It’s the shot I don’t want your child to get.
I am going to talk about gun violence. If this offends you, turn away now. I realize that in writing what I am about to write, I may lose some readers. It’s ok. It has to be said. For the sake of my children, this needs to be written.
Last week President Obama took executive action to make it harder for criminals to get guns. He gave a beautiful and impassioned speech. He cried. I cried. He called out gun violence for what it is—a threat to our public health. A threat to our kids. A threat to our right to live in peace and without fear of mass shootings and dead children.
I started this blog so that I could write about vaccines and public health. I believe deeply in preventative healthcare. Vaccines are an essential part of preventing illness and death. Vaccines save lives because they prevent us from becoming infected with seriously bad bugs. We are healthier as a society and as individuals because of the life-saving work that vaccines do and this is why I write so much about being immunized. Especially when it comes to children. Kids are vulnerable. They rely on us to protect them. When we vaccinate them, we are giving them a better chance to reach a healthy adulthood.
In 2012, twenty children died at Sandy Hook Elementary School when a man decided to enter the premises and gun them down. First graders. Just like my daughter. Last night as I tucked her into bed, I thought. My God. These kids were just like you, Olivia. They had missing teeth, and infectious laughs, and gave warm hugs. They too smelled like green apple or raspberryshampoo, and like me, their mothers caught whiffs of it as they cuddled on the couch to read bedtime stories. They went to where they were supposed to be safe—at school—and they never came home. The cruelty and injustice of what happened in that elementary school on that horrific day hit me in the gut as I looked at my sleeping child. Oh, that there were a vaccine against this kind of awfulness.
And then a greater, and more painful, truth hit me.
A person who writes about public health and who constantly harps on the need for people to protect their children from infectious disease, cannot ignore other public health threats. Gun violence is a public health threat. It is a leading cause of premature death in the U.S. It is just as dangerous to our children as vaccine-preventable disease. In the U.S., approximately 20 children and teenagers are sent to the hospital with gun-related injuries PER DAY. Every single day. And those are just the kids that make it to the hospital: 7 children die in America every single day from gunshot wounds. And among children under age 10, accidents account for more than 75 percent of injuries. Accidents like when the 2-year-old boy in Georgia found his dad’s unattended gun on a bed and shot and killed himself, or when the 4-year-old boy in New Orleans took his grandpa’s gun from a drawer and shot himself in the neck. (Basically, you can Google any age child and “gun” and you will find a story of some child who found a gun and shot himself, or his 14-year-old friend, or his 29-year-old mother).
As a society we take measures to protect children in a multitude of situations, beyond mandatory vaccination. Every single state government mandates (per federal regulation) that parents put their children into car seats when they go for a drive, and we regulate the safety of those car seats. We don’t sell cancer-causing cigarettes to minors because we don’t want kids to get addicted to tobacco and suffer the health consequences associated with smoking. Pill bottles have to come with child safety caps—not to annoy you, but to protect your child from unintentionally ingesting something they shouldn’t. I have to stop my car when a school bus light flashes so that children getting on and off the bus don’t get hit. The list goes on and on.
Except for guns. They are not required tocome with child safety caps (the technology is there, however, and in states where locks are required, gun deaths go down). There is no flashing warning light on a gun. There is no vaccine against a gunshot wound.
When the children died at Sandy Hook, I cried. Some people say the President’s tears were fake when he spoke about these kids. But he is a parent. Just like me and many of you. I challenge you to go look at the faces of those 20 little children from Sandy Hook and imagine that one of those pictures is of your child. Imagine it is your baby who does not come home from school. The tears will be real.
My passion is vaccines. I am not afraid to write the truth about them and to encourage reasonable use of them to protect our kids and our society. But I have been afraid to speak about gun violence as a public health issue. Until last night when I caught myself thinking, as I watched Olivia sleep,Well, I would speak out and not be afraid if she were murdered by a gun. Then I would say something. Then I would argue loudly for commonsense gun laws.
And the horror of that thought stopped me cold. What insanity would make me think it is okay to wait to do whatever I can to protect my children—and yours—from this public health threat? By writing this post tonight, I can look my children in the eyes and tell them I am trying to do something to protect them from one of the greatest health threats facing them.
Does every vaccine prevent every single infection? No. Of course not. But we still give them because they help immensely in protecting our kids. Will every gun shot be prevented because of commonsense gun regulations (like requiring background checks and licenses to sell)? No, of course not. But it will help, and it most certainly will not hurt.
If you are interested in learning more about organizations working to protect children from gun violence, please check out: