As measles outbreaks in Vancouver and Washington State have ramped up the vaccination debate, two Salmon Arm residents offer compelling reasons for supporting a program of immunization.
Kim Lahti-Scranton lives with fear every day.
Her seven-year-old daughter, Jane, was diagnosed with cancer when she was five. The drugs that have kept her alive have also wiped out her immune system. A disease like measles could kill her.
“If she could live with and beat cancer for two-and-a-half years and then die from measles, I would never get over it; there would be so much anger,” she says. “I am consumed by fear and the only thing that will get rid of that is grief. And I don’t want that.”
Lahti-Scranton, who chose to have her three children vaccinated, says Jane’s immunity is so compromised that other communicable diseases such as the flu and common cold are a concern.
Every day, Jane’s teacher let’s Lahti-Scranton know if children in the class are ill – how many and with what. She then has to decide whether Jane will go to school, based on her white blood cell counts and how she feels. And sending her to school scares her because she doesn’t know what Jane will be exposed to.
She is grateful that some of Jane’s classmates overcame their fear of needles to get flu shots, but frustrated that so many choose not to vaccinate their children.
“I have two science degrees and I trust the people who have saved Jane and who tell us to be immunized,” she says, knocking social media where she says some people pick up and feed on misinformation. “It’s frustrating that they base their decisions on something that may not be true.”
Miki Mann was born before there were many vaccines available.
A few months before her fifth birthday, she contracted polio and spent a few terrifying months in a Kelowna hospital.
“They put me in a room all by myself, without toys, and people would come in being masked and poked at you,” she says. “They had yellow paper gowns; they looked like scary things, like monsters. All you could see were eyes. It’s amazing how someone’s eyes could be so scary.”
When Mann returned home, the family bought her a blue budgie named Lucky because she was. Just prior to her return, another little girl on her street died of the disease.
“Fortunately I didn’t have to be in an iron lung because the virus affected me below the waist and only on one side,” said Mann who remembers screaming as her father made her perform the painful prescribed physio exercises on her damaged right leg.
But polio was not done with Mann yet. A few years ago, she began suffering from extreme fatigue, a mystery until she read an article about post polio syndrome – a condition which can include progressive muscle atrophy, joint weakness and pain.
“What scares me so much is people are ignoring this. As long as there is one case of polio in the world it can easily grow into an epidemic,” she says, noting scientists have debunked the notion that immunizations cause autism. “As a parent, would you not do everything you possibly could to protect your children?”
Interior Health’s Lorena Hiscoe, corporate director of population health services, says vaccines are the most effective way to prevent contagious diseases like measles.
“Getting immunized not only protects those receiving the vaccine, but protects others such as infants who are too young to be immunized and people who are immunocompromised,” she says, noting getting out accurate information about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, and correcting the misinformation that continues to circulate are a priority.