It feels like a long time right now from the cooler days of fall, but of course my family is already in back-to-school mode. Every year, that means the hunt for the right new notebooks, pens and pencils and of course a few items of clothing. Then there’s that item we’ve never forgotten: the kids’ vaccines.
My children are older now – my daughter nearly 12, my twin boys who just turned 9 – and need fewer shots than they did in their infancy and pre-kindergarten days. But you can be sure that my daughter recently got her second and final HPV vaccine to protect her against cervical cancer and other forms of cancer as well.
Before flu season starts, the whole family will be getting our flu shots. I think all of us here in the state were a little shocked by the brutality of the last flu season. Ten thousand Texans died, including a previously healthy teacher who was a friend of a friend. That struck especially hard, because Heather Holland was my age, 38, and a mom like me.
I first became aware of the unfortunate fact that some people were avoiding vaccines when I was pregnant with my boys. There was a good chance they would be premature, and my doctor warned me how vulnerable they would be if they were exposed to whooping cough, which was just on the rise at the time. It’s often a deadly disease to babies, so we had to make sure that everyone who would come in contact with them was vaccinated. And I thought, “What are you talking about? In the age of vaccines, a disease like this is still endangering babies?”
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A couple of years later, when the boys were in preschool, a child there did come down with whooping cough. I couldn’t help but think about what could have happened if this had occurred when the twins were infants and my daughter was in preschool. What if she had carried the disease into our household, right to her baby brothers?
That’s the important thing about vaccines. We’re not just protecting ourselves and our children. We’re caring for each other. It’s what I told my daughter when it was time for her HPV shots; she might not be a preschooler, but she doesn’t like shots any more than the next person.
“It’s a cancer vaccine,” I told her. “It won’t only keep you safe, it will keep the people around you safe, too.”
She said, “OK, I don’t want to, but I know it’s the right thing to do.” That’s the kind of children I want to raise — ones who think about others and do what’s right for us all instead of thinking only about what makes them comfortable in the moment.
Sure, it’s inconvenient to make yet another appointment to see the doctor. I get that we have busy lives. I just graduated from college. Studying in school plus taking care of three kids kept me going all the time. But the hour or two it takes to see the doctor is a lot less time than the week or more needed to take care of a bedridden child who shouldn’t have gotten sick in the first place.
I’m lucky; our insurance pays the full cost of vaccines. Insurance companies are smart; they know that it’s much cheaper for them to prevent a disease now than to pay for treatment later. But I also recognize that not all families are this lucky. That’s why I’ve become active in the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County, where we live, to bring low-cost vaccination to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
So invest a couple of hours in a preventive-medicine visit to your doctor and your children’s pediatrician, or seek out low-cost clinics where you live. Let’s protect ourselves and each other from diseases that no one should have to get.
Elena Greer is a Fort Worth resident and the chair of the advocacy committee for the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County.