The news is currently quite heavy with stories of lawsuits and settlements and the link (or lack thereof) between vaccines, especially the MMR vaccine, and autism. I’ve been watching, but not closely. When Lane was little, the idea of this link made me nervous and I did a lot of reading, and it became clear pretty quickly that any “link” between vaccines and autism was pretty much based on shoddy science and anecdotal evidence.
It is well-documented that the MMR vaccine can cause joint pain, especially in adolescent and adult women. Up to 25% of women will experience joint pain, from the rubella component of the vaccine. Joint pain is rare – but not unheard of – in adult males and children.
We got to experience this first-hand. 12 days after receiving her MMR vaccine at 15 months old, Lane stopped walking. (She’d been walking for 2 months at this point.) We figured out pretty quickly, even though she couldn’t tell us, that her right knee hurt. We didn’t know what it could be. We didn’t remember her injuring herself at all, but then again she was at day care 5 days a week at that point and perhaps she got hurt there. After speaking with her teacher, they could not recollect an injury either but in retrospect did notice a hesitancy to walk. Then I remembered that she’d gotten a couple different vaccinations at her appointment a couple weeks earlier, and as I do, I started Googling. I discovered how common arthritic-like joint pain was for women who receive the rubella vaccine, and that it can take up to 2 weeks before it sets in. To me, it didn’t seem like much of a stretch that if 25% of women could experience joint pain, that the occasional toddler might too.
However, my otherwise healthy daughter wasn’t walking, and experiencing pain in her knee. It was enough that I wanted her to see a doctor. And, as it often goes with pediatricians, my suspicions were dismissed. The pediatrician had never seen such a reaction in a child to the vaccine, so naturally such a reaction could not be occurring. Just to be on the safe side, I went along with his desire to do an x-ray and some blood tests to rule out an injury or something else like rheumatoid arthritis. The x-ray was clear, and I guess the blood test did show some slightly elevated something that could indicate rheumatoid arthritis. But in my mind, as I’d done more reading over the next day or so, I became more convinced that this was a reaction to the vaccine. The whole pathology of her symptoms was so in line with the typical joint pain in the older women — it was the knee on the leg where the vaccine was administered, it started within two weeks of getting the vaccine, it was local to that one joint, and then it went away a week after it started, and hasn’t happened since. I spoke to the pediatrician again after the fact, and he still dismissed the idea that the pain could be related to the vaccine. I guess he made up his mind pretty quickly, or had another idea, and my hypothesis didn’t fit with his, and since he was the ‘expert’ his ideas trumped mine.
The whole thing has come up again in my consciousness because Lane just had a well-child doctor’s appointment. She wasn’t due for a visit, but we’d just moved and she needed a doctor’s sign-off to sign up for pre-K in the fall. The doctor asked me about any medical history (asthma, injuries, etc.), and it was the only thing that I could really think of, so I mentioned it. This new pedi, too, was dubious.
And I understand the dubiousness. It’s not a documented side effect of the vaccine for children. I’ll also bet, for little kids getting the vaccine and experience the reaction, it goes unreported. Plus, how many other cases are like ours — the reaction happens, but is never officially reported as a reaction because the pediatrician and/or the parents don’t link the reaction to the vaccine?
So, Lane will be due to get her second dose of MMR at her 4-year appointment, which will happen this summer. Above all, I don’t want my child to experience pain, but a small part of me really wants to see the reaction happen again, so that I can be confirmed in my suspicions, but also perhaps then we can get the pediatrician to officially report the reaction to the powers-that-be. In the meantime, I filled out the VAERS online form to self-report her initial reaction. Maybe if more reports happen, more pediatricians will become aware of this possible reaction, and more parents won’t have their suspicions dismissed.
All that said, I have no intention of skipping or delaying that next MMR vaccine administration. The benefits of being vaccinated against those diseases far outweighs some temporary joint pain.
I’m also hoping by writing this that parents whose child has also had this reaction will stumble across my post. If you suspect your child has had a similar reaction to the MMR vaccine, I’d love to hear from you in a comment.
UPDATE: I’ve recently posted an update to our MMR saga. You can click here to read more of our story.