Parenting H

Category: vaccination

H received Hib, HepA, and varicella vaccinations at his 18 month well child check up.

Hib, or Haemophilus influenza type b, is a bacterium that causes meningitis when it infects the lining of the brain. Other diseases caused by Hib include sepsis, epiglottitis, arthritis, osteomyelitis, and pneumonia. The potential side effects of Hib vaccine are pain or soreness at the injection site and low-grade fever. Side effects, if they occur, appear within 48 hours of receiving the vaccine.

HepA, or Hepatitis A, is a virus that causes hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). Symptoms include fever, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting. Young children are often asymptomatic. The potential side effects of HepA vaccine are pain, redness, and tenderness at the injection site; and headache. Side effects, if they occur, appear within 48 hours of receiving the vaccine.

Varicella, or chicken pox, is a relatively benign infection that starts as red bumps that turn into blisters that cover the entire body. Varicella infections can have severe complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis. One out of every 50 women infected with varicella during pregnancy will deliver a child with birth defects that may include mental retardation and shortened or atrophied limbs. In addition, varicella blisters provide a pathway for the flesh-eating bacteria Group A streptococcus to enter the skin and cause severe or fatal disease. The potential side effects of varicella vaccine are pain and tenderness at the injection site, low-grade fever, and rash around the injection site (4 of 100 recipients) or rash more distant to the site of injection (less frequently). Side effects, if they occur, appear between 7 to 10 days of receiving the vaccine.

H received these vaccinations two weeks ago. Nothing striking happened, with the exception of some swelling at the injection sites and the acquisition of immunity from three diseases.


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.

We asked close family who would be visiting with H to make sure they were up to date on their Tdap vaccination and made sure that we were as well. I’m so grateful to them for creating such a loving cocoon of protection around H so he could be safe from pertussis during the time he was unvaccinated.