Unvaccinated children: a doctor’s perspective
A 3-year-old boy was carried to the ER at my hospital late on a Friday night last fall. The parents reported he had cold symptoms and fever for the past couple of days, but that night, something was just not right. By the time my colleague got into the room, the little boy was clearly in distress, sitting forward, mouth open, with labored breathing and drool pooling on the bed beside him. And although she had never seen such a case before, this young astute doctor knew immediately what she was dealing with. Within minutes, the little boy had a tube down his trachea and was connected to a ventilator, headed to the ICU. Final diagnosis: Haemophilus influenza epiglottitis.
A 10-week-old baby girl was admitted to the pediatric floor at my hospital a year or so ago, after a few days of cold symptoms and worsening cough. Before I even arrived in the room to examine her, the nurses called a “rapid response,” alerting doctors that something was very, very wrong. When I rushed to the bedside, the 10 week-old baby was blue, not breathing, her heart rate falling nearly to the point of needing CPR. Within minutes, the baby was stabilized, but headed to the ICU in case she had another “episode.” Final diagnosis: Bordatella Pertussis infection.
A 2-year-old boy was brought to the ER with 2 days of high fever, poor appetite, and weakness. By the time my colleague in the ER saw him, the boy was lethargic, not responding to the doctor or his parents. His blood pressure was very low and he was difficult to arouse. Within minutes, the little boy had 2 IVs in place, fluids and medications to try and increase his blood pressure, 2 strong antibiotics, and a tube down his trachea to help him breathe. And yes, he too was headed to the ICU. Final diagnosis: Streptococcal pneumoniae sepsis.
Three very different patients, but all share a common theme. None of the children were immunized and all three suffered from vaccine preventable diseases. The first two patients recovered fully, the third died three days later from complications of overwhelming sepsis.
In residency, when I was first learning how to be a pediatrician, my old attendings would tell story after story about the patients they treated in the days before many of our current vaccines. And as young doctors, we thought we would only read about these diseases in textbooks. Yet, thankfully we were trained to recognize those “zebras,” the diseases that we may never see in practice, but need to recognize because they kill children. How unfortunate that in my 10 years of practice, I have seen more than my share of these diseases that so easily could have been prevented.
It is certainly not my intention to use scare tactics in an attempt to convince parents to vaccinate. This is simply my very real experience of three young children who were not immunized and suffered terribly because of it. So if just one parent who is on the fence regarding vaccines reads this and decides to protect their child, I have done my job as a pediatrician.