Today the Tiger “got shotted.” By this he means he got four shots that will let him fulfill his dream and go to kindergarten in the fall. The only way I could make the experience remotely palatable was to ramble on about kindergarten and ply him with lollipops.
As we drove to the clinic, I tried to evade his questions about why we were there. (“Am I going to get doctored, Mama?” “Not exactly. We won’t see a doctor today, only a nurse.” “Are you going to get doctored, Mama?” “Not today.”) Once inside, though, some sixth sense kicked in, like it does for dogs and cats at the vet’s when they smell animal fear, and he promptly asked, “Am I going to get shotted, Mama?” To which I had to reply “yes,” because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a white lie in that situation. The next time we go to the doctor’s, he needs to be able to believe my reassurance that he won’t, in fact, get shotted again.
The total number of diseases against which he was immunized is eight, which seems like a heck of a lot. I’d have gladly broken them up into two rounds, but I knew I wasn’t going to get him into the dreaded basement of the clinic a second time once he learned what subterranean hell lurks there.
I have mixed feelings about the whole enterprise of immunization. On the one hand, I don’t want us to be free riders on everyone else’s herd immunity. That’s not entirely ethical. I also don’t want to go back to the pre-vaccination era. While it’s not my research specialty, I know just enough about the history of infectious diseases to be, well, immunized against false nostalgia.
On the other hand, I think it’s reasonable to wonder about the wisdom of bombarding a child’s immune system with that many shots at once. The shot schedule is tailored toward compliance, the idea being that if you minimize clinic visits, you’ll maximize the number of kids who get all their shots. The Tiger could’ve had his MMR next year just as well (the schedule says ages 4 to 6), but the schools want it all done before kindergarten.
I guess I could’ve claimed a religious or philosophical objection. I don’t suppose the form for that has a box labeled “hopeful agnostic,” so I might’ve had a small credibility problem.
In the Tiger’s case, there are a few extra reasons for me to fret. He talked late, and though he’s definitely not autistic, and though I’m pretty well convinced by the science clearing vaccines as a possible cause of autism, there’s still that flicker of doubt when it comes to your own kid. If you assume there’s a real connection, thimerosol (the mercury-containing preservative) always seemed the likely culprit, and pediatric vaccines no longer include it. (I still wonder why the fuck anyone ever thought putting mercury – a neurotoxin! – into a kid’s system was a good idea, never mind the few bucks it saved.)
The Tiger also gets these strange, unexplained fevers once a month. This is a long and complicated story for another day, but for now I’ll just say we have reason to think they’re basically harmless. We actually thought they were gone, but he’s had them again the past few months, and I’m worried he’ll have one early next week, right about the time the MMR vaccine might cause a fever.
Then there’s family history. A few years back, a study suggested a possible link between the measles virus and inflammatory bowel disease. The evidence for this is only slightly stronger than for the MMR-autism connection, which is to say pretty weak. Still, my dad has lived with Crohn’s disease for over 50 years, and that can run in families. Also, any immunization carries some slight risk of setting off Guillain-Barré. The Tiger’s dad had a similar syndrome a few years ago, and he still has some lingering paralysis, mostly in his left hand.
All parents worry, and I may be a bigger worrywart than most. Tonight the Tiger only complained about how sore the DTaP shot left his chubby thigh. He was equally pissed about how the Band-aids he got from the nurse didn’t stick worth a darn. If that’s as bad as it gets, I’ll be grateful.