Getting the all-clear: immunity from diseases that cause complications in pregnancy

Posted on August 22, 2010. Filed under: Health, Pregnancy | Tags: , , , , |

Just got my test results back, and I’m immune.

That was the last piece of the puzzle before going into this thing full-scale.  My doctor wanted me to have some blood tests to ensure that my last vaccine boosters were holding up so that I had sufficient immunity from rubella (German measles) or other diseases before getting pregnant.

I used to work in infectious disease when I was in college and for a few years after graduating.  The State of California childhood infectious disease program.  I had a few admin duties, but one of the things I had to do was abstract forms and reports of rubella-infected babies.  These were often women who were in the country illegally, crossing the border in order to ensure their children were born into US citizenship.  I think Mexico and Central and South American countries do not have requirements for these vaccinations, or they don’t have money for widespread vaccination programs.

The reports on these babies tore me up.  If the mom contracts German measles early in the pregnancy, it almost always results in a miscarriage.  But these women were far enough along to have a birth report – stillbirth, mental retardation, suspected blindness and suspected deafness.  I had to comb through all these reports, sometimes with pictures, in order to tease out the information needed to enter into the databases that reported back to the CDC or other agencies.  Of course, I thought about the moms, too.  They probably never knew until the child was born that they were exposed to rubella.

I was also at the State Health Department when the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine was first introduced into the childhood vaccine schedule.  I was still pretty young, but I do recall the extreme controversy about it.  The anti-vaccine folks were especially appalled at the suggestion that we add yet another series of shots to kids for something as innocuous as chicken pox, which is sort of a harmless childhood rite of passage.  Turns out it’s not so innocuous for adults and it’s extremely serious for unborn children – causing swelling of the developing brain, skin and eye disorders, other neurological problems.  Pretty scary stuff.  So the US decided to try to prevent serious complications in  adults and unborn children by working into the existing vaccine schedule, promoting “herd immunity.” The UK and other countries opted not to do so, but that was the rationale for working the new vaccine into the childhood schedule in the US.

Child receiving polio vaccine.

Image via Wikipedia

I’m definitely in the camp that is pro-vaccine.  After seeing what these diseases can do, and now that we’re so close to eradicating polio altogether, I think the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.  And all that stuff about autism?  In fact, the very well respected British journal that originally published the study (The Lancet) retracted the study years later because it was simply bad science and the lead researcher was found to have acted unethically in the study.  Too bad they scared the hell out of millions of parents who now unwittingly put their children at risk.

Given all of that, however, I know that parents are only making decisions they feel are in the best interests of their own children.  You do what you can with the information you have at an given point in time.  Me, I don’t need a booster.  I’m immune, which means any future fetus won’t be at risk.  That’s the information I got today.

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