National Infant Immunization Week — How Stories Changed My Life

It’s National Infant Immunization Week (NIIW) — a week dedicated to highlighting the importance of infant immunizations. In honor of NIIW, I thought I’d share why infant immunizations are important to me as a parent and as a public health professional.

While it’s obvious that I am passionate about immunizations, most people don’t know that I had a unique experience a few years ago that stirred my passion and shaped my beliefs about immunization. It all started when I wrote a book.

The book is titled Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story and is a collection of stories and photos of individuals and families affected by a vaccine-preventable disease.

In the process of writing this book, I met many individuals and families and learned how vaccine-preventable diseases changed their lives.

The first family I met was the Throgmortons, a family who lost their 6-week-old baby to pertussis. A few months later I met the Lastinger and Palmer families, both of whom lost their young daughters to the flu. Emily Lastinger was just 3 years old and Breanne Palmer was just 15 months old when they died. Over the next few years I continued to meet families whose lives were devastated by vaccine-preventable diseases. The Metcalfs nearly lost their daughter, Julieanna, to Hib meningitis. Jenny Wise lost her brother, Andrew, to hepatitis B. Abby Wold and Jamie Schanbaum lost their legs, several fingers, and barely came out alive after contracting meningococcal meningitis. The last family I met was the Williams who lost their son, Nicolas, to meningococcal meningitis just 2 years ago. There are many more families included in the book that I haven’t mentioned and many more stories yet untold. To read more of these stories, please visit Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story online.

All of these individuals and families were brave enough to allow me to sit in their living room and listen while they shared some of their most intimate memories. As hard I tried to maintain a professional composure during these interviews, I never left with a dry eye. Instead, I left feeling as though I had shared in their loss.

So why am I passionate about the importance of infant immunizations? Simply put, meeting these families and hearing their stories irrevocably changed my life. Listening to these families’ experiences and living vicariously through them allowed me to fully understand the importance of vaccines. The memory of these experiences has never left me and undoubtedly, it has shaped me as a mother.

Pictured below is my daughter just moments before she received her immunizations. Just one month ago I took my precious 4-month-old to the pediatrician’s office. I had just wrapped her in her blanket and placed her on the crinkly paper on the exam room table when my husband snapped this picture. As we waited for the nurse to return with her vaccines we took pleasure in making her laugh and covering her in kisses. Little did my happy baby know that in a few moments time she would have a needle injected into her chubby leg. Like any parent, it is difficult for me to watch her endure pain, even if it is the relatively quick and minor pain of a needle in the arm or leg. It certainly wasn’t easy for me to place my helpless baby on a cold exam room table and watch the nurse administer one shot after another, knowing she would go from this moment of laughter and happiness to a moment of pain.4-month-old daughter before vaccinationsWhenever I take her or my older daughter for their shots, I remind myself of these stories and know that this one moment of pain will prevent much more serious pain, sorrow and loss like these families experienced. It quickly mitigates any anxiety, stress or fear. Whenever the slightest doubt about vaccines creeps in or you start to feel anxiety about vaccinating your baby, rest assured that vaccines are safe, effective and the best tool we have to prevent our children from devastating infectious diseases.

In the end, we are fortunate if we don’t have to learn this lesson the hard way.


About Rachel Cunningham, MPH, Immunization Project

I am the primary author of Vaccine-Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story.

I am also the Immunization Registry and Educational Specialist at Texas Children's Hospital in the Immunization Project. My focus is primarily on educating health professionals and parents about the importance of vaccines. I've been at Texas Children's Hospital since 2007.

Posted in Parenting, Vaccines

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