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Taking a shot at preventing illness

Emmalee Madeline Snehal Parker was the missing piece her adoptive parents, Dr. Brian Parker and Erica Finkelstein-Parker of Littlestown, had been waiting for to make their family complete. Described as “healthy, beautiful, always moving,” Emmalee made friends easily and rarely missed a day of school. 

Adopted from India, Emmalee was not given a common measles vaccination, but instead was exposed to the virus at a young age in India before her adoption. At only 8 years old, Emmalee’s life was cut short due to a rare and fatal complication of the measles virus called Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis, which had remained in her system after contracting measles.

Almost overnight a once vibrant and healthy Emmalee began showing disturbing neurological symptoms like tripping and falling and slumping down in her chair while eating. Six months later, Emmalee passed away. Now her family is working to educate others to know the importance of timely childhood vaccinations—something the Parkers say would have easily prevented Emmalee’s death.

 

Why does everyone need to be vaccinated?

“Vaccines are one of the most successful and effective public health interventions known,” said  Pam Hartman, pediatrician at Ryder, Barnes & Associates. A vaccine helps the body to develop immunity by creating an imitation infection—although it does not cause illness, it makes the immune system to develop the same response that it would to a real infection so the body can fight off the real disease or virus in the future.

“Vaccines are important, not only because they protect our children from infection, but they protect the community and may lead to wiping out a disease completely. Vaccinating our children helps to provide herd immunity … for herd immunity to occur, 95 percent of persons need to be vaccinated. If enough children are protected from these diseases, the disease may be forced to disappear,” Hartman said.

Some children are not able to have a vaccine due to allergic reaction or decreased immune function, but trends suggest more parents are opting out or delaying vaccines for other reasons. This worries health care providers. “Over the last few years, the media, internet discussions and opinions by celebrities have influenced a great many people not to vaccinate their children,” Hartman said. “Many of these websites are misinformed, do not have the rigorous scientific background and research to back up their beliefs.”

 

Putting others at risk

For many healthcare providers, taking the time to educate parents and caregivers is key—answering questions, sharing handouts and referring parents to educational websites to do research helps parents learn why vaccines are important. But when it comes down to it, parents need to know they are putting their own children—and other children in their community—at risk.

“As a practice, we have it in our brochure that if they decide not to vaccinate or want to shot split, they are asked to find another pediatrician.  Too many mistakes with vaccines are made when people do not stick to the recommended schedules,” Hartman said. “But most importantly, we want to give the best medical care to our patients, we are putting our other patients at risk if they are sitting next to someone who has never been vaccinated. Babies do not start their vaccines until 2 months, if they are in the waiting room with an unvaccinated child who is sick, if it is an illness that could be prevented from a vaccine, this baby is susceptible to the illness. We are very strict on this policy, and patients are aware of this as soon as their child comes to our practice. We are children’s advocates and vaccines are a big part of their protection.”

 

Future focused

Since losing Emmalee in 2011, the Parkers have created a foundation to honor their daughter’s memory and help educate and inform parents and healthcare providers of the importance of timely vaccinations. “What we are saying is we understand personal rights. But this is a public health issue,” Finkelstein-Parker said. “If my daughter had had a timely measles vaccine, she would be alive.”

Marina Shannon is a freelance writer and married mom of two energetic boys in Waynesboro.

Want more information?

“Vaccines can seem very scary to parents and rightly so since it is their child who is involved. Parents deserve to be well-informed in what is being given to their child,” said Pam Hartman, pediatrician at Ryder, Barnes & Associates.

Hartman recommends the following websites for parents who want to learn more.

 http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/default.htm

 http://www2.aap.org/immunization/

 http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/index.html

For more information about Emmalee’s story visit www.emmyshope.org.