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what would you do?

The more I read about smallpox, the less I know. It will either spread like wildfire and we'll all be dead within days, or only one out of every three people will die from it and the rest will recover. Or anything in between. Or it's the vaccine that will kill you, not the disease, or the vaccine is good, but not for people under 18.

Bush is planning on making the vaccines available to everyone, starting with military personnel and health care workers. In some cities, preparations are already in full swing. It all sounds very ominous to me, but I've been known to make mountains out of molehills.

Bill Quick brought up an interesting point in his post about smallpox last night. He links to an ABC news article about the side effects of the smallpox vaccine which states that "many doctors believe people under 18 should not be vaccinated unless there is a real health emergency." Bill then poses the question:

How many parents will go along with the notion of getting vacinnated themselves, but leaving their children unprotected?

My response in his comments:

I was just writing a post about this very thing. I would never get vaccinated if my kids couldn't. I'd rather suffer with them.

That said - and I know this will sound morbid and horrible to those that don't have kids - but if we were hit by smallpox and it was inevitable that it would strike us all, I would kill my kids in their sleep rather than make them go through the horror of dying from smallpox.

This is not a thought I just threw out there. It's something that I, as a card-carrying pessimist, have thought about plenty of times before.

A few years ago, I re-read Stephen King's The Stand. The first time I read it, I didn't have any children and I though the idea of armageddon and the ensuing post-apocalyptic world was fascinating. I still think it's fascinating, just not cool.

When I read the book again, all sorts of dark thoughts went through my head. War, disease, radiation, chemical and biological warfare. What would I do if something like that was imminent? How would I handle it with my children? I even played out a scenario in my head about an earthquake in the ocean and a tidal wave coming to wipe out Long Island, bringing death to us all. What would I do?

And the answer was simple. If I knew that we were all destined to die some horrible death; that some wretched, painful disease was going to strike us all within days, or a poison gas or chemical that would cause us to all go insane and die in a short matter of time, the choice would be clear. I would kill my children, and then myself, rather than make them go through that. I couldn't imagine sitting there, cradling my child in my arms while he erupted in festering sores, or watching my daughter suffer as her airways closed up and not being able to do anything - or dying in front of them myself.

I had it all planned out. I would give them a hefty dose of NyQuil or something similar to make them fall asleep, and then I would suffocate them while they slept, sparing them from the misery of watching themselves die, of the pain that would come with whatever fate awaited us. And then I would kill myself.

Morbid, yes. I know. But I can see no other way I would deal with it.

To answer Bill's question, I would not get the vaccine if my children couldn't. Even if children under 18 could somehow get vaccinated, Natalie still wouldn't be eligible because the experts say that people with eczema should not get the vaccine because a side effect would be...death.

I don't know how remote the chances of us being struck with a smallpox epidemic are. But all the news coming out about vaccines and preparations worries me.

I try not to let it weigh too heavily on my thoughts. After all, I do have other child-related things to worry about; there's school projects and Christmas shopping and birthday parties to deal with and I prepare for each of them as if tomorrow will always come, and it will come without disease or chemicals being released into our air. I can't spend my days worrying about tidal waves and earthquakes and crazed dictators. That's what 3am is for.

But I will tell you that the more I read and the more I hear and the more I see, the more pronounced that shiver up my spine gets. And it frightens me to no end that I have already made the decision that I would rather let my children die at the hands of their mother than at the hands of terrorism.

*Update* N.Z. Bear has an eerily similar post


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I was just thinking about "The Stand" the other night and how I'd like to re-read it. The thought of Saddam being "Randall Flagg" and Bush being "Mother Abigail" made me chuckle is a demented sort of way...

Michele, honey, how do you sleep at night with all this horrific stuff on your mind?

If I really thought about all the designer diseases that are sitting in our government labs right now just waiting to get sprung, leaked, sold to god-knows-who..I would have a nervous breakdown. Smallpox is just one thing..there are many more genetically tweaked and pumped-up viruses and bacterias...ebola, bubonic plauge...what about the vaccinations for that? You know who gets the vaccinations? Military. And that will be it. When I was in the military I got vaccinated for things that I thought were long gone from the face of the earth. I got vaccinated for all sorts of "Plauge" bacterias...other weird stuff.. It's out there, honey, and smallpox is just a very small drop in the bucket.

