A life-changing event—one involving our children—will make any parent regret what they could have, or should have, done. I have firsthand experience of this.
I held my daughter Abigale in my arms while she died of one of our world’s biggest vaccine-preventable killers of children, pneumococcal disease.
Abigale was just shy of her 6th birthday.
My name is Shannon Duffy Peterson. I’m a parent of four children, a business owner, and, through PKIDs, an advocate for immunization.
My younger children are at home in Sleepy Eye, MN, and my oldest, Abigale, is up in heaven with her grandparents.
In 2001, my five-year-old daughter became a statistic when she died of a vaccine-preventable disease. Abigale became infected with pneumococcal bacteria during the 2001 influenza vaccine shortage. She was not vaccinated for either disease.
When our children were born, my husband, DuWayne, and I were adamant about vaccinating our children. We wanted our children to be protected against everything. We wanted healthy children.
At that time, we had a pediatrician who did not push vaccinations and did not recommend the most recent vaccines available. Consequently, my children did not have their chickenpox, flu, or pneumococcal vaccinations.
February 18, 2001, began as a normal Sunday; we took the children to Sunday school, went to church together, played throughout the day, danced with them to music, and then relaxed with them before bedtime by playing a board game.
Abigale said she suddenly wasn’t feeling well and had a headache. We had her lie down, took her temperature, it was 101.5, and gave her some Motrin.
She started to vomit up the medicine. We thought she had the flu. We thought this was strange because she’d had the same illness and a sinus infection two weeks earlier, but she was in kindergarten and we knew of the many germs the kids pass around.
We became alarmed when a rash developed all over her body that we had never seen before, but we suspected it to be a high fever rash. I called the emergency room and was told it was a flu going around with high fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, and to just treat the fever alternately with Motrin and Tylenol and a tepid bath.
Abigale was tired and we put her to bed planning to check on her quite frequently but hoping she would sleep off the flu. Throughout the night we kept changing her bedding and bathing her to break the fever, even though she seemed pretty lethargic, and we ended up sleeping with her to comfort her.
We awoke later to her crying for “Mommy,” as she had fallen out of bed while attempting to make it to the potty. It was then, while cleaning her up, that my husband noticed the tremendous blotches on her skin and said, “This is not normal and we have to get her to the emergency room right away.”
We woke up our little boy, got them both in the truck, and drove as fast as we could the 21 miles to New Ulm. We called the hospital on the way to say we were coming and prayed for the best.
I sat in the back with the children, comforting Abigale. When she said to me, “Mommy I hurt so bad all over,” I assured her it was from the sickness and held her in my arms the best that I could while we were all buckled up. Those were the last words I would ever hear from my beautiful little girl. She died in my arms while we were driving.
When we arrived at the hospital they called a code blue and attempted for one hour to revive her. Her heart never started, and they were breathing for her.
She was pronounced dead at 7:20am Monday, February 19th. Our hearts broke that day as our son, Abigale’s little brother, witnessed all this and we had to tell him that his playmate, his bedtime companion, had died and there was nothing Mommy and Daddy or the doctors could do to save her.
Two hours after we arrived home from saying goodbye to our first born, our son started to experience some of the same symptoms as his sister, and I rushed him to the clinic. They got us in immediately and started running tests.
While we were waiting for results, Samuel, our son, started to vomit.
I couldn’t believe this was happening all over again and was holding him on the floor of the doctor’s office when our pediatrician came in with Abby’s preliminary autopsy results, stating that she’d had overwhelming sepsis caused by streptococcus pneumonia, congenital asplenia (absence of a spleen) and hemorrhagic adrenal glands. I thought I would lose both my children that day.
While my daughter’s death happened quite quickly and I wasn’t able to save her by rushing to the hospital, I was able to save my son by hospitalizing him directly after her death for two days, as he was extremely sick.
With hospitalization and medication he recovered enough to be released from the hospital in time to attend his sister’s funeral.
My world changed in those life-altering 3 days; I now understand the importance of vaccines and how children’s lives depend on them.
I am asking all parents to make sure all kids are kept healthy and to vaccinate children. If we do this, we will save lives. It is our responsibility, as parents and medical professionals, to protect our children, and to try to protect all children.
It is not ok, in my opinion, to reduce the number of pneumococcal conjugate doses children get based on cost, or on the fact that we have, thankfully, a full immunization schedule. We listened to our pediatrician, we didn’t vaccinate, and we lost our Abigale. We almost lost our son, Samuel.
I’m sure all of you follow the recommended vaccine schedule. If a primary dose of the pneumo vaccine is removed, it will save some dollars and mean one less vaccination for kids, but it will also mean more kids will die. More kids will be hospitalized. More kids will be in pain.
If you follow such a schedule and your child is hospitalized or if you should lose your child to this cost-saving measure, well, that would be unthinkable. It’s not an acceptable risk for your family, or mine, or anyone else’s.
Why would we ever choose to increase infection when we can decrease the number of cases through simple vaccination?
Thank you for allowing me to share my story.
by Shannon Duffy Peterson
[The ACIP is discussing whether or not to recommend removing a primary dose of pneumococcal vaccine for children. This is Shannon's testimony in response to that discussion.]