I almost said ‘no’ to vaccinating my son. My doctor took the time to change that

A small amount of patience and understanding from a physician can change everything for a concerned parent. And that small effort can have a big impact on the larger issue of public health.

Right now there’s a measles outbreak in Vancouver. The measles virus is incredibly contagious, and can cause lifelong and even deadly consequences.

Those of us who live in other provinces aren’t necessarily safe. Ontario, where I live, has seen a pronounced drop in vaccination rates for measles. According to an 2016-2017 assessment, just 91 per cent of seven-year-olds are vaccinated compared to 94 per cent of 17-year-olds. And while those still might seem like good numbers, the required vaccination coverage to stop the spread of the measles is 95 per cent or more. All of that means that one infected person could cause a disaster here in Ontario, too.

I was one of those parents who almost said “no” to vaccinations. But my doctor changed all that in just a few minutes.

Online information war

Back in 2012, I was a first-time mom. I wasn’t sleeping much. I was pumping milk every three hours because my son could not latch. And I was in the middle of an information war on the internet.

Late nights pumping were spent reading Facebook and “mommy blogs,” giving me hope that I was doing all the right things, that I was “crunchy” enough to be a good mom. I wanted so badly to be a good mom. But the one thing that kept coming up in these groups was the outrage about vaccinations.

I am fully vaccinated. I believe in vaccines. I know how they work. I know they do not cause autism, and that anti-vaxxers had been spreading falsehoods about them. I recognized that they were taking VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System)-reported “possible side effects” to mean “this is exactly what will happen,” but in the back of my mind, I also knew that they were not entirely risk-free. Vaccines can have side effects.

So as I prepared for my trip for my two-month-baby’s wellness check, I felt nervous. What if all the nasty comments piled on me by internet anti-vaxxers came true? What if he was the rare exception to the rule, and today I went home without him? By the time I saw my doctor, I was crawling with anxiety. Hesitantly, I managed to say “I believe in vaccines. I know they work. But I’m very scared right now. What happens if … something happens?”

My doctor could have easily gotten angry at me. I’ve heard of stories about how doctors will kick you right out of their practice for “daring to question.” But my doctor didn’t even look upset. She told me exactly what she would do if my son reacted in any negative way to the vaccine.

She told me the most likely reactions, their timeline, and which were most dangerous. She told me exactly what to look for. She gave me her word that anything like anaphylaxis would most likely happen in the first 30 minutes after the shot, and that she was going to get me to sit and wait that long to make sure that nothing would happen.

‘She told me she was there for me’

She also told me, that should my son start to react, there were interventions at her office to keep him alive for the short drive to the nearby hospital, where he would be immediately admitted. She told me she was there for me, and gave me the information to weather the following 48 hours, after which he would be clear of all the known adverse effects of the vaccine.

I remember crying and apologizing, but she was firm, “You are a good mom for asking. Not asking and just saying ‘no, we’re not going to do it’ would be worse.”

So for any parent who has heard the horror stories and might be afraid to ask: ask. There are things medical professionals can do to help your child if the worst should happen. All you are doing is giving yourself information and that’s a good thing to do, especially if you are scared.

As for doctors: Thank you for helping us through these times. If I could encourage you to do anything, remember that you are the last person we talk to before saying “yes” or “no.” Hesitant parents you might encounter are not necessarily strident anti-vaxxers — many are just nervous moms or dads who worry about doing the right thing for their children, and need information and reassurance. So provide data, or even an action plan, and help us make the right choice. Take that extra time.

As for my son? He barely noticed the shot. He had no reaction in the first 30 minutes. He was fussy for a while and had a low-grade fever. Both cleared in a day or so. He is now six and fully vaccinated, on time, without any adverse effects.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

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