Jennifer Smith, Registered Nurse Maclean NSW
As a health professional working in a hospital, it is a requirement to be vaccinated against a variety of infectious diseases. When I was in my twenties, prior to any training in health and health care, I had chosen to be vaccinated to travel overseas. I was fully informed and chose to be fully vaccinated, as I was travelling to some very isolated areas and communities.
Later in life, I learned more about vaccines and health care, and made the conscious choice not to be vaccinated, based on certain beliefs.
Recently I began to ask myself:
Why choose vaccination then, and not now?
What’s the difference between getting vaccinated to go travelling and getting vaccinated to go to work?
If I really think about it, in all honesty I am more likely to come across someone with an infectious disease while I am at work than I was when I went travelling.
So where did my hesitancy and reluctance come from, for the many years of refusing to have some vaccinations as part of my job?
Most of this was tied up with the beliefs that I had about vaccinations. It wasn’t that I was worried about side effects so much; it was that I really didn’t believe that I needed them. I thought that if I kept myself well, then that would be my insurance. At this time I was also working with herbal medicines and I felt I could prescribe for myself if I became unwell.
What I began to feel was that although this was true, it wasn’t the whole truth; there was something missing in this argument that I had constructed for myself.
I began to ask myself…
Could becoming fully vaccinated for my work be a part of how I care for myself?
I considered the purpose of vaccinations and why and how they came about in the first place. Having worked with elders within my profession, they speak of caring for lots of children with diseases we rarely see now because of the use of vaccines.
The vaccine that I had steered clear from was the influenza vaccine. I had it about 10 years ago and became very unwell afterwards. Whilst I acknowledge that vaccines, and any medication, can have potential side effects I had reached the conclusion that it was only the vaccine that had resulted in my flu, that kept me in bed for one week. What I had not acknowledged was how I was caring for myself at the time. Around the same time as receiving the flu vaccine I went out late night partying, being outside in the freezing cold, inadequately dressed, and drinking a fair bit of alcohol (to keep myself warm!). Potentially what could have been a fairly minor side effect turned into a full-blown bout of the flu, because I wasn’t truly caring for myself.
Although having the vaccine can cause flu like symptoms, I didn’t want to accept the fact that on top of that I wasn’t really caring for myself. What I had been offered at that time was the opportunity to acknowledge this and also feel what my level of responsibility was in caring for myself. It is more than receiving a vaccine and hoping that I won’t become ill. I also have a part to play in caring for my body.
Recently, I began to feel that being vaccinated was a deeply caring thing to do, not only for myself, but also for the people I care for. I followed up on what was required. I was due to have three vaccines (injections). I was offered a blood test for one vaccine, and found that I was already immune, so that particular vaccine was not required. With the two vaccines that I received, I did it in a way that was very supportive and nurturing for me:
– I had one injection at a time, rather than getting them all at once. This was spread over 2 weeks.
– I made sure that I had days off after each injection, so that I didn’t have to push through any discomfort I may be feeling in my arm from the injection, whilst at work.
– I rested deeply after receiving each vaccine.
Other than a sore arm after one vaccine, I experienced no side effects.
It’s interesting to reflect on the beliefs we have on a subject like choosing to be vaccinated and where those beliefs may come from.
For me, there was arrogance in the belief of ‘well it won’t happen to me’ and ‘it’s ok, I can deal with it if I do get sick’.
Acknowledging and then letting go of those stubbornly held beliefs has allowed me to see that these medicines can be a true support for our bodies and how we care for ourselves.