The power of immunization

I am a millennial, and as a member of the generation that includes the children of baby boomers, I’ve been spoiled. Our generation hasn’t seen the kids wearing braces as a result of polio. We haven’t seen the devastating neurologic effects of a measles infection. We’ve been spared the agony of watching haemophilus influenza B (HIB) meningitis drain the life out of a child. We haven’t seen these diseases, and we forget how lucky we are. Most of us don’t acknowledge the incredible and powerful impact that immunizations have had on us because they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing: preventing horrible diseases. Our success has allowed us to forget.

Vaccines, at their best, cause nothing. It’s a beautiful thing. As kids, we go through vaccination schedules, experience the typical ups, downs, colds and sports injuries as expected, and grow up into adulthood. It’s easy to ignore the silent protection our immunizations give to us, the absence of harm that they make possible. In this case, it’s a boatload of disease that has been successfully kept at bay by immunizations.

So over time, we’ve gotten lulled into complacency by this beautiful void by the epidemic of health and well-being that’s been created. Maybe this allows us the time to ponder things we see, and things we know we should be scared about. We know that immunizations can hurt and cause babies to cry. Often, there are multiple pokes in multiple extremities in one visit. And then there are the components of the vaccines, some of which have been linked to scary things. Despite the substantial body of evidence that has never found a connection to autism or brain damage or cancer, the fears seem to linger. We’re given lots of paperwork with long lists of possible side effects and adverse reactions. It’s complicated. Then there’s the cornucopia of blogs, some reputable and evidence-based, many not, at our fingertips as soon as we Google “immunization” or “vaccine” or the name of any disease we’re trying to prevent. This is a dangerous world that we live in, with so many people and entities trying to take advantage or take our rights or take control.

The problem is, when we are seemingly inundated with these thoughts and doubts and concerns, we don’t readily see the most powerful argument against all of that. And it’s one thing to know that there were millions of hours of research, testing and science behind immunizations, but this isn’t enough.

The real power is in the absence of disease. It’s the infant making it to toddlerhood without needing to be in the intensive care unit with a breathing tube to get through a bout of pertussis. It’s the grandmother who blows out candles on her 90th birthday because she didn’t get influenza. It’s the man who just became a new father because he never got mumps. There are so many things that can bring someone into a hospital that are unavoidable. But we need to remember the things we can prevent, and keep fighting to keep those diseases a memory instead of a reality.


Emily Houchen-Wise, M.D.
Resident in Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital



2 responses to “The power of immunization

  1. So true about the importance of sharing stories! CHOP keeps stories on their Vaccine Education Center web site for thus purpose of educating families.
    And the Immunization Action Coalition collects personal stories.
    I am a retired OHSU peds pharmacist. I had a grandmother who contracted diphtheria in 1929 while working in a rural country school in North Dakota ( one room schoolhouse ). And a mother- in- law who had bulbar polio in 1955. Both survived. My mother- In- law was a young army officer’s wife at Fort Lewis. An infectious disease doctor at Madigan recognized her symptoms immediately and put in an iron lung.
    I believe in the power of sharing these stories.

  2. Very well said; how quickly we as a society forget about the devastating effects these diseases (had) can have. Was just listening to Science Friday and the discussion about the public trusting in science and how efforts work best when community based and from the ground up. On a positive side note, to date in 2017 only 13 documented cases of polio worldwide – so close to eradication!

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