Spencer Rendahl: Vaccination Revisited

Mar 14, 2019

When my prematurely-born daughter approached the end of her seven week stay in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Intensive Care Nursery, the hospital informed me that before discharge, I needed to watch several videos about vaccinations – including one with footage of an un-vaccinated child with whooping cough struggling to breathe as his distraught parents looked on.

The message was clear: after taking heroic measures to help bring sick infants to good health, the hospital staff wanted to make sure parents understood the importance of vaccines in avoiding future illness.

My family didn’t need convincing. My father, born in nineteen forty one, contracted polio as a toddler. No vaccine or cure existed so it was by sheer luck that he recovered fully rather than becoming permanently crippled or confined to an iron lung. Yet in pockets of the US, families are still choosing to forgo vaccines for deadly diseases – and there are indeed serious consequences.

The Centers for Disease Control reported seventeen confirmed outbreaks of measles in the US last year, and ones in New Hampshire, New York, and Connecticut this year. The Rutland Herald reports that because of concern about outbreaks, the Vermont House is considering bill H. 238, which would eliminate the religious exemption for vaccines for public school enrollment.

Some parents also refuse vaccinations as a matter of individual liberties; still others for fear they cause autism - despite the fact that in decades of research there hasn’t been a causal link proven between the two.

And now, the CDC has reported that in 2017 an unvaccinated 6-year-old Oregon boy almost died from tetanus, the first case of the bacterial infection in the state in 30 years. He spent weeks in a dark hospital room on a respirator and almost two months in the hospital before he could walk again. The bill for the boy’s care came to nearly a million dollars.

My second newborn had trouble breathing the day after birth and had to be put on oxygen in the ICN. After a harrowing week, as I met with a nurse to discuss discharge, I confirmed we’d seen the vaccination videos during our first child’s stay. Then I asked how soon my son could get his.