Saskatchewan·Opinion

Get vaccinated: 'Collective rights more important than individual rights'

I firmly believe that everyone who can be vaccinated should be. There should be no exemption for personal beliefs.

Despite experiencing a life-threatening reaction, Alex Bjorge argues people need to get vaccinated

Alex Bjorge believes that everyone who can be vaccinated should be. (Bernardo Montoya/Reuters)

The question of whether to vaccinate or not has sparked a lot of discussions this week. 

All the debate inspired Alex Bjorge to share her personal experience.

Throughout my life, I have had several negative experiences with vaccinations, including a serious reaction that could have killed me. 

As an adult, I continue to get vaccinated when I need to, even though I'm afraid every time. I firmly believe that everyone who can be vaccinated should be. There should be no exemption for personal beliefs. 

Yes, there are risks with vaccines — very small ones. Is the minuscule chance that you might have a life-threatening reaction more important than the possibility of your contributing to an outbreak if you go unvaccinated? Why should one person's fear of vaccines be allowed to cause sickness and injury in another person?

When I was four years old, I had an anaphylactic reaction to the whooping cough vaccine. I became seriously ill and needed a shot of adrenaline in the heart to keep me from dying. I was hospitalized for several days. My first memory from when I woke up in the hospital was seeing my Dad sitting beside me with tears in his eyes, and giving him the thumbs-up sign. From what I understand, this anaphylactic reaction was something like one in 100,000 or more, but it's the sort of situation that often deters people from continuing vaccinations.

After my bad experience, people often asked my mom if she was going to continue to take me and my siblings for our shots. Her answer was always an emphatic "Yes!" She knew the risks of not vaccinating because her father had contracted polio as an infant. 

Growing up in northern Saskatchewan, where there has always been a lower-than-average vaccination rate, illnesses that southerners seldom see were common. I knew of families that lost babies to preventable illness. I knew kids who had tuberculosis, and I knew people whose children were gravely ill with the disease to which I was vulnerable. 

The risk that I, or my siblings, would have another adverse reaction was smaller than the risk that we could contract contagious diseases that were dangerous to ourselves, our family, and our friends.

After my allergic reaction, we took precautions to ensure I could safely receive vaccinations. After consulting with Public Health, my parents learned that I would likely not be allergic to other vaccines because every vaccine is different. Just to be safe, though, I received all the rest of my shots at the hospital, in a room with a nurse, a doctor, and an EpiPen or crash cart. I got every single one of my vaccinations.

Flash forward 20 years. Last year, I learned of a newer vaccine for whooping cough. I read about it, talked to public health, and discussed getting this newer vaccine with doctors and nurses in my family. Public health decided that the benefits outweighed the risks, considering that I work in education, with kids who I could potentially make sick. I got the new DPT shot with a doctor, a nurse, and an EpiPen in the room. I was nervous, but everything turned out all right. I endured my fear to protect not just myself, but the children I work with.

I firmly believe that a person's individual rights end where they begin to negatively affect others. This is even more important regarding vaccination. 

How would you feel if your neighbour's child went blind, or even died, because your child made them sick? 

People aren't allowed to leave piles of garbage on their lawns because the rats it might attract are a public health hazard. Yet we're allowed to opt out of vaccinations citing personal beliefs — when it could kill?!  I was under the impression that the collective rights were more important than individual rights in a social democracy.

About the Author

Alexandra Bjorge grew up the daughter of a fur buyer in La Ronge, in northern Saskatchewan. Her family owns Robertson Trading there. Alexandra is a high school teacher who has worked in four school divisions around the province. She now works as a substitute teacher in Moose Jaw, where she lives with her husband Eric.

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