Many families still make an active choice not to vaccinate their children from preventable diseases, despite increased awareness and even some states implementing compulsory vaccination with no exemptions.
A lot of the debate against compulsory vaccination policies stems from the matter of free choice and individual liberty. However, as this story explains, it is much more than a question of individual choice. In a community where mass vaccination has taken place, a "herd immunity" develops. This means most members of the community are protected against that disease because there are very few opportunities for an outbreak. This is especially important for those with an impaired immune system.
This letter comes from Saving Scarlett, a blog written by the family of a 4-year-old girl battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia – a form of cancer that affects white blood cells and therefore can result in severe immunodeficiency.
Today was supposed to be a great day: our beautiful daughters' first day of school. While all of the other parents were laughing and encouraging their children, enjoying this special moment, we were pulled aside by the teacher. As she went through the children's medical records, she discovered that one of the children in Scarlett's class is not vaccinated. There are many things I would like to say but my conscience stops me. I understand that nothing I say can convince another parent to change their beliefs. It's not going to matter so what is the point. But when I am upset, I write. So here is my letter to that parent:
This morning, my daughters got dressed for their first day of school. They had new outfits that they picked out themselves. They got their backpacks. They took their pictures. They smiled and laughed on their way into preschool. They were just like your child.
Except my daughter is not like your child. My daughter has cancer. She has had a drill bored into her hips. She has been poked with a needle more times than we can count. She has had surgeries, lost her hair, watched friends die. She has suffered through sickness and pain. She has suffered enough.
As parents, we have watched all of this. We have held her head as her whole body wretches. We have washed her bloody hands, raw from the medications. We have wiped her bottom while wearing masks and gloves because our own child is too poisonous for us to touch. We have worried and cried and planned. We have neglected our other children. We have suffered enough.
We have raised money. We have opened every aspect of our lives to the public to bring awareness in the hopes of a cure. We do this, not for our child, but for yours. We hope to stop this horrible disease in its tracks. We hope that not one more child is diagnosed with cancer, not one more child suffers, not one more child dies. We do this for society, for the greater good.
Today my daughter went to school. Tonight, we have to make the decision of whether or not to send her back because you did not vaccinate your child. You put our child at risk with the decision that you made. Now I have to make the decision of how I am going to make my child suffer even more. Do I risk exposing her to a disease that is nearly wiped out in America, brought back by unvaccinated children? Or do I break her heart and tell her that she cannot go to school anymore? A "simple" disease like chicken pox could kill her. We have made enough decisions in the past two years. Decisions that our child's life depended on. You are forcing us to have to make another decision that we shouldn't have to make.
We ask one thing of you after all of our suffering. Take care of society, think of the greater good. Vaccinate your children to protect ours. Vaccines do not cause autism. Vaccines do not cause cancer. Vaccines save lives. FACT.
I can call you selfish. I can call you stupid. I can call you names that are a lot worse because I am that angry today. But that won't help me tomorrow. You won't be there to wipe away my child's tears because she can't go back to school or hold her head as she lays in a hospital bed dying of measles. Your decision doesn't truly affect you. You will probably never see the ramifications of your actions. Because we vaccinated our children for the greater good. We vaccinated our children to save yours.
I am just a mom, trying to protect her child. The difference is that I have science, facts, and statistics on my side. I am angry, sad, hurt and ultimately helpless. I cannot force the school to tell this child's family to vaccinate or change classes. But I can use my voice to encourage my state to eliminate personal exemptions for school vaccines. I'll just add this small task to my very short list of things to do.
This will be a letter that I will never send because I am a coward. I will not confront this family (partially because I don't know who they are). They may never know that my daughter is (or was) in their class. I am too much of a coward to let them know how much they made me and my daughter cry. They will never know how much their decision affected our family.
So I ask you, please think of children like Scarlett when you consider vaccinating. And please pray for Scarlett to make it through the year healthy and safe.