Rabies, baby

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Are we putting our kids at risk by not vaccinating them against rabies?

Before we left Australia, we went through a round of vital vaccinations that would give any needle-phobic something to really wail about. Having been through IVF to conceive Ella – a process that involved more needle pricks than a thousand-year-old pin-cushion – I could stick needles in my eyeballs if I had to. I remember saying, as my kids screamed with terror during injection number 162, that I would take the shots for everyone if I could. And I really would.

For the most part, subcutaneous jabbings with pointy objects are not fun for anyone but, in truth, they are not that big a deal. They pinch a little. They are often uncomfortable. But they’re certainly not devastatingly painful. It’s the brain that puts us through the real hell of it. The mental reaction. You know it. I know it. But try telling it to a 4-year-old and a 20-month-old. Riley was actually not too bad. He was too young to have the mental fear of injections so horribly ingrained – it wasn’t until he felt the pinch that he flinched, and sometimes he didn’t even flinch at all.

Ella, on the other hand, knew all about the needles. Oh, did she ever. She would break into a hyperventilating sweat the moment we got in the car. I learned very quickly how to white lie and spring it on her at the last minute. Didn’t help. She’d ball herself up like a tightly coiled spring, her ears would turn puce, she’d cling to me like a koala in a tree and get herself so worked up, it took three nurses and ten minutes of strategic operations to plan each injection. God forbid if there were two or three shots in a row. We’d plan it to come from all sides while I pinned her down.

Despite the undoubted necessity of these shots, I don’t think I’ll be getting our Ella near a sewing needle in this lifetime, let alone a pin.

You can probably understand, then, why we decided not to get the kids vaccinated against rabies. Another series of shots on their already fully-booked schedule? And painful ones, at that? It was just too much to bear. The stress of moving was taking its toll and we were just, well – over it. So I stamped down my foot and said No! to rabies.

Don’t worry – we quizzed doctor after nurse after medical professional and all of them said it was Our Choice. It was okay to get the vaccine but it was also okay not to. It was totally “up to us”. Whatever that means. These days, no professional would dare give you a personalized opinion on such matters. “I would definitely do it” was what I desperately wanted to hear. But no one would put themselves on the line for me. Several said the kids would be fine if they weren’t in contact with dogs, cats, rats or monkeys. Hmmm. I mean, you try to keep your kids away from rats, but who knows when they’ll next come across a band of long-tailed brothers in the sewers beneath Beijing?

I’m not a dog/cat/rat/monkey interactive person at the best of times, and even if my kids were rabies-vaccinated to the eyeballs, I would not let them go anywhere near these animals in China. I don’t even let them near unknown animals in rabies-free Australia. So, upon further advice from doctors, we decided not to do it. We entered China, rabies-vaccine-free.

I still worry about it. I’m hyper-vigilant on the streets. There are plenty of yip-yap-fuzz-balls (good-for-nothing-but-pooping-and-barking) out for wee and poop-stops at the bottom of our building, every day. But my two must admire these yapping fluffies from afar. And if the kids are in the care of any other adults, they’re told: “My kids have no food allergies, but don’t let them near anything with canine teeth longer than their own.”

Yes, I’m painfully watchful and pedantic with my kids, and I’ve put the fear of God into them adequately enough to watch them give anything with fur a wide berth. Doesn’t stop my daughter pining for a bunny.

But then, nothing on earth could stop Ella pining for a bunny. One day... but not in BJ.

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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