15 November 2011

ControverMonday: Chicken Pox Parties

I also spaced on doing this on Sunday, kind of like how I had to play catch-up with my "Saturday" post, but anyway...  amoment2think put out the topic: chicken pox parties and here is my take on it.

I will start by saying that both my kids have been vaccinated for Varicella.  Partially because I am super-pro-vaccinating and also because it is required for many school districts.  While I have mixed feelings about schools requiring such things, as a former public health worker, I get why these rules exist.   Additionally, I got chicken pox "later"  than most and had a very rough time with it.  My little sister was exceptionally sick due to  dehydration from the fever and oozing spots.  Also, I got shingles when I was 24, because you know, why not?  Shingles?  They suck.  I would rather be in a labor than have shingles again.  Just saying.  

So due to my personal experience and schooling I chose to vaccinate my kids.  I figure if the vaccine is effective to an acceptable level and the chance of a bad reaction is less than the possible risks from actually getting the disease I am all for it.  Kids do still get chicken pox, and it can be super bad, so I was in for inoculation.  However, I see the flip side that exposing your kid to a medical intervention to  prevent a generally mild disease seems a bit counter-intuitive so this, along with the flu vaccine, is where I say "make your own best choice."  Theoretically  Varicella and flu do not pose the same public health risks as say measles or pertussis so, there can be gaps in the herd immunity without the same level of risk. (Actually, these diseases pose the same potential mortality as some other scary diseases, we are just as a culture unaware of how many people die each from the flu.  It is a lot.)   I am completely in the camp of thinking that people who do not vaccinate at all are being selfish and irresponsible, but obviously there is a lot of grey area and things like carefully choosing your vaccines and your vaccine schedule are great ways to ensure the best of both worlds.

So, with all this said, inoculation is inoculation right?  I mean there is very little difference between the long term outcome of getting the vaccine and getting the disease.  So why do "chicken pox parties" squick me out?   I guess purposely exposing your kids to a full blown case of a potentially bad disease just seems like such a bad idea.  Granted, I grew up in an era where this was routine.  In fact, my mom even tells the tale of sending me to preschool with a confirmed case of the pox because hey, you got to get it eventually.   I think that is the fine line though.  I would send my kid to school if some other kids had been diagnosed, just as I would not skip gymnastics for the flu or daycare for impetigo, but I would not purposely schedule a play date just to try and get my kid sick.  This is the difference between natural exposure leading to natural disease incidence and forcing your child into an arcane method of vaccination.  I can't seem to explain why it is different from poking your kid with a needle to elicit the same immune response, but to me it just is. 

In summary:  I am pro-vaccination for Varicella though not militant because I get why it may be unnecessary.  I am definitely anti-pox-parties because, well, come on, that  is just gross.