When we at Immunize Nevada decided to start the #IAmTheWhy campaign, we did it to put faces to the masses who support vaccination. And as part of that goal, we are sharing with you the perspective of real moms offering real insights about vaccinations.
To that end, please meet Reno Mom Brandi Anderson, who unfortunately knows about the importance of community (or herd) immunity first hand.
Her son, Cooper Anderson, now 10, was diagnosed with leukemia four years ago.
Brandi took a few minutes to answer questions about community immunity in light of the recent measles scare in Nevada.
Q: Tell us a little about your situation with your son, his condition, why/how he is (or was) immunocompromised.
A: Four years ago, Cooper was diagnosed with Leukemia, a blood cancer. When he began his 3 years of chemotherapy, he had to be taken out of school because he was often neutropenic, meaning his immune system was so severely compromised that his body would not be able to fight off bacteria or additional infectious diseases. He was allowed to go back into the classroom in years two and three of his treatment, but his immune system was still compromised. Bacteria and other infectious diseases are some of the most common reasons children don’t survive cancer treatments, so it is safe to say I became a germophobe and am still recovering.
Q: When he was first diagnosed, did your entire family have to have additional vaccinations to ensure he stayed healthy?
A: No additional vaccines, we just needed to become incredibly vigilant about our exposure to germs and being sure we didn’t allow what we could control into Cooper’s environment. I am not a type A person, so you can imagine what a tizzy fit this threw me into.
Q: How do you feel about public outings with him now? Do you ever think about his immune system and other people spreading sickness?
A: There is never a time that I don’t think about his immune system. It is literally the only force that is keeping his cancer from returning, so any illness he is exposed to could potentially leave an open door for it to come back. I have definitely relaxed a bit: I’m no longer draping movie seats with sheets and carrying Lysol in my bag, but I am a still vigilant about my kids being aware of who is sick around them, not opening doors with their hands and other evil bacteria-laden demons like escalator railings.
Q: How do you feel about school, given that he's around many children?
A: I know in an ideal world they're all vaccinated, but we do know of situations where schools give a waiver based on religious views, philosophies, etc. To be honest, it never crossed my mind until this possible measles outbreak. Cooper’s chemo treatments wiped all of his immunizations out so last fall, he had to be re-vaccinated for everything. I hope that it has been in his system long enough to protect him if he is exposed to this latest outbreak. I can’t imagine either of my kids getting a disease so painful when I could have prevented it.
Q: Have you ever had conversations with any parents who were anti-vax? If so, how did that go?
A: I have, and quite frankly I never thought twice about the choices that they had made because I think everyone takes things like the measles for granted these days.
Q: What would you say to people who question the effectiveness or reason behind vaccinations?
A: I don’t understand why anyone would risk not protecting their children from painful and highly contagious diseases. If I could have vaccinated either of my kids from cancer, I would have done it in a heartbeat. I think many of us take our health and safety for granted in this country, but let me tell you, once you go through something as devastating as having your child’s life threatened with cancer (and any other nasty bacteria floating around at the time), you will do what it takes to protect them from anything else that could harm. It’s like choosing to lock your door at night or just roll the dice by allowing your family to sleep with the front door open for any bad guy that decides to slip into your home. Of course you would choose to lock your door, because unnecessary risk is senseless.
Q: What else should people on the fence about vaccinations know about your situation or your beliefs?
A: When considering vaccinations, it is not just to protect your family, you are also protecting your community and the first responders who treat the sick. My husband works for the Reno Fire Department, and he and his crew spend their days helping people who are sick and injured. He is potentially exposed to so much more than our children are in schools, and in turn that exposure can be spread unknowingly to other sick and injured people in our community before he ever has the chance to come home and inadvertently expose his own family. Vaccinations protect those in your home as well as the doctors, nurses, fire fighters, paramedics and anyone else whose job it is to help those in need.
Brandi Anderson is VP of Marketing & Community Outreach for Prospect Education. She lives with her husband and two sons — Cooper and Easton, 8 — in Reno.
#IAmTheWhy is a grassroots, positively focused social media campaign that asks interested participants to post a picture of their “why” — the faces of family and friends that could benefit from the protection of community immunity — to the Immunize Nevada Facebook page. To participate, please post your picture to facebook.com/immunizenevada, and tag it with #IAmTheWhy.