Q: I am currently deployed and going to miss the birth of my first. As such, my wife and I decided to hire a doula. We found one and really like her, but unfortunately, she isn't vaccinated and neither are her children. We spoke to my wife's OB, who says there's a slim chance of anything happening, but there is a chance. How much should we be concerned?
A: A lot. I think it's a big mistake to go with a doula who doesn't vaccinate herself or her children.
If your wife has been vaccinated and breastfeeds your baby, her immunity will most likely protect the baby. But we're talking about a newborn. Is a "slim chance of anything happening" good enough? It wouldn't be for me — especially when you can reduce the risk to almost zero.
The simple fact is that vaccines save lives — and not getting vaccinated endangers not only those who aren't immunized, but also everyone else around them. The majority of parents who don't get their kids and/or themselves vaccinated are usually making some kind of political statement or relying on recommendations from completely unqualified celebrities, most notably Jenny McCarthy. Neither politics nor Jenny McCarthy have any place in your child's nursery. The only reason people can get away with not vaccinating their children is that everyone else's children have been vaccinated, so they aren't carriers and can't infect anyone else. Let me give you a couple of examples of the importance of vaccines:
Whooping cough (Pertussis) is a highly contagious disease that's especially dangerous for babies. It can cause pneumonia, permanent brain damage and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a non-partisan organization — about 200,000 people in this country used to get whooping cough every year, and 9,000 died. Until the 1940s, when the first whooping cough vaccine came out. Today there are fewer than 50,000 cases per year.
Measles was even more common than whooping cough, afflicting more than 500,000 Americans annually. Measles are extremely contagious and can cause pneumonia, miscarriage, brain swelling and even death. The vaccine came out in 1967 and, in recent years, there have been fewer than 200 cases per year in the United States. Sadly, in countries that don't routinely vaccinate children, measles is rampant. Worldwide, there are about 20 million cases annually, more than 160,000 of which will be fatal.
Polio was thought to have been eradicated decades ago. But in Pakistan, where the Taliban thinks that the polio vaccine is being used by spies, there have been more than 100 cases. And with hundreds of thousands of children running around unvaccinated, the number of cases is expected to rise.
Recently, as the anti-vaccine movement has picked up steam (largely driven by completely debunked data that linked vaccinations with autism), there have been a number of outbreaks of pertussis, measles and other diseases around the country.
Whether or not to go with the doula — and, eventually, whether to vaccinate your own child — are choices that you and your wife should make with your pediatrician after you've carefully considered all the risks. For me, the choices were easy. I hope they will be for you too.