HomeallergiesTo Vaccinate or Not? The Debate and Vaccine Injury

There’s been a lot of talk about vaccines, lately. Most of what I’ve been seeing has been angry, mocking and borderline bullying towards people who don’t vaccinate.

Vaccines have been around since the 1800s. This
man is getting a vaccine against the plague, on
June 4th, 1898.
[Public Domain], via WikiMedia Commons

If you were to listen to those posts, you’d think the only people who don’t get shots are those who fear autism, do it out of religious belief or have a massive fear of anything “unnatural”.

Those articles and online posts do nothing more than make most of the anti-vax people they’re targeting more adamant about their points of view and defensive. They also make people who have had to deal with the very real problem of vaccine injury afraid to join the conversation, and those of us who can’t get some shots feel vilified for looking out for our own well being.

I fall into that last category. I’ve had the flu shot twice in my life, and both times, suffered horrible, extended asthma episodes. Asthma is something I’ve dealt with for most of my life, but the first time I got the shot, I thought it was a fluke. The CDC says all people with asthma should get it, right? Isn’t it safe for everyone with asthma? The second time, I knew I couldn’t get it again.

That said, I do a lot of hand washing and am thinking of finding one of those medical masks when I’m out on public transit during cold/flu season.

I am not anti-vax, but I’m not blindly pro-vax for everyone, either. As I’ve said many times before, vaccines are safe for MOST people.

It’s not autism I’m concerned with, either. There have been enough large scale studies to convince me that childhood vaccines don’t cause it. Even if they did, I’ve known enough people with ASD and seen enough work by those I don’t know personally to know autism isn’t necessarily the absolutely horrible thing that media likes to make it out to be. It can be just as much of a gift as dyslexia is for me.

As for vaccines? If you or your child can get them with relatively low risk of injury or side effects, by all means, do. However, you should know what to watch out for, and what action to take if you spot signs. Even though these reactions are rare, they’re worth knowing about.

Anaphylaxis
If you or your child has food or insect sting allergies, you’re probably already

Guess which hand was stung. By the time he
finally went to the doctor, he was having trouble
breathing and feeling dizzy. His arm was swollen
up to his shoulder, too. Stubborn man.
He’s lucky it wasn’t worse, but now he carries
an EpiPen, I’m thinking of getting one for my purse,
and we both carry antihistamine pills
during the warmer months.

familiar with this particular reaction. This is when the immune system suddenly reacts to an otherwise harmless substance by swelling up the mouth and throat. It can also make other parts of the body swell up, like the picture of my husband’s hand after his bee sting this summer. Sometimes, a rash is also involved.

Unfortunately, it’s possible for this to happen with vaccinations. Vaccines don’t only have the virus (dead or alive) or virus proteins. They also carry various preservatives and suspension fluids in the medium, including low levels heavy metals and chemicals.

For most people, those inactive ingredients are harmless at those levels, but some peoples’ immune systems react severely to them. After you or your child gets any vaccination, it’s a good idea to watch for this reaction for several hours afterwards. The scary thing about allergies is that they can develop at any time, even after multiple exposures to the allergen.

If your child already has a long list of allergens, eggs especially, ask your pediatrician about the safety and ingredients of each vaccine before it’s given. Granted, you probably don’t need to hear it from me, but I’m sure there may be some parents who haven’t thought about it.

Don’t brush off any complaints of breathing difficulties as an oncoming cold, either. Get them to the ER immediately if there are any signs of this reaction shortly after a vaccine is administered.

Neurological and Immunological Injury
While some injuries, like Bell’s Palsy, are relatively short term, some of them can be deadly or last for the remainder of the person’s life. They range from various forms of encephalopathy (an umbrella term for brain illness) to chronic arthritis and thrombocytopenic purpura (a bleeding disorder involving low platelet counts).

While arthritis isn’t life threatening, it will put a serious damper on a person’s life. The other two can potentially cause death, depending on severity and how they’re treated.

The US Department of Health and Human Services provides a table of known injuries on its web page, though it is possible to suffer from injures not listed.

Always talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you or your child is having a serious, adverse reaction to a vaccination. If breathing problems, seizures (especially in kids who have never had them before) or any life threatening reaction occur, get emergency treatment right away.

