A Scare That Changed Opinions
I thought nothing of it as I tossed my dirty sweatshirt into the laundry basket in the basement. 24 hours later, I would find myself wondering if that seemingly insignificant action would kill my younger brother.
I was raised in a small town in Massachusetts, where exemptions for vaccines exist for medical and religious reasons only. My mother always was wary of vaccines - she objected to the idea that vaccines were a requirement in order to enroll in school, she always turned down optional vaccines for my brother and I, and read into conspiracies about mercury-laced shots. She lamented often that the government was interfering with her ability to parent her children by forcing vaccines to be mandatory.
It was no surprise to me that back in the winter of 2009, my mother refused the flu shot for my brother and I at our yearly physicals. I had just turned 15, my younger brother was 9. I was always a very healthy child, but my brother suffered from asthma. My mother was convinced that the flu was not a serious illness, and so she felt confident telling the nurse that she knew what was best for her children.
On January 12, 2010, I went to school. It was a day like any other. I sat in all my usual classes, I saw all my friends. One of them wasn't feeling well - she had been up coughing all night and had a low fever. We sat together for the bus ride, and I gave her a tight hug before I got off. She coughed on my sweatshirt.
I tossed it in the bin when I got home. I reminded my brother that it was his turn to do the laundry that day. We sat next to each other on the couch, playing video games and teasing one another like any other day.
On January 14, my brother came down with a fever. My mother kept him home from school and told him to rest. But then, he said he couldn't breathe. His asthma inhaler did nothing to help him. My mother rushed him to the emergency room. Immediately, doctors and nurses were poking and prodding him, shouting about low oxygen saturation and something they kept calling H1-N1. They asked my mother about his medical history, if he had gotten all his shots. My mother told them he had never been vaccinated for the flu. The doctors rushed around the room, attaching my brother to a ventilator, still concerned that his oxygen levels were less than 80%. My mother and I both cried. I blamed myself, even as people reassured me that it wasn't my fault, he probably didn't get it from touching that dirty sweatshirt, but I couldn't put it out of my mind. My mother cried because she was seeing first hand what influenza can be - a devastating illness that claims thousands of lives each year. The shoe had dropped. She realized that she had been wrong.
After several days in the ER, my brother would recover from what we call the Swine Flu. Shaken, my mother began to question her friends who talked about how dangerous vaccines were. I turned to resources like the internet and my science textbooks to learn more about infectious diseases and the vaccines that save us from them. Now in my 20's, I have a child of my own, who just today received his first ever flu shot.
I fight for vaccines because I never want anyone to feel the way that my mother and I felt on that day.