A Shot at the Future


Lately it seems that everyone is talking about vaccines, both in my professional and personal lives.  I’ve seen pro- and anti-vaccine rhetoric all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  I am often asked, as both a pediatrician and a mom, about my opinions on vaccines.  Rather than spending the next 500 words explaining my beliefs on immunizations, I thought I would share two stories about patients.  These are the patients that I can’t get out of my head whenever talking about vaccines.  These are the patients I hope you never have to hear about again.

I was a second year resident in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) taking care of a newborn with an unknown infection.  His parents sat terrified at his bedside as he lay there with tubes, lines, and wires crisscrossing his tiny body.  Upon my routine examination of him one night, I noted that his pulse felt irregular and called my Fellow to come assess him with me.  While I was hooking him up to the EKG machine, the fellow and I saw a rhythm tracing dance across the monitor that meant his heart was failing.  The Fellow started CPR and I called a code, followed minutes later by calling the ECMO team.  The Attending and I explained what was happening to the parents and I remember the words “we’ve done everything we can do” coming from her lips while I heard my own heartbeat in my head.  This little guy died of Pertussis on his 2-month birthday.  His family had planned on immunizing him, but they were not up-to-date themselves with their Tdap boosters.

Later on, I was assigned to cover the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) over Thanksgiving, a place that despite having a new pot luck dinner with every nursing shift change is a sad setting for a holiday, although a good place to be reminded about all the things for which I am thankful.  It was during this holiday that I met a previously healthy teenage athlete.  His bloated body was hooked up to the ECMO machine, but the photos his family plastered around his room showed me what he normally looked like and told the story of his previously normal teenage life.  He was there because of the flu.  The flu!  That illness that so many tell me “isn’t that bad.”  Weeks later I heard that he passed away.  I don’t know for sure that the flu shot that year would have protected him from the strain that he passed from, but I know that it could for many others each year with similar stories.

I had two shots during my last pregnancy.  The first was my Tdap booster, and even though I had my last one three years ago, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends a Tdap booster with each pregnancy.   When my son was born 2.5 years ago, I made sure that my husband, the grandparents, and our nanny were all up-to-date with their Tdap as well, to provide protection to my baby who was still too young to be immunized himself.  The second shot I received was the seasonal influenza vaccine, which is not only required for my job, but was especially important for me to receive prior to the birth of my baby to provide protection until she is old enough to be vaccinated herself.  These are my choices and I am happy to share them with you, in hopes that I don’t have any stories like the above two to ever share again.

For more information about vaccines: http://www.chop.edu/service/vaccine-education-center/home.html

{Disclaimer: The above patients are real people but details have been omitted and changed to protect their identity.  These are my opinions and do not constitute personal medical advice.  You should talk to your health care provider about what is best for you and your children.  Please read my full disclaimer here.}

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  1. Thanks for posting some straight forward information on such a controversial topic! I agree with you 100%. I choose to vaccinate my son, not only for his sake, but for those around him who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated. I just came from getting my flu shot myself as I came across this (our hospital ran out early in the season). Look forward to reading more!

    1. Thanks for your comment! It’s crazy to me that this is such a controversial topic, but I am happy that you found the information helpful. Hope you keep reading. And kudos for seeking out a flu shot when it wasn’t easily available!

  2. Thank you for sharing. Rarely do you get to read about a medical professional’s experience with vaccinations or lack thereof. We vaccinate and now I’ve been reminded to get my flu shot. Thank you!

    1. Patients’ parents ask me all the time what I would do with my own children. I think it is important for health care providers to be good role models. I wanted to share not only the fact that I do vaccinate, but why… and not from a scientific perspective but from an emotional one. There is a ton of science out there that people can read, but what they don’t often hear are the stories behind why the science is important. As always, thanks for reading!

  3. I”m right there with you! Sometimes I almost feel embarrassed to be a believer in vaccines, because a lot of uninformed people have chosen to vilify and criticize them. I believe vaccines save lives. Similar to your story about the flu, I remember hearing someone say “no one dies of cervical cancer anymore” when Gardasil first came out. At the time, I was working on a gyn/onc floor, and became very close with a patient who died of cervical cancer, leaving a family behind. True, a vaccine may or may not have made a difference in her health, but why would you want to play with chance? More and more, families are choosing not to vaccinate. We live in a free country, and we all have a right to that choice. But our generation has never seen the consequences of things like measles, mumps, polio, etc. It is frightening to me. As an RN and an MD, we’ve chosen to vaccinate our kids, on schedule, understanding that the risk of vaccination is insignificant to the risk of disease. Thank you!!

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