ”

For the record:

~Our dog no longer barks for long periods of time, he is now happily adjusted to our home.

~And no, our dog does not bite.

~The local sheriff does NOT have a drinking problem.  I can’t express the importance of this statement enough. And I don’t think my daughter understands what exactly “drunk” means.  We have had a talk.

~I am not happy my daughter wrote such a disturbing letter ending with “Your friend.” Talk about hell-hath-no-fury.

~I am happy she knows the SAT-level word “insolence.”

Oh, from the “mouths” of babes….

Twelve (Plus One) in 2014

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One year ago my New Year’s resolution was to read more books.  I set my sights on enjoying one book a month.  While sometimes it was hard to find the time and motivation, in the end I was able to devour thirteen books cover to cover.  If I included all books started (and not necessarily finished, see Sorry, Mr. Robbins, My Mind Just Doesn’t Work That Way), I could have read fourteen in ’14, which would have been kinda fun.  But that would be cheating.  Numbers aside, one thing is certain:  my love for cracking a cover has been renewed.  The new challenge is to not let reading become a stranger again.

Here, in chronological order, are the books I read in 2014.  Synopses and (amateur) reviews can be read in full on Twelve Books in 2014.

1) The Ten Best Days of My Life by Adena Halpern

2) The Plays of Oscar Wilde by Oscar Wilde

3) Queen Bees and Wannabees, second edition, by Roselind Wiseman

4) The Clique Summer Collection:  Massie by Lisi Harrison

5) Masterminds and Wingmen by Roselind Wiseman

6), 7) and 8) The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

9) All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

10) Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

11) Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

12) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

13) Orange is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

Each book I loved in its own way, whether I was enlightened, entertained or disgusted.  No matter in what manner a book left an impression, I know each and every one changed me just a bit.  And it was fun.  Here’s to another twelve or thirteen (perhaps fifteen?) equally inspiring volumes in 2015.

 

 

A Fashion Statement Worth Considering

Flying without my family isn’t something I do often and I really don’t like it.  So when I flew the friendly skies solo last month I needed some company.  Enter the book Orange is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman.  I was already hooked the television series by the same name and therefore curious about the true story that inspired a show ripe with character and drama.  Piper Kerman, in describing her incarceration for a decade-old offense, clearly got an education beyond what she received at Smith College:  a first-hand look at the prejudices, substandard living conditions, and the rivalries and friendships forged in prison.  Her writing, articulate and filled with SAT-level vocabulary (I kept my dictionary app at hand), was at times overdone but her vivid narrative made me feel I as if I were doing time alongside her.

What surprised me as I read this account was how much artistic license the show has taken with Ms. Kerman’s book.  Certain situations and relationships have been vastly altered and much material added for more dramatic viewing.  And while some characters in the show are clearly inspired by actual women Ms. Kerman met, many seem original.  But comparisons aside, the book for its own sake is enjoyable and shares a true glimpse into the conditions in a women’s prison.  That, without a doubt, comes across well without embellishment in the television show.

The new black.  Apparently.

The new black. Apparently.

Coffee Shop Time Warp

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Over winter break we took our three kids to a favorite coffee spot for hot chocolate.  As we settled in, I found myself more interested in “people-watching” and couldn’t help but notice the family sitting across the room:  parents and their four twenty-something kids.  There was Dad, bespectacled and reading.  Sitting beside him was his slightly-grunge son wearing Buddy Holly-style glasses and playing on his phone.  Mom was sitting at the other end of the table, talking with her stylishly-dressed daughters.  Another son, with All-American features was in seated in the middle, partaking of his coffee and alternating between conversation and looking over his brother’s shoulder at the smart phone screen.  They looked like a family enjoying a holiday away together, nothing more.

But yet, I was intrigued by their presence.  Now I’m not a great judge of age but I would say the parents were in their mid-to-late fifties and the kids in their mid-twenties. My math skills being far better, I figured that would be a thirty-year spread in age between the two generations.  These were “older” parents, much like my husband and me in that we started our own family in our thirties.  This family could be ours in another ten years; our corner of the coffee shop was present day and theirs 2025.

As my eyes wandered from face to face and interaction to interaction at their table my mind wandered as well, transforming this family into mine, another decade from now.  My oldest, clean-cut and blonde, would certainly be the one watching his ever-tech-obsessed brother playing on his phone.  My own style-conscious daughter a carefully-groomed hybrid of the two girls, her hair straight and long and neck adorned with a beautifully-tied scarf.  My husband, not unlike the father at that table, reading.  Me chatting with my daughter about, well, most anything.

I couldn’t help thinking how happy and comfortable they looked, being together.

And I smiled to myself, feeling tearfully reassured.

Farewell, My Friend

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Last week I travelled back to Iowa to celebrate the life of a childhood friend.  She was kind and vivacious.  A daughter, a mother of four.  Why she was taken so soon from the many who loved and needed her, no one will understand.  All I know is the acute pain of bidding farewell to someone I’ve known for decades, and my age as well.   When I learned she was gone, I had been standing impatiently in a restaurant awaiting my overdue takeout order, making a mental inventory of everything I needed to do that night, the next day, and the following week.  I pulled Facebook up on my mobile as a distraction.

And there it was.

Suddenly nothing else but the news mattered.  I felt ashamed of my perseverations and stresses.  My to-do list suddenly seemed a blessing.  To have a full life and the ability to participate in it seemed a great privilege.

When my kids’ schedules seem overwhelming, I think how my friend can no longer juggle the responsibilities of motherhood.  When I think of the holiday preparations left to finish, I think how she can’t spend another Christmas morning with her children.  If walking our Labrador seems a chore, I think how she, a perennial animal lover, can never snuggle and pet her dog again.  Yes, my perspective has been forever changed.

Rest in peace my friend.  I hope you are walking your Maltese, “Muffin,” who preceded you.  And groovin’ to the Beach Boys and Chicago.  Just like we did when we were kids.