It’s no secret that I have always been science-minded. My entire life, I wanted to become a doctor. I took AP science courses in high school, entered college majoring in biology/pre-medicine, and today enjoy reading scientific journal articles “for fun.” It was no surprise, therefore, that as a microbiologist whose work focuses on vaccines, I never questioned vaccinating my children. I knew how great of an achievement vaccines were for the history of science, and the profound enhancements they have made to public health.My son was born in 2009, and he was vaccinated per the CDC and AAP recommended schedule. I knew I was making an informed, intelligent choice to protect him from deadly childhood diseases. Yes, I had heard all of the hype about the Andrew Wakefield fraud incident (in a now-discredited and fraudulent study, Wakefield tried to link the MMR vaccine to autism), but knew that it was nonsense, and never doubted my vaccination choices. At this point, I was obviously pro-vaccine, but had never given a thought to advocating for the use of such vaccines.Soon after this, Dr. Paul Offit spoke at my place of employment. The topic of his talk was the anti-vaccine movement, which intrigued me—I didn’t know there was a big enough group of people against vaccines to form a movement. After hearing Dr. Offit speak, I felt a multitude of emotions. I felt fascination, for Dr. Offit was such a dynamic speaker who clearly had vast amounts of knowledge about vaccines and infectious diseases. I felt anger that parents in this country had access to life-saving technology and were not utilizing it. More than that, though, was anger that parents were not vaccinating due to fear, uncertainty, and doubt spread by Jenny McCarthy and other parents who have graduated from the “University of Google.” Mostly, though, I felt a spark of passion to become an advocate for the safety and efficacy of vaccines.This spark was further stoked when I became pregnant with my daughter. I began to read about outbreaks of whooping cough (pertussis) that occurred in California in 2010, in which ten babies (not yet old enough to be fully vaccinated) perished. I read about the anti-vaccine movement, and how it grew larger by scaring new parents with lies. I started to peruse pro-vaccine blogs, such as Shot of Prevention, and Facebook pages, such as Vaccinate Your Baby and Nurses Who Vaccinate. Amazed by the depth of knowledge of the active pro-vaccine advocates on those pages, I was deeply inspired—and my passion grew.
When my godmother was diagnosed with whooping cough and sent to the hospital for two weeks, just months before my daughter was due, it was the final straw. Right before her diagnosis, my family—including my godmother—had all been gathered at the hospital. We were visiting my grandmother, who was sick with uterine cancer. I realized now that not only was my grandmother at extreme risk of contracting whooping cough, but so was my unborn child and I. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to fully protect my child when she was born and was too young to be vaccinated. Thus, my passion grew to the point that I began posting comments on pro-vaccine blogs and pages. As I posted more, I learned more. As I learned more, I turned my anger into more passion. I now have confidence to post on anti-vaccine pages and blogs and new articles; I feel comfortable writing letters to members of Congress. I am a parent, a hugely passionate vaccine advocate, and very proud of it.
Katie Ellis is a mother of two, who works full time as a microbiologist specializing in vaccines. She loves spending time with her family, running, baking, and being active.