As long as you know what you would do if it happened, that's good. I don't know what I would do. I believe that you never really know until if and when such a moment arrives. The fact is, we have no control over the time bomb of mass destruction that we are sitting on and even if we don't live to see it all come down, our children most likely will...and that's a pretty heavy thing to think about, too. The best thing we can do is live today the best we can...tomorrow will take care of itself, for better or worse.

The fact that this is rushing ahead NOW makes we wonder what intelligence the government has that we may not not about. Its almost as if there is s specific and credible threat that has pushed us into high gear (and I'm NOT the paronoid type). Combined with todays WP news that Iraq may have, or probably did, give chemical weapons of some type (VX gas) to terrorist last month means we may be in for a rough time. That said, over 60% of small pox victims recovered in the 1960's. Think about how far medical technology has advanced since then. I feel that todays survival rate would be much higher. Don't be too hasty Michelle.


Not everybody that gets small pox dies. Unless, of course, you kill them.

Why do they say for people under 18 not to get vaccinated? Is it stronger than it was 30 years ago when we all got themor what?

Why do they say for people under 18 not to get vaccinated? Is it stronger than it was 30 years ago when we all got themor what?

Michelle, think about all the "panics" of the month over the last several decades. Swine flu, Alar on apples. Smallpox is just this month's panic of the month. The doomsayers are talking out their ass.

Please look HERE. And, HERE. And, HERE. There's a lot of junk science being shoved down our throats about this. Please understand that, as an EMT, I don't minimize any dangers, but I have to recognize which are truly dangerous, and which aren't.

So, caution is in order. But get a flu shot, first. Influenza kills about 10,000 people every year. And, wear your seat belt. And make sure your kids wear bike helmets. Don't stand under a tree in a thunder storm. And, don't let some moke scare you unnecessarily.

Remember, these experts are either selling something, usually to goevernments, or part of an organization that will receive huge amounts of money to fight the threat that they're promoting. Lots of money to fight smallpox is being spent on radios, and new command centers, and tons of paperwork. That keeps us safe, don't it?

As I was reading your post the only thing I could think about was how I was feeling after 9-11. I am pretty sure I told you about what was going through my head - how I could protect my then 2 month old and the ideas of "quietly" killing him myself if things came to that. The only problem is - how do we know when it gets to that point. I wouldn't want to jump the gun and whip out the NyQuil too soon. I would never want my child to suffer and/or watch me suffer but I would also not want to react and then find out that everything is going to be fine. When do you make that decision?

I'm not sure what to say. I figure by the time all that shit comes down, I will be Queen of the World, and nothing is going to go wrong.

To clarify things a bit - I would only resort to the NyQuil and smothering thing if we were in a Stand-like situation; if a plague had already been unleashed and there was no escaping it.

I'm not about to go kill my kids on the basis of another warning of an "imminent threat."

Michele, there are at least two days a week that i want to killyour kids for some reason or another. Small Pox aint nothing compared to whats going to happen to Nat if that Pre-Teen, PMS, Whining & running out the room crap doesnt stop!! (love tem lots, really!!)

The story in "The Illustrated Man" about the parents who dream of the end of the world is very pertinent also.All of the adults have the same dream one night that the world will end soon.They all decide to spare the children the horror of it by poisoning them all in their sleep on the night it is supposed to happen.The next morning the adults all wake up to find that...they are all OK,except for the fact that all of the children are dead.SFP......I have a five year old so I'm right there with this dread.That is why I am rising on the side of those that say that we take the asswipes that preach destruction to us at their word,and that they need to die first so that our kids have a chance at a life.

There’s always the inoculation theory – the theory that we’re exposed to germs every day, we fight them off, and that makes us more resistant.

