Vaccines: One of Pediatricians' "Super Powers" to Protect Kids
To recognize National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM), the American Academy of Pediatrics is promoting its #WhyIVax campaign on social media, sharing resources from HealthyChildren.org, YouTube videos by Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE on vaccines, AAP Voices blogs about the power of vaccines by authors that include Ari Brown, MD, and an interactive infographic on the history of vaccines displaying the long and impressive history of vaccines.
After twenty years in private practice pediatrics, I have had some pretty rewarding and memorable moments. I've convinced kids to drink more water, eat more vegetables, exercise regularly, and clean their rooms. My white coat is my super power!
These tiny victories remind me of why I love my job—I can make a positive difference in my patients' lives. I also feel this way when I vaccinate my patients.
My passion for immunization stems from a very personal experience with vaccines and vaccine preventable disease.
I never had chickenpox.
My mom would ask my pediatrician one question at every annual well check: "Is there a chickenpox vaccine yet?" His response was always the same: "They're working on it." When I was old enough (and embarrassed enough that she always asked the same question), I asked my mom why she was so interested in a vaccine. She told me that if I got chickenpox now that I was older, it might kill me. Nice. Note to parents everywhere: never tell your child that she might die from something!
I went through my young adult life hoping I would never cross paths with a kid who had chickenpox. Choosing a career in pediatrics might be deadly, I thought. Thankfully, those people who were "working on" the chickenpox vaccine happened to be at the medical school I attended, and they were looking for study participants. I received my pre-licensure varicella vaccine in 1990 and mounted an awesome immune response prior to starting my pediatrics residency.
Fast forward to a cold winter night in 1995. As the senior resident on call in the intensive care unit, I briefly cared for a child with varicella and Group A Strep sepsis in the final hours of her life. Witnessing a child experience the very fate I had feared as a child was more than chilling. When the Food & Drug Administration approved the varicella vaccine just five months after the virus claimed the life of my young patient, it became my call to action. I would never let a child die from a vaccine-preventable disease on my watch.
When people express concerns about vaccinations, I tell them honestly that no parent would ever want their child to have one of these illnesses. Like so many other pediatricians, I have devoted much time and energy in my daily practice convincing parents that vaccinations are really necessary and really important. And (after much trial and error!), I have found the most effective messaging and communication strategies to share vaccine information with families.
So, when a parent recently had a better sound byte than me, I was speechless.
I did a one-year well check with a patient on his actual birthday. I apologized for having to give him shots on this celebratory day.
His mom said, "We are giving him the best birthday gift—the gift of protection!"
I couldn't have said it any better!
Ari Brown, MD, FAAP, is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media and the academy's Section on Administration and Practice Management. She is the author of the Baby 411 book series and founder and CEO of 411 Pediatrics and After Hours Care in Austin, TX. Follow her @baby411 or visit www.baby411.com, www.411pediatrics.com.