As an immuno-compromised individual, there are a lot of things I am supposed to avoid. Sick people, and live vaccinations are two good examples. Last week I was lucky enough to have both the flu and pneumovax vaccinations so it seems like an appropriate time to talk about why I can have them, but can’t have a lot of others.
It’s because they’re not live (or attenuated) vaccines. In an attenuated vaccine, you’re given a little bit of the live disease to trick your immune system into fighting it off.
Or, in my case, you’re on drugs that suppress your immune system because if you’re not it attacks your joints, so if you were to be given one of these vaccines you would get the disease as you have very little immune system to train. So you would get ill… and possibly die? – I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. Please treat this as an idiot’s explanation of how vaccinations work.
Having not had a single live vaccination of anything since the age of three, I’ve been lucky not to catch many of the illnesses I dipped out on – measles, mumps and rubella (though I think there’s a whole generation of people who missed out on this, so I’m not alone here), BCG vaccine for TB, and boosters of the 5-in-1 vaccines, to name a few. Basically, anything you have after you turn three I haven’t had.
Getting ill without an immune system is a bit of nightmare anyway – I was hospitalised when I got chickenpox at six and I had whooping cough when I was 11 or 12, and whooping cough is bloody horrible.
Ever socially conscious, I think we all have a responsibility to everyone else in this little world. It frustrates me that by not being able to have these vaccinations, I am essentially a carrier of these diseases should I ever catch them.
It stands to reason that I’m at risk of catching something from people who haven’t had vaccinations for whatever reason; people who may have a cleaner bill of health than I, and who might be able to fight off illness with more success. I’m not living in fear or preaching; I’m jealous.
Sometimes when I tell people I’ve not had these vaccinations they say I’m lucky because I’ve not had to have horrible injections. Let me set the record straight: I’ve had *a lot* of injections, and I still might end up getting TB. I would rather be you.
When Lady Mary Wortley Montagu gave her son the smallpox inoculation – as it was done in times gone by, he was literally given a dose of smallpox from some other person’s open sores (gag) – she did that in the belief that it would stop him getting smallpox. She was right, but the risk of him getting smallpox and dying was pretty high. Thank goodness times have changed, eh?
And thank goodness LMWM’s son took one for the team.