Kids who were brought up in dusty homes with cats and dogs tend to be healthier and less prone to allergies than kids brought up in spotlessly clean homes. ( I guess that's why my kids are pretty healthy.) Anyone who lives in or near NYC, who rides the subways, takes taxis and eats those hot dogs has to be inoculated against just about everything. Despite the horrors of the anthrax scare, it was pretty amazing that more people didn’t get sick.

Andy said that over 60% of smallpox victims survived, back in 1960. Those are pretty good odds – during the anthrax scare, ignoring any article with big graphics of germs and predictions of mass death kept me sane – I just read about the symptoms, and what you should do about it. Articles that try to predict what will happen during an outbreak always seem to focus on the very worst case scenarios. We all are, probably, tougher and healthier than we think.

That said, if I or my kids were infected by some terrorist inflicted disease, I would beg, borrow or steal to get us an immediate flight to Saudi Arabia, where we would proceed to cough, spit and vomit on any well-dressed passerby. If they want to pay for terrorism, they should get what they pay for. But that’s just a fantasy. It might make a decent story, but not as good as ‘The Stand’

Jo, only two days?

Chuck, I wrote a post a long time ago (can't find it at the moment) about how I do everything I can to protect my kids - seat belts and helmets and vitamins and such - but as a parent you still have that helpless feeling knowing that you can't protect them from everything.

For me, this post brought to mind a different movie, The Rapture, where the mother (Mimi Rogers in one of her better roles, IMHO), believing the end of the world is imminent, shoots her child, then turns the gun on herself and (if I remember right)...the gun jams... and then the Apocalypse doesn't come exactly on schedule either, so there's a murder arrest (and so on...)

[My point? I'm not sure I had one now, actually...]

I remember hearing somewhere that parenthood makes you a hostage to fate. When I was in the service, I used to wargame what I would do if the bad guys slimed us (which is a pretty common training scenario). The left-brain solution was: take a knee, game over, breathe deep and get it over with. If I got hit with chemicals or a disease, I wanted it over, I didn't want to live with the after affects. The right brain solution was: Ok, fuckers, the gloves are off now, we're going to beat this and you. I think, now, I'll go with the latter.

I think I would kidnap your & Jo-Anne's kids and get to my secret underground bunker. And NO, you paranoid freak, you're not invited.

Michele, be worried and pessimistic, but not too W & P! The Public Health establishment can be kind of creepy in treating "gun violence" as a "disease"--hey, no Personal Responsibility here! Et cetera. But these folks are smart and knowledgeable, and come into their own when you are talking about real diseases, like viruses, like smallpox.

In thinking about preventing or treating contagions, probability theory looms large. To pick numbers out of the air, a 0.01% mortality rate would be off-the-wall unacceptable for some hypothetical mass vaccine -- 100 dead per million vaccinated. But the acceptability would rapidly change if an actual attack with a 20%-fatal strain of virus took place. Would you trade a 20% risk in for a 0.1% risk? I would.

As far as kids vs. adults: If your kids got sick, you'd help them most by being healthy enough to care for them.

I heard Bush on the radio saying (my paraphrase) that the gov't's goal is protecting people and maintaining essential services, and that they are trying to balance this with individuals' concerns about vaccination risks. I don't know enough to say that most things are being done right, but it strikes me as a good starting place.

I could have written this post myself. All of it - from the pre- and post- mamahood reading of The Stand, to the killing of my child in his sleep were certain death imminent. And yes, I lose hours of sleep over shit like this.

I feel less alone now, reading your post. I've been angsting over this with a lot of the same fears and worries. I think people that read my blog are probably sick of my smallpox related posts.

I keep thinking of the Brit series from the 70s, "Survivors" and then my imagination takes off. Usually when I'm trying to sleep. I haven't slept much the last while :)

Sometimes I wonder if I'd be happier if I was uninformed. Don't think I could do it though!

Thanks for giving me a place to ramble.

Michele, I invite you and all your readers to help me decide whether or not I volunteer myself for being vaccinated. As a nurse, I have to seriously consider this. I also work in a city that sits on the border of Mexico (a known portal for undesirables) and is a huge military community. The odds of San Diego being a target in the event of bioterrorism are fairly high. So, I'm curious as to what people think I should do.

