Immunizations: Taxis, Times Square and Talking Vaccines

This is a guest post by Justin Theodotou, public relations coordinator at Children’s. He accompanied Patsy Stinchfield, Children’s director of infectious disease, on a trip to New York City to speak with national media outlets about the importance of childhood vaccines.

My first trip to New York City was a short one, with little time to “see the sights.” I was there for another reason: to accompany one of Children’s most passionate providers on her quest to make kids healthier.

My travel partner for 24 hours was Patsy Stinchfield, Children’s director of infectious disease. If you’ve ever met Patsy, you feel her passion for children’s health immediately. She’s bursting at the seams with it. One area for which she carries a healthy amount of zeal is the importance of childhood vaccinations, and the purpose of our trip was to promote that very subject, and bring national attention to the work being done at Children’s.

On our agenda was back-to-back-to-back meetings with a “who’s who” list of national media outlets (The New York Times, CBS Evening News, Real Simple, etc.), booked by Children’s public relations partner, Weber Shandwick. These meetings served as an entre for Patsy as a trusted thought leader and resource on childhood vaccinations.

After arriving late on a Tuesday night, it was a taxi ride to our hotel, followed by a short walk to Rockefeller Center to snap a few photos and meet up with Patsy’s sister. We needed to be up and at ‘em early. We had a full day planned.

Our meetings on Wednesday were all different in flavor, but tended to follow two basic routes when discussing the importance of vaccinations. Sometimes, it was the basics: vaccines are safe, effective and they work. Save for clean water, vaccines have saved more lives on this planet than any other man-made creation.

Sometimes, our conversations took a philosophical turn: should today’s parents be left to sift through the information (much of it false, if you get it from the wrong places) about vaccines and whether or not to fully immunize their children? Or, should we as health care providers do a better job of listening when parents have concerns about vaccines, playing the role of trusted counselor rather than lecturer?

Patsy, ever the great storyteller, also drove home her point with anecdotal evidence. She told the story of a mother who brought her four kids to a travel clinic for vaccinations before a trip to Kenya to visit relatives. Three of the four children received the shots they needed, but when it came time for the youngest, nine-month-old Mahi, to receive his, he’d fallen asleep, and his mother didn’t want to wake him. Later, this mother would refer to this moment as her “fateful decision.” The family traveled to Kenya – an area of the world where measles is rampant – with Mahi unvaccinated.

Unfortunately, Mahi contracted the disease, which subsequently attacked his respiratory system, and spent 25 days in Children’s PICU, hooked up to a ventilator. His mom, who earlier didn’t want to wake him in the travel clinic, prayed fervently that he would wake up and that she would once again be able to hold her baby.

Thankfully, Mahi survived his fight against this often deadly vaccine-preventable disease.

I’d heard Patsy tell this story before, but when she told it during one of our meetings, it nearly brought me to tears.

After a whirlwind day zipping across Manhattan — twice inching our way through Times Square in our car — all we had time for was a quick bite to eat before hailing a taxi back to the airport.

But, this trip got me thinking. Vaccines do the job none of us can do on our own. They work to protect us from germs that are indiscriminant infectors, not caring who you are, where you live or what you had for breakfast. All these germs need is a host, and, like it or not, the human body is a darn near perfect one.

It was during this trip that I realized how thankful I am to be fully vaccinated. My parents made the choice I couldn’t as an infant. They chose to protect my sister and me, the two things most near and dear to their hearts, dispelling the worry and the “what if” had we not been vaccinated. But, they were well-informed (my mother’s a nurse), had access to a pediatrician they knew and trusted, and had health insurance, which paid for those vaccines.

Sadly, not all families are as fortunate, but, there are resources available to help them. Agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics provide reliable vaccine information and schedules for parents and providers to follow. Finding a “medical home” is important so the same group of providers is seeing your kids regularly. The Minnesota Vaccines for Children program provides free vaccines for families who don’t have insurance to cover them.

To me, the choice to vaccinate your children is like the choice to buckle them in their car seat. Chances are you won’t get in a car accident, but is the risk really worth it?

For more information and for a list of reliable vaccine resources, visit the Immunizations page on Children’s web site here.

Parents can also download a fact sheet about vaccines here.


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