Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stick Out Your Arm

The recent medical finding that there is no authoritative link between early childhood vaccinations and the onset of autism, plus an interview with Dr. Paul A. Offit, author of “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All,” on Monday’s Colbert Report, made me recall an incident involving one of our children’s playgroup friends when Dan and Ellie were young.

Bethany and Sam (I’ve obscured their names to protect them, and me) had two boys the same ages as our children. Being a health and organic food advocate, Sam insisted his boys not be immunized. His reasoning, at the time, was injections could induce cancer. No shots for them. No protection from a vial against diphtheria, whooping cough or tetanus. No needles for measles, mumps or chicken pox, as well.

With a letter from a holistic doctor giving them cover, Ian and Robert entered school without the required vaccination forms. All went well until Ian badly scraped his knee during recess one day. The school nurse sent him to the hospital emergency room where they asked if he had a tetanus shot. Ian replied he had never had any inoculations, for anything. Just as they were about to administer his first medical puncture, his mother swooped into the emergency room. Under threat they would take her child away from her custody unless she allowed them to administer a tetanus shot, Bethany reluctantly agreed.

At home that night, Bethany had just finished relating the events to Sam when a knock at the door revealed a social worker and two policemen, there to investigate whether Bethany and Sam were wholesome parents, not abusing their children. While they passed the surprise home inspection, they were not out of the woods, just yet. The social worker insisted on a more thorough investigation of their parenting skills.

Sam swung into action. He contacted a cousin who was a state judge who issued a letter vouching to their appropriateness as parents. The family was saved, if that’s the right word, from any further action. To my knowledge, they never received any further injections.

As for me, though I recoiled from getting shots when young, I’m in favor of them now. After my 61st birthday last March, I had my doctor give me a chicken pox booster to ward off shingles. When my current tetanus booster expires in another few years I’ll put my arm out again for a tetanus and pertussis cocktail.

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