Available Services
There are a few services available in the US in regards to vaccine injury. The first, and most useful in bettering future vaccines, is VAERS, or Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

That web page includes the steps to take in how to report reactions to vaccines. You’ll also find a spreadsheet available of reported events, though it is important to remember that information hasn’t been vetted by anyone to find possible alternate causes. It contains reports of improper vaccine storage, as well, though I don’t think the specific clinic is listed.

It’s still important to report, so when common side effects are missed in clinical trials, they’ll be caught during post-market research. On a personal level, you may be able to get help with medical care needed for any injury, or find reassurance that you’re not the only one suffering from that particular reaction.

If you’re one of the unlucky few to deal with a life changing vaccine injury, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, founded 10/1/1988, may provide you some recompense. It’s funded by a 75 cent tax on each disease vaccinated against. For instance, flu vaccines are taxed $0.75, because there’s only one disease. MMR, however, is taxed $2.25, because it carries three.

As with all things involving money, you can’t just walk up and demand compensation. You need to work with your doctors and a lawyer, because the process will take you through the US Court of Federal Claims hierarchy. There’s more specific info on the web page.
 
What I’d Like to See Change
As many great things as vaccines have done for the world, there’s a lot about the system I’d like to see changed.

Those side effects, for instance, although rare, are terrifying when they happen. They influence entire families, and can be devastating. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, as they seem to be, I’d rather see them presented as the slim possibilities they are. It would make sense to make symptom information widely available to parents and adults who get vaccinated.

I’d also like to see them not sensationalized, as so many people are prone to doing. Yes, they are a risk you take with every vaccine, but they’re generally a tiny risk.

A boy in 1915 reciving an immunity test for
diphtheria.
[public domain], via WikiMedia Commons

It’d also be great if there could be some sort of standardized allergy and immunity testing before shots are given, too. Frustrating politics and fear mongering aside, vaccines are, at their core, a medical procedure and should be treated as such. If you can spot a risk before actually exposing someone to a substance, why wouldn’t you take the proactive approach?

I know in some cases, like the Hep B vaccine required on the day an infant is birthed by a Hepatitis B positive parent*, that’s not possible. But, for those born to parents who tested negative for Hep B, doesn’t it make sense to make sure their little immune systems are ready to be stressed by a vaccine before it’s given?

I’m not fond of the idea of school vaccination programs, either. While on the surface it might seem like a good idea for kids to get vaccinated while at school, it also opens the door to dangerous mistakes. There have already been children vaccinated against parents’ wishes, whether that be because the parents wanted their child vaccinated by their pediatrician or for other reasons. Parents should know their kids best, especially when it comes to health, and giving a child with an allergy or prior negative reaction to a vaccine can be deadly.

Lastly, the whole us vs them thing about whether or not to vaccinate is damaging to everyone involved. Those anger filled, aggressive posts against or for people who do or don’t vaccinate do nothing but rile emotions around an already charged issue.

In the end, the only people who suffer for it are those who catch preventable diseases, those who have suffered the horrors of vaccine injury, those who can’t vaccinate for medical reasons and people with autism. This group always find themselves used as playing pieces in this ongoing fight with little regard for what their lives are like. These are all human beings who should be treated with respect, not as fodder for someone to prove their point.

It’s gotten so bad that there has been at least one administrative bully used the debate as fuel for their personal grudge.

I wish the tone would change to something more civil, but knowing the world the way it is now, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

In the end, I cautiously stand with the decision to vaccinate when you can, and boldly stand with the ideal of personalized medical care.

Notes/Resources
* I didn’t use the word “mom”, because some transgender men can also give birth to children. From what I’ve read, there’s also a very (very) slim chance that the non-birthing parent who is Hep B positive can pass it to their babies, too. In that case, vaccination before the baby leaves the hospital might still be a good idea.

Got Asthma? Get Your Flu Shot!
A Population Based Study of Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccination and Autism
Hepatitis B VIS (included to show how hard it would be for a newborn of parents without the disease to get Hep B. Unless the hospital and parents are engaging in very abusive behavior, most babies have little risk of picking the infection up right after birth.)
National Vaccine Compensation Program
A Meridian School’s Pilot Vaccine Program Mix-Up: FluMist Administered to Child Without Consent
Vaccine Injury Table
VAERS
Battle over vaccinations at local school, mother says district is ‘retaliating’

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