As for Anne's comment about Ebola, that virus is very limited in its range. I won't go into more about that here....this isn't the forum for that. But, suffice it to say, smallpox is a much hardier virus and does pose a real threat.

Now, as to The Stand....I've thought the same things myself and can't say that I relish the thought of post-apocalyptic life now that I have children.

Bush as Mother Abigail? Not on your fucking life, Frank!

Da Goddess (3:56pm):

I'm a member of the last generation to be routinely immunized against smallpox (elementary school in the '60s). It didn't seem like a big deal; I sort of remember a scab and then slight scar on my arm. The current vaccine is about the same as the one used back then, apparently.

The risks of serious side effects from this vaccine are very small but not zero, so it's not something to do "for no reason". But if you have a reason (and it sounds like you do, given your concerns, your profession, and your proximity to a possible terrorist target), it might be worth seeing if you meet the qualifications (e.g. not immune-suppressed) , and learning more about the pros and cons via the informed consent process.

There is also supposed to be a superior recombinant-technology-based vaccine in the pipeline, slated for approval in 2004. So that's an argument for waiting.

FWIW, I intend to get re-vaccinated when vaccine is made available to the general public. Not sure about my kids, it will depend on the pediatric safety profile.


I gotta agree with you on this one. I was watching CSPAN-2 coverage of the November 2002 conference of the National Vaccine Information Center, and boy was I shocked.

Ex-USAF Major Sonnie Bates ("Anthrax Vaccination in the Military: One Pilots Story") spoke about how, after researching why many of his pilots who had taken the mandatory anthrax inoculation were getting sick and staying that way, he uncovered many disturbing facts, including improper or unknown dosages being administered, production facilities that had repeatedly failed inspections, and expired vaccines still being used. He presented his findings to his CO and it was swept under the rug. Of course he refused taking it himself and had to go. After going public, many other ex-military started coming out of the woodwork. Can you imagine what would happen if the military had anything to do with administering a civilian vaccination program? We routinely use our troops to test "experimental" vaccines.

Unfortunately, the USMC’s "Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die - Semper Fi!" means that a lot of our boys will be sacrificing their immune systems for their country.

Another powerful speaker at the NVIC conference was Kihura Nkuba ("Polio Vaccine Campaigns in Africa") who told an incredible story of the WHO-sponsored program to vaccinate everyone in his country against Polio. Nkuba is (or was until he was ruined) a broadcaster who started asking very basic questions that the government could never seem to answer. According to him , Polio is not as big a problem in his country as, say, HIV or Malaria, yet the government sought to vaccinate the whole country against Polio. OK, but the cheaper Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) affordable by the third world shouldn't be used by people with a history of HIV infection - which is about everyone in Uganda. The more expensive Polio Vaccine used in the first world doesn't have this contraindication. Anyway, he brought this up to the government, even presented them with the same information taken from the CDC website, and they stonewalled. He had been inviting government health officials onto his program and had captured the ear of the country, yet has was branded by the WHO as a troublemaker who stands in the way of mass vaccination. The situation now is that when the military comes into a village to administer the forced vaccinations, the people grab their kids and hide in the bush for a few hours until the soldiers leave. Now how screwed up is that?

Obviously, there’s more to the situation than that, but a good link to read is http://www.comminit.com/strumoursvacc/sld-5123.html

And the Nyquil™ thing reminds me of “On the beach”, the post-apocalyptic Aussie film where everyone finds a comfy spot to OD with their loved ones before the inevitable onset of radiation sickness. Call me sentimental, but I just love a happy ending! :)

When I was a kid I had to have the vaccine. We were going over seas or something so they decided to vaccinate us. Anwyay, I guess one in about 500 trillion billion get cowpox from this. Guess what. I did. Almost croaked. But guess what? I lived. Hopefully, I don't have to go through that again.

To me, the threat of Nuclear attacks always make me feel better. Maybe it's just that I grew up with that fear so I am used to that by now. Or maybe its the fact that one moment I would be there playing with my blog and watching TiVO and the next I would be burned up. No runs, no drips, no errors, no fuss, no mess. Unless I lived through it somehow and had like really horrific burns all over me and then I had to like wait for the radiation to slowly do me in.

