Vaccinations–Put the Debate Where it Belongs!

Dear Reader,  Please understand that I am writing from an extremely biased point of view today.  This subject is VERY important to me and I hope you’ll understand a mom’s tirade…

Let’s put the debate over vaccinations where it belongs–with the manufacturers of products that people have found untrustworthy.

The recent measles outbreak is very scary, no doubt.  You take your kid to Disneyland hoping for a great family vacation, and you come back with a disease that spreads easily, maims, and even kills those most precious to you. Yikes!  How could something like this happen in these great United States of America?  Didn’t we totally eradicate such a nasty disease, like decades ago?

picture of Sara in basketball uniform

Special Child

Actually, measles were officially declared eradicated in 2000 . . . until they made a comeback in 2013, with more cases in 2014, and now, with the Disneyland outbreak in December, the disease has spread to at least 14 states.

The problem is, the Centers for Disease Control and politicians are blaming the outbreak on evil parents who don’t vaccinate their children, which results in everyone being more susceptible. Many states make vaccinations a voluntary part of your child’s healthcare program.  This voluntary state of things makes parents–whether or not they have medical backgrounds–responsible for the health and well-being of their children, and they have to make the decision to vaccinate based on their own observations and concerns.  This way, the pharmaceutical companies can step back and take no blame when things go wrong.

I should know.  My child was a victim of such thinking.  I had her vaccinated with the DPT shot in 1985.  That shot left her with epilepsy, ataxia (balance issues) and mental retardation.  The thing that absolutely puts a knife in my soul is that, depending on the wave of public opinion, what happened to my daughter was either some strange act of God (just coincidence that she had her first seizure less than 12 hours after her shot), or a table case for saying that whole-cell vaccinations are not safe and should be abandoned as a preventative medicine.  My daughter’s situation has become that “anecdotal evidence” that can’t be scientifically proven. Grrr!  How could a child, with no previous indications of health issues, go in for a well-baby visit, have a shot, and end up so severely damaged without a connection to that chemical put into her system? Double Grrr!

With what happened to Sara, you might believe I think vaccination schedules for babies and small children should not be adhered to. There you would be wrong.  Life is a risk. There are no guarantees.

Thing is, I could handle the tragedy of what happened to my daughter a lot better, I think, if the vaccination controversy were handled in the media better, and addressed with less defensiveness by the CDC and the medical community.  And here’s where the water is muddied by conflicting goals.

The CDC is responsible for the health of our nation.  The best (not the perfect) tool for reducing the instances of outbreaks of horrid diseases, is the vaccination.  Before Dr. Salk, outbreaks of polio, measles, mumps, whooping-cough and more attacked our communities annually, leaving in their wake things like, paralysis, deafness, blindness, mental retardation, and, of course, death.  With Dr. Salk’s approach to killing whole cells and injecting the safer, dead cells into healthy people who would then develop antibodies to fight these diseases, the world began to feel a lot safer.  According to a Wikipedia article, Dr. Salk’s research and resulting vaccination was not developed for his personal gain: “His sole focus had been to develop a safe and effective vaccine as rapidly as possible, with no interest in personal profit. When asked who owned the patent to it, Salk said, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”[

Dr. Salk may have been altruistic, but in following years, pharmaceutical companies were not.  One of the companies I researched back in the 1980s, when my child was damaged, measured their profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars per month.  These conglomerates of chemistry sets and Dr. Frankensteins (oops! my bias is showing), hoodwinked the congress into protecting them from “nuisance” lawsuits like my family had initiated.  Congress came up with the Childhood Vaccination Compensation Act that virtually took all responsibility for a safe product off of the shoulders of the pharmaceutical giants.

Can you imagine if the auto-industry requested such protection?  If the auto studies were validated by some government department whose primary objective was to get people on the road?  People whose seat belts or airbags failed would be blamed for their imaginary ailments?

We feel safe in our cars because we know that lawsuits can and do occur.  Recalls happen. The automobile is constantly improving.

But where are the checks and balances for the pharmaceuticals?  Who’s asking for recalls of medical lots? Where are the pharmaceuticals being held accountable for the shots they produce?  With no evidence of this check and balance, it is no wonder the layperson is suspicious of the corporation products.  Let’s remember, there is no Hippocratic oath for pharmaceutical companies–no public inspection of their business practices–no financial responsibility when things go wrong. Grr, grr, double grr!

