When Rebecca Harreman posted a video of her 4-month-old baby struggling with whooping cough online last week, she did so to urge people to vaccinate their children. The Australian mother has received hundreds of messages of support from friends and strangers alike, but — because this is this the Internet — she’s also had to deal with an angry backlash from anti-vaxxers. Despite the hate, her video is a powerful reminder of why vaccination is so critical, especially for the health of young babies.
Harreman’s video shows her young son, Austin, coughing violently and looking utterly exhausted. In a Facebook post, Harreman explains why she chose to put the clip online:
Okay so I know I said I'd let the hate go. But I'm tired. Damn tired. I've been on duty for over 3 weeks having to wake every single time my baby boy coughs for fear he will stop breathing. Every. Single. Time. I cannot and will not pass that duty to anyone else, because I just can't sleep.
So for those of you sitting on the fence on whether to vaccinate yourself and your kids or not... maybe this video will convince you.
She explains that Austin has been struggling with whooping cough (also known as pertussis) for 23 days, and that a cold she caught at the hospital and passed on to him has made him relapse. Unfortunately, whooping cough can last for months. Harreman clarifies that Austin’s coughing in the video — which is powerful enough to shake is whole, tiny body and bring tears to his eyes — is actually mild, compared to other fits he’s had:
This is a GOOD coughing fit in a 4 month old with Pertussis, or Whooping Cough … Now when I say this is good... I mean that's absolutely nothing. Not even long enough to be called a coughing fit. Nothing compared to watching him turn blue from coughing for so long and so much he can't take a single breath…
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness that’s still common in the United States. The disease is particularly dangerous for young babies; the CDC reports that half of babies under a year old who get pertussis end up being hospitalized, and some die from the disease (In 2014, the majority of pertussis-related deaths in the U.S. happened among babies less than three months old). The CDC stresses that the best defense we have against the disease is vaccination — to protect both ourselves and those who, due to age or health concerns, are unable to be vaccinated.
In her Facebook post, Harreman has no patience for people who are against vaccinations. She writes,
I don't care whether you want to try and prove to me that vaccinations and herd immunities don't work. I don't care that vaccinations have side effects, because every person in this world reacts differently to all types of food, products and medicines. I could not care less, even if it is ever proven one day that they don't work.
You know why? Because at least at the end of the day I tried to do something to prevent this and not sit there and say "oh well, vaccinations don't work so I'll just sit here and do nothing"... because doing nothing goes against every cell in my body as a mother. Doing nothing is just wrong.
She asks readers to spread the word: "So please share this and spread some awareness... not nonsense. This is getting worse because people are not vaccinating!"
The video has gone viral and has been viewed more than 1.2 million times. Yesterday, Harreman returned to Facebook to post a follow up:
Wow. I can't believe how much attention my post has gotten. While I'm completely overwhelmed with messages of love and support from strangers and friends, I really didn't think that people would personally message me to tell me I am wrong.
I didn't intend to offend anyone in particular with my views. Because they are just that – MY views.
But since some anti-vaxxers seem to feel they can share and say anything they want, even if it is unreliable, and I'm not allowed to have my say or share my own personal experience... well then I say bring it! No more turning a blind eye and not sharing opinions for fear it will upset someone else. It's called freedom of speech. If they can say what they want, then so can I.
She adds, “[O]ne would think you wouldn't want to upset a mumma bear when her baby is hurting bad.”
In her most recent post, she explains that, inundated by messages and questions (both positive and negative), she’s decided to “go private” so that she can focus on her family and her son, who is unfortunately back in the hospital. She writes,
I truly appreciate all the messages of love and support and well wishes from strangers all over the world. It's incredible and truly meant a lot. I also appreciate all the questions coming in for those people fence sitting on whether or not to vaccinate. There are literally hundreds of them coming in. But I unfortunately don't have time to respond to everyone's messages, even though I'd really love to….
So I'm making this post another public one just to say thank you and it's time for me to go private so I can just concentrate on my family, my son and his health.
Image: Rebecca Harreman/Facebook