Still, smallpox just sounds worse.

To clarify the "should kids get the vaccine" question a little (Note: I'm not a doctor):

People who have been previously vaccinated aren't as likely to have side effects (or will probably have less severe side effects) than people who have never been vaccinated. So , not just kids, but anyone under 30 (since mandatory vaccination stopped in the US in 1972) getting the shot will be at a higher risk for side effects simply because they've never been exposed to it before.

Aside from that issue, young children also have a higher risk of side effects in general. Under normal conditions (i.e. no bio-warfare), young kids and pregnant women would be told not to get the shot because of the possible risks. But if it comes to the point where there's mandatory vaccinations, then I guess we'll all just have to take our chances, kids too (and the pregrant women will unfortunately run the risk of having miscarriages or stillbirths).

ok, first of all, the vaccine for smallpox does not have smallpox in it. it's a similar virus called 'vaccinia' (dumb name) that will make you immune, but isn't as dangerous. the cdc website has a lot more information on this. it's a live virus vaccine, and it's pretty scary, but it's not smallpox, and can't give you smallpox.

next. people who have eczema shouldn't be vaccinated for no reason, but exposure to the virus is not "for no reason." eczema sufferers can have awful reactions to the vaccine, and even die, but nat might not. keeping the "shot" site covered and isolated and clean can keep it from spreading. and even the most horrific looking reactions can be harmless in actuality. i wouldn't get her vaccinated when it's available at random (i'm not going to have myself vaccinated either) but if there's an attack in new york, you probably have better odds with giving her the vaccine.

sigh i hate this shit.

next. an earlier sign than rashes on the extremities, is a rash and pustules on the face and tongue. eruptions on the tongue get the virus in the mouth, down the throat, into the bloodstream.

next. the most horrible picture on ffm's site, to me, is the one of the kid with white blisters all over his eyes. the outcome was that the child lived and was not blinded. it's on the cdc website. scars, your kid can live with. i know you're rational and not a panicker, but i wanted to get that out. don't let's anybody rush the nyquil and pillow act, folks.

I happened to speak with a friend last night who is a nurse-supervisor at a major hospital. The plan that's come from 'above' is for a certain proportion of the nursing staff to get vaccinated, very soon. Folks are hesitant--incomplete information from a satellite site is that a quarter to a third of vaccine recipients got fever and other ill effects enough to make them miss work.

--Another anecdote saying that some high-ups are acting very concerned about the smallpox threat. They know more than us? Prudence? CYA? Don't know.
--Short-term effects of the vaccination (fever, illness) are significant for a lot of people. As stated by previous posters, those of us who didn't react the first time are unlikely to have adverse reactions on re-exposure to the vaccine.

My thought?

1 in 50 chance that Saddam/Al Quaeda/"Some Other Asshole" is going to try the smallpox thing.

1 in 3 chance of death if so. That's what - 34% (hell, round up...) of 2%, or .68% chance of death via smallpox.

1 in 10 chance of missing a day's work because of smallpox-related illness. 1 in 100,000 for severe complications. 3 in 1,000,000 for death from the innoculation.

But wait, there's other factors. My wife works in a hospital. Chances of being exposed/infected IF there's an attack approach 100%. Should we count on 20+ year old vaccinations to protect us? My little boy's almost 5 - what about him? If mommy doesn't sterilize herself when she comes home...

No brainer, really. When it's available, the whole family's gonna get it.


Not everybody that gets small pox dies. Unless, of course, you kill them.

My response exactly, Michael.

All of you are concerned and living in fear. You're letting the fear control your life. Not one of you mentioned God and trusting in Him. We are so blessed as a nation and we have the best medical experts and government in the world. If you're worried hand your fears over to God, He already knows what is going to happen in the future to you and your children. Let Him direct your path and guide you in decisions that you must make. With Him you will find peace and be able to sleep. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths" Think of what the terrorist see, knowing that we are worried about what they might do, aren't they winning if we live in fear? All you can do is pray for wisdom for you and your family and our country.