Looking at the Roots of My Immunity

Normal people look on Ancestry.com to find out things about their history. I, being the infectious disease obsessed nerd that I am, dig out my immunization book to look at which vaccines I received.

My parents are both doctors are kept pretty good records on my immunizations which made my task a little easier. Looking at the little blue book that holds the secrets of my early immunologic experiences, I was shocked by how few vaccines were available in 1975, when I was born, versus now. There was no rotavirus, HiB, Prevnar, varicella, meningococcal, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, or HPV vaccine. What does that leave? DTwP (now unfortunately replaced by DTaP, oral polio (now replaced with the inactivated Salk injection form), and measles/mumps/rubella.  I also received the cholera vaccine (no longer available in the US) for travel-related reasons.

Looking at the relative paucity of the vaccines I received I have the opposite reaction than many anti-vaccine advocates who reminisce for an era with less vaccines. I, on the other hand, which I was more vaccinated because I had to suffer through rotavirus (I’m pretty sure on an ominous notation of me having diarrhea in March of 1977 was the result of this virus), chickenpox (in 8th grade!), and dodged the bullets of invasive infections with type B H.influenzae and pneumococcus.

Another interesting thing I learned is that I received the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines as individual injections. The MMR vaccine was introduced in 1971 and its uptake may not have been universal for some time. I was a person who only received one dose of these vaccines as the recommendation for a 2nd dose wasn’t made until 1989.

Interestingly, as a medical student in 2000 I was required to have my titers checked against measles and rubella and was found to not have adequate protection against rubella and received the MMR at that time. Then, 5 years later, the titers to all three components of the vaccine were checked and this time my mumps titers were found to be low and I got another MMR.

I wonder why my titers against rubella and mumps were low and I speculate that maybe I received the old killed mumps vaccine which was inferior to the live-attenuated version that replaced it. But that can’t be the whole story because I didn’t develop adequate mumps titers after receiving the MMR in 2000. As for rubella, I’m not sure. So in the end, I received 2 MMRs, in spite of receiving the monovalent vaccines I received as a child, just like the children of today.

As an adult, I treat vaccines like the precious commodities they are. To that end, I have gotten typhoid, hepatitis A, meningococcus, hepatitis B, and hepatitis A vaccines. Even when it comes to the sub-par influenza vaccine, I go out of my way for it—standing in line for the pandemic H1N1 vaccine at a local school and travelling around to find the quadrivalent vaccine in its first year of limited availability.

In the almost 40 years since I went through my routine childhood immunizations what were once breakthrough vaccines have now become routine.  So many infectious diseases remain for which no vaccine is commercially available. To name but a few: HIV, hepatitis C, malaria, MERS, SARS, Ebola, and West Nile Virus.  As science and medicine continue their reason-inspired march, routinizing of the cutting-edge will be the norm.