This Time its Personal

Dear Anti-Vaxxers,


I have gone through many mental phases with regard to you. As a student doctor, I went through my arrogant, “how STUPID can you BE?” phase. As a mother, I went through my “I know it’s tough to watch your baby be stuck with needles, but COME.ON.” phase. As a scientist, trainer of future physicians, mother, and all around reasonable human being, I went through my “I understand that what you’re reading is scary, but why would one NOT put their trust in scientists and physicians rather than strangers on the internet?” phase. I’m still kind of in that one. Within the last 12 hours, I’m entering a new phase. I briefly flirted with it nearly two years ago, when the northeastern U.S. was experiencing a measles outbreak and I had a spouse who used mass transit and an infant too young to be vaccinated. I was terrified that the sneezing stranger sitting next to my husband on the train had prodromal measles, and that viral particles clinging to his jacket would be sniffed up by my baby during their evening snuggle. There is a visceral fear with this phase. This is the “this time, it’s personal” phase.



Clara Hope (Elliot Hospital, Manchester, NH)


This time, my lovely, sweet beautiful niece Clara is in the hospital. She coughed so hard that she stopped breathing last night. Fortunately, she lives 0.5 miles from a hospital and was immediately revived and put on oxygen. Her rapid RSV test was negative, which likely meant one thing: baby Clara has pertussis. One might think that this article is an indictment of my sister for her failure to adequately vaccinate Clara; however, it is not. You see, little Clara is just four months old. She has had only one DTaP vaccine-this is not enough to fully immunize her against pertussis. The disease, caused by the bacterial species Bordetella pertussis, is notably difficult to treat because the window to kill the organism with antibiotics is very short. If this window, occurring at the onset of symptoms when a diagnosis is rarely made, is missed the chance to stave off more severe disease is lost. This is because B. pertussis has a nasty weapon to deploy: a toxin that is unaffected by antibiotics. This toxin kills cells in the airway and lungs, resulting in the buildup of damaged and inflamed tissue. Such tissue leads to the characteristic cough of pertussis, and it rarely heals fully in children who survive. Reactive airway disease? This is likely now in her future. Soccer? Track? Cheerleading? Basketball? These things likely are not. I’m not sure that my family can ever forgive you for that.


I think, I hope, that Clara received rapid and adequate treatment to stave off many of these effects. The indisputable fact, however, is that she should never have gotten sick. She should never have experienced a cough so hard that she stopped breathing. My sister should never have had to rush her baby to the hospital in the middle of last night. She is the part of the population meant to be protected by herd immunity, not your children who are perfectly able to be vaccinated. Those who are convincing you otherwise are lying. Plain and simple…they are lying. Why? I have no idea. Maybe they want to sell you books. Maybe they want to be famous. Maybe they truly believe that what they are saying is true, but they do not have the training to fully evaluate all available evidence. The overwhelming majority of those of us insisting otherwise are not “paid shills”, as you have likely been told. I am not a paid shill. With the exception of one small grant involving a novel disinfectant, I am a university-employed clinical microbiologist receiving no funding from private industry; all of my grants are from the government. I am a mother. I am the aunt of a very sick baby girl. And I am begging you: please, stop. Just stop. If you would not dispense legal advice, do not dispense medical advice. Doing so is profoundly dangerous. Vaccinations are not “poisons”. They are not a way for “big pharma” to make money. They save lives. They protect the lives of infants and the immunocompromised. What is happening to baby Clara is profoundly unfair. What is happening to my sister and her family is profoundly unfair. When I called a clinical colleague of mine to ask for his professional opinion, he quietly said one thing: “I hate that this disease still exists.”

This is our profession, Anti-Vaxxers. We hate that these diseases still exist. We will always have work, and are servants to the public. We do not care about profit. We care about sick people. We care about health. We care about families NOT being torn apart when we know we can prevent it. We care about your children. Please…listen to us.


Best Regards,


Dr. Meghan May


NOTE: Clara did not have pertussis in the end, and has recovered well. However, it doesn't matter. Many children do not have this positive outcome, and I am obligated to speak on their behalf. Not to do so simply because my family's story ended well would be an injustice.

#pertussis #vaccines