March 13, 2019

The past week has seen an increase in news stories regarding vaccines.Though I am thrilled that we are seeing pro-vaccine stories hitting the news, it saddens me that we have gotten to this point with some of our greatest scientific and medical discoveries. I love that 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger in Ohio, did his research, and when he became an “adult” decided vaccines were what he wanted to do for his “own wellbeing and the wellbeing of people around” him. 

Ethan did not want to “be the reason some eradicated disease spreads again.”  He spoke in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about his experience with his mother who he feels received significant misinformation from on-line sources. He feels the American people need to focus on these organized groups spreading disinformation.

The story that hit me the hardest is from the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report: Notes from the Field: Tetanus in an Unvaccinated Child – Oregon 2017.

This six-year-old, who had received no immunizations, developed tetanus after suffering a forehead laceration playing outdoors on a farm despite the wound being cleaned and sutured at home. He endured 8 weeks of inpatient hospital care including 47 days of ICU care, mechanical ventilation, tetanus immune globulin and DTaP vaccine, then needed 17 days in a rehabilitation center before returning to all normal activities. 

A miracle of modern medicine that was completely preventable. An expense of $811,929 for the inpatient portion of his treatment (not including air transportation, inpatient rehabilitation or follow up outpatient appointments) that was unnecessary. Despite all of this and a review of risk and benefits of the tetanus vaccination by his physicians, his parents declined the second dose of DTaP and any other immunizations. I cannot wrap my brain around the dichotomy of allowing the science and technology of intensive care medicine to save your child but not allowing the science of immunizations protect your child and prevent the need for saving. 

Tessa Lafortune-Greenberg, MD
NHMS President