Show your love for a preemie: get up to date on your vaccines

A casual browser of this web site might wonder, “What’s up with all this vaccine stuff? I thought this was a preemie web site?!” And I admit, lately I have been a bit vaccine focused (although I would not be offended in the slightest if you insisted on obsessed). Why do I harp on vaccines so much and is there really a preemie connection?

I focus on vaccines because they save lives, especially the lives of preemies. Premature babies have less well-developed lungs, and for many these poor lungs are damaged by the oxygen and machines that kept them alive. Children with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a particular type of lung injury in preemies, are at highest risk for severe illness from infections such as influenza and pertussis (whooping cough). Kids with congenital cardiac disease, which affects 1/100 babies, are also at increased risk. Even when these children are vaccinated, these infections can still wreck havoc and be fatal.

This is information I know only two well. My son with bronchopulmonary dysplasia has congenital cardiac disease. I have lost track of our admissions with respiratory illnesses.

Preemies and cardiac babies are just behind the eight-ball in so many ways that they depend on us to not give them infections. They depend on us to get vaccinated.

Imagine getting your preemie through 3 months of the NICU only to have them catch influenza or pertussis and be hospitalized again. Imagine seeing them back on oxygen or a ventilator (and every time this happens lung damage increases, making them more vulnerable the next time). Imagine something worse. That’s what happened to a family here in California. Their 28 week preemie received his 2-month vaccines at the end of his NICU stay, was discharged home, and then 15 days later died of whooping cough. It takes at least the first 3 rounds of shots for a baby to be protected. Until then, they depend on us.

I am also vocal about vaccines because they are good science. When I wrote The Preemie Primer I made sure every piece of information was evidenced-based medicine. I reviewed thousands of studies and then discussed these studies with experts. One reviewer called it “a textbook for parents.” I am not exactly sure if she meant that in a good way, but for me it was the biggest compliment ever. There is so much medical crap on the Internet (all you doctors promoting colon cleanses I’m talking to you, no pun intended) that it is hard for parents to know where to turn. I want my web site to be a place where parents (or anyone else for that matter) know they can turn for solid, high-quality medical information all based on the best science available.

There are no studies linking neurodevelopmental problems with vaccines and study after study shows the risk of serious complications after vaccines are so low they can’t even be calculated. Simply put, getting the shot is far safer than the car or bus ride you took to get to the appointment. If anyone tells you otherwise or if you read anything different, the source is incorrect. The studies I review for vaccine safety are not from big Pharma, but from VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Reporting System), the CDC, Kaiser, and other sources whose only stake in the matter is the outcome, regardless of what it may be.

So if you know a preemie, get vaccinated. Send their parents a card (or an e-mail) telling them you got up to date on your vaccinations specifically in honor of their baby. What great way to show your support for preemies now that it is Prematurity Awareness Month and flu season.

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