One day, long ago, I was doing my usual struggle with Sara.  She was about three or four at the time, and language had not quite become her tool. No doubt, we looked as messy on the outside as we, as a family, felt on the inside.  There were lots of struggles then.  Some mom with her neat hair and tidy child stepped up to me.  “I heard about what happened to your daughter,” she said.  Her face took on that sweet pout that only beautiful women can get away with. “That’s why I’m not going to get my child vaccinated.”

I believe that woman was trying to side with me. But all I felt was a sadness so deep it still rings in my heart.  Sara’s sacrifice was for nothing. Our community health was at risk, and it was my child’s fault. Or the fault of the defensive, lying pharmaceuticals. When will we put this health debate where it belongs? When will the pharma-giants be held to the same standards as other big businesses? When will parents stop having sole responsibility for decisions they are not necessarily qualified–or at least too emotionally involved–to make?

The End with Hope

You know how when you reach the end of a great book, you don’t want to put it down?  You sit still and hold the cover closed, feel the weight of the three, four or five hundred pages you just read: not so proud of the accomplishment of completion as loving the emotional cloud that lingers like a ghost and seems to make you breathe a little deeper, then smile?  A great book is the best of friends.

And a best friend is like being in the midst of a superb read.  There is action, adventure, laughter, tears.  A best friend lingers in your heart when he or she isn’t there anymore, and you want to pick up a phone and call, just to say “hi” and reconnect.

But sometimes, like a good book, you need to close the cover, enjoy the memories and hope there might be a sequel some day.  You say good-bye, and hope the salve of warm remembrances will help you through the sleepless nights.

It was 10 years ago today that I had such a good-bye with a best friend.  My Sara had other adventures to seek, and I couldn’t go along.  Ten years later, the denouement of her story is complete, and like the people who gathered for the tenth anniversary of the Twin Towers event, I need to look back, remember, and smile.

Sara was like any other kid, except for the seizures, the mental retardation, and the balance problems.  Those were extras that gave her life story adventure, and gave mine, worry and fear.

But Sara was like any other kid.  She had soft skin and bright eyes as a toddler.  She loved to laugh, and her big sister in the years since Sara left us, has talked about the idea of starting a Sara’s Smile not-for-profit, that would help little people with tooth problems.  How cool is that?  Even if it never materializes (life does have a way of running away from us), my wonderful older daughter has a heart that easily matches the smile that Sara used to give us.  I am truly happy when I play with this thought.

And Sara was like any other kid in the happiness she gave us. It seemed she was always saying “I got a great idea!” Fair warning that we were about to be talked into a restaurant meal involving egg plant and “soggy noggie” at Pete’s Central 1 or Walk About Soup from Outback Steakhouse.  Even now, the corners of my mouth are turning up in thinking about this.

Daisy Arthur had a daughter who died as well.  She is wistful in her memories of her Rose, as I feel in remembering my Sara.  But the wistfulness is often pushed away when I think about the corn-rows she was so proud of, a gift from our trip to the Bahamas.  Those braids stayed in her hair for over a month!  She truly didn’t want them out.  Even “normal” boys did a double take when Sara walked about in that hair-do.  She blushed with the casual compliments thrown her way, treasures that light my heart.

Death is a thief.  It steals your loved ones, and often your own purpose in life — if you let it.  But I think about Sara and the buoyancy of her attitude in life.  She wasn’t with us long, but every minute it seems, was time well spent.  In her short life, she not only had the negative adventures, but she also:

  • Traveled a couple of times to Europe
  • Had an abundance of friends, including a boyfriend of several years.  Max, we still love you!
  • Lived in three different states – Florida, Texas, and Colorado
  • Had 15 years of schooling, thanks to a Head Start special education program
  • Was in the major motion picture, “A Leap Of Faith,” as an extra
  • Learned not only to speak English, but a few phrases in American Sign Language, and French and Spanish too

Who could ask for more?

There will always be a small corner of my heart that will remain wistful, but honestly, I think Sara led a very full life, and as the sun sets today, I will be closing the book of grief that I’ve indulged in.

It was a difficult read, but my life is richer for having known Sara, and she taught me so much about a community of love that I would never had known without her. When I look at the last rays of sun, I will not be so proud of the accomplishment of Sara’s life completed as loving the emotional cloud that lingers and makes me breathe a little deeper, then smile.

Sara Malik's Senior High Picture

Sara Malik – 4/26/85 — 8/28/02
“How very special are we, for just a moment to be, part of life’s eternal rhyme.” Charlotte’s Web

There is hope.