BabiesHealth

No Patience for This: Vaccinating the Smallest Babies

My sons were at thirty-two weeks gestation when the doctor said, “looks like it’s time for their two month vaccinations.”

I recoiled in surprise–they were technically two months old, but they were micro preemies. If they had been term babies, they wouldn’t have been born for another two months and they were so small.

They were barely 3 pounds. They were hooked to wires and tubes, and being treated for multiple life-threatening conditions. Doctors had put off procedures and surgeries until they would be healthier and larger.

Don’t get me wrong. I am strongly in support of vaccination. But, Jesus, my kids weren’t even supposed to be born yet. They were tiny and medically fragile. There had to be a mistake.

I asked why we weren’t waiting until they were two months old corrected (six months actual), and the doctor explained that they needed their vaccines on time for all the reasons that caused my hesitation.

Because they were medically fragile, diseases other children might survive would kill them. Because the diseases of childhood wouldn’t wait until they were five months old or hit a certain size. Because, no matter how much we tried to protect them over the next few years, they would come in contact with unvaccinated people, and getting them on a vaccine schedule gave them the best chance possible.

my 2 month old baby (pic by deek please do not duplicate)

my 2 month old baby with a preemie pacifier (pic by deek, all rights reserved)

I was afraid. If anyone was going to have a reaction to vaccines, it would be the smallest sickest babies. But, the attending physician had never seen an adverse vaccine reaction. Other doctors and nurses echoed his sentiment: no one had personally seen a NICU baby struggle due to vaccinations, nor did they know anyone who had, and they had data to back their assertion that on time vaccination is best even for NICU babies.

I looked for reputable, peer reviewed studies and articles suggesting that vaccinating preemies was a mistake. But I found none–only the hyperbole and fear-mongering of the anti-vaccination movement. (This NIH article was helpful, though)

So, my tiny 3 pound babies got their first vaccinations on time despite being too sick to undergo surgery, too weak to breathe or eat on their own, and too young to have been born.

And they did just fine.

I have no patience for the “too small for vaccinations” excuse.

anti-vax-meme-300x210All of this is to say that I have no patience for the argument that healthy, full term, two-month-old babies are too small or too fragile to get a vaccination that could save their lives. Especially given that the average two month old child in the United States weighs 10 lbs, more than three times what mine weighed when they got their shot.

Small, early term preemies are safely vaccinated every day because there is no room for unfounded unscientific claims when making medical decisions for babies who live so close to the line between life and death.

I have zero patience for the casual trivialization of serious illnesses.

Sick child with haemophilus influenzae

child infected with haemophilus Influenzae virus from the ASP website

It blows my mind that someone fortunate enough to have a child who has never spent time in an intensive care unit would skip doing the one simple thing that would keep their baby healthy and hospital free. These parents have never had to watch their child struggle to breathe, or see a line running from their baby’s head because the staff ran out of accessible veins, had to sit beside them hopelessly, or listen to the alarms ring as their child’s heart slows or stops.

Yet they repeatedly make the deliberate choice to avoid a proven safeguard against that dark future.

So, although by nature my babies’ vaccine story is not scientific, and should carry no greater weight in decision making than any other piece of anecdotal evidence, I share it often in the hope that it sets new parents’ minds at ease as they take their 10lb infant in for vaccinations, or provides a counter to the horror stories on anti-vaccination sites.

But often, conversations with anti-vaxxers take crazy turns into logical quagmires. I walk away frustrated beyond the ability to speak because, there’s no way to make some people see the bizarreness of their choice from the perspective of someone who has had a critically ill child.

Seriously. When you are fortunate enough to hold a healthy baby in your arms, why would you let debunked research, fear-mongering, and friend of a friend stories be the deciding factors in putting that child’s health and life at risk instead of the overwhelming sea of scientific research?

Why would you take their health so much for granted? I have no patience for this.

Featured image by Christine Szeto can be found on flickr. All meme images are commonly shared, but credit was given where possible.

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Deek

Deek

Deek lives with her husband, twin sons and two cats in the northwest. She teaches and writes about parenting in the NICU, her experiences as a parent of micro-preemies and skeptical parenting.

3 Comments

  1. February 12, 2015 at 11:54 am —

    Thank you.

    My baby spent some time in the NICU when he was born too (not anything like what you experienced – “just” neonatal sepsis, which was PLENTY; I hate to try and imagine what you must have gone through and I have all the empathy for you), and he is still too young (ten months) to get his MMR.

    “I have zero patience for the casual trivialization of serious illnesses.” YUP. When I think of people potentially not vaxxing because of listening to propaganda instead of science, and thereby potentially sending my baby back to the ICU, I kind of lose my shit a little.

    This article got me in the feels and I thank you for it.

  2. February 13, 2015 at 9:38 pm —

    Amen, amen, amen.

    Also, the pic of tinyboy made me catch my breath – those days were terrifying, and everyone in your corner was pulling for “best decision, based on what we know NOW”. I don’t recall anyone balking over vaccines (selective memory?) because it’s so frickin’ OBVIOUS that they work. And seeing those little dudes, who died daily and yet did not (thank science and their nurses and docs), running around today, and knowing that they’re as safe as modern medicine knows how to make them from diseases that scar, deafen, paralyze, and kill?
    No patience, indeed. Vaccinate.

  3. February 15, 2015 at 6:48 pm —

    I finally had to register just to say, “Thank You.” You expressed my feelings much more clearly than I’ve often been able to. As the proud parent of a thriving now-15-years-old former preemie (25 1/2 weeks), I stare in disbelief myself when I hear parents of otherwise healthy-born infants discuss not wanting to “inflict harm” on their children through vaccination. Trust me, I want to tell them, your kid will be fine. She’s tougher than she appears… don’t ruin that by not vaccinating.
    Honestly, the “threat” of vaccinations was the furthest thing from my mind when she received hers. My thoughts were more along the lines of, “Well, this is the least invasive and possibly least risky thing happening to her today. I hope they can find a good injection spot. Oh yeah, I’ll need to prime myself for rubbing her chest to make heart start beating after the shot….”

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