Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vaccinations: a decision just in the nick of time

Nothing like waiting until the last minute, right? Well, I didn't mean to, but everything else just seemed to get in the way recently, so it wasn't until Saturday that I FINALLY got around to analyzing tons of vaccine information to make a somewhat informed decision about how we want to proceed with shots for baby boy.

I'm sure many of you may be wondering, "what do you mean, 'how we want to proceed'? Don't the doctors decide that?" Well, as I've discovered, yes and no.

This project all started weeks ago, after our make-up childbirth class, during which nurse Saudia clarified that the Hepatitis B shot is not mandatory at birth at Hershey. However, it is standard, so we were encouraged to speak up if we wanted to opt out. Suddenly aware that there must be two sides to this issue (after all, why would some people opt out, if they didn't have good reasons?), I began casually exploring the debate over vaccinations.

And honestly, my initial reaction was that those who objected to vaccinations or developed an "alternative" vaccination schedule were a bunch of granolas with over-inflated senses of self. After all, the vaccination schedule recommended by the CDC and the PA Dept. of Health are promoted by doctors -- medical experts who went to school for a lot of years to develop a wealth of knowledge on this topic that far exceeds anything a concerned parent could learn from a couple of books, right?

As I've discovered (again): yes and no.

After making my way through Dr. Sears' The Vaccine Book, a well-balanced and detailed review of all of today's childhood vaccinations and the diseases they address, Saturday I sat down with my heavily dog-eared book, a couple of articles on the current state of vaccines (my version of the book was from 2007), a copy of the section of the PA Code outlining vaccination requirements for entry into school, a friend’s alternate vaccination schedule and the CDC/PA Dept. of Health recommended vaccine schedule. FOUR HOURS LATER, I had a plan! Or at least a proposed vaccination plan to discuss with Dr. Baker when we meet him.

The exercise was one big puzzle. In fact, it reminded me a whole lot of my old CDEEP days, when we'd sit around doing grid puzzles. We were given a scenario and a number of elements to the scenario, and we had to piece the clues together to figure out the one answer to the puzzle that made everything fall into place where it fit.

Well, in this case there are endless possibilities for "right answers," but I think I made a plan that fits everything together in a way that will work best for us.

My goals (boiled down to the simplest form) were as such: let baby boy's immune system develop for a couple of months before he starts getting shots; avoid potentially risky combinations of shots; immunize baby boy first for the diseases that could prove most dangerous during infancy, then address other vaccinations later; get all the vaccines required by PA law in plenty of time; and don't be afraid to question parts of the standard vaccination schedule that simply don't make sense. And surprisingly, there are a handful of them.

For example, the Hep B shot at birth that started me down this road of vaccine research. Hep B is transmitted by body fluids, most commonly through sex and dirty tattoo and IV drug needles. Since I seriously doubt baby boy will be having sex, shooting up or getting tattoos within the next few years, and since the shot at birth can cause lethargy and poor appetite -- both of which could potentially make developing a breastfeeding routine difficult -- we're going to delay this one. Now yes, there is a risk of baby boy contracting Hep B should he need a blood transfusion or come into contact with an infected person's blood or saliva, however that risk is extremely rare. But not to worry: we're not abandoning the vaccine (after all, PA law requires Hep B vaccination before entry into school and it makes a lot of sense from a public health standpoint to ensure generations are vaccinated against this and other diseases), we're just weighing the risks and delaying it.

But delaying one shot has a domino affect for appointments and makes the vaccination puzzle all the more complex. Hence the need for four hours of analysis on Saturday.

And get this: did you know PA law now REQUIRES chickenpox immunity before a kid goes to school?! Yeah, that same right-of-passage, itchy-spots disease all my friends and I had growing up now either has to be caught before a kid enters kindergarten, or the kid has to have a shot or two to vaccinate against it before they'll let him through the school doors.

Ultimately I feel much more informed and prepared to ask Dr. Baker his professional opinion, when we meet him. Call me granola, but I'm glad I took the time to educate myself a little bit to learn there is more than one right answer in this case. And it gave me another opportunity to plug information into a spreadsheet, which always makes for a great afternoon.

1 comment:

Lillian said...

Loving this post! The Dr Sears book was so incredibly helpful for us, too.