H had a reaction to his MMR. The fever started six days after the vaccination and lasted for four full days. The rash started eight days after the vaccination, spreading from his back to the front of his torso and making an appearance on the insides of his forearms. He developed a small cough, and he had diarrhea. I could see in his face that he did not feel well. He was less energetic than usual, less playful. Even the cone sorting toy could not lure him to the floor for play. He had no interest in being anywhere other than in my arms.
When H was born, I sat with him through some hard things, through soft eye shields and bili lights, through IVs inserted through veins in his hand and in his head, through day after day of failed bottles that ended as g-tube feedings. And yet these four days felt as hard, in their own way, as anything we’ve been through, perhaps because of a feeling I could not shake. I did this to him, I thought. I made a choice, and now he is suffering.
And why? What are the chances that he would ever get measles if he remained unvaccinated? I can not recall even reading about a case of mumps in the news. Who gets rubella these days? These diseases are so removed from my everyday existence that I could not have told you two days ago what they looked like exactly, what havoc they could reek on one’s body.
Seeds of doubt started to creep in. Maybe the side effects of vaccinations aren’t worth it. I made a choice, and now he is suffering.
And then this showed up in my newsfeed: Rubella confirmed at Valpo University in Indiana.
Rubella, sometimes called German measles, causes a a low-grade fever and a mild rash on the face of infected children. The glands behind the ears swell, and sometimes the small joints do as well. Although children almost always recover without lasting consequence, rubella is not so benign for an unborn child. Before the rubella vaccination, 85% of women infected with rubella during their first trimester gave birth to babies that suffered permanent harm. Their babies were born blind and deaf, with heart defects and mental retardation. These things stay with one for a lifetime.
I got more curious. I searched out images of children afflicted with measles. I looked at the swollen necks of those with mumps. I couldn’t stop looking. I saw a skin lesion on a child’s leg caused by diphtheria. It was a small crater surrounded by raw, tender flesh. An infant suffering from Hib had gangrene of the hand, secondary to the Hib infection. I saw the yellow eyes of Hepatitis A, the shriveled, deformed limbs of polio. I saw suffering.
There have been three confirmed cases of measles in Seattle this month, and Valpo University is not so far away by plane. Syria, where an outbreak of measles has infected at least 7,000 people and is still spreading, may be half a world away, but it is not hard to get from there to here. Air travel puts us all, including our diseases, closer together than we might like.
H did not have measles. He did not have the mumps or rubella. I made a choice, and he suffered, but his suffering came without the risks of measles, mumps, and rubella: pneumonia, encephalitis, meningitis, deafness. He likely developed good immunity with this round of the MMR, and a booster at 4 years of age will ensure it.
The fever broke five days after it started. The cough and the rash are gone. H is back to his lively, happy self. He still wants to be in my arms a great deal of the time, but who am I to argue? It’s one of my favorite places for him to be.
He is protected. I made a choice, and now he is protected.