I won’t stop immunizing my baby, despite a rare vaccine side effect

Hattie Gladwell
·7 min read

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Hattie Gladwell's son stopped breathing after having a bad reaction to his vaccines. Here's why she's decided to keep vaccinating him. Image via Getty Images.
Hattie Gladwell's son stopped breathing after having a bad reaction to his vaccines. Here's why she's decided to keep vaccinating him. Image via Getty Images.

Vaccines save lives. To learn more about the importance of vaccines and immunization, click here.

When I was pregnant with my now five-month old son, there were a few things I was unsure about: Whether I should get the crib mobile with the moon and stars or the mobile with the sheep. Whether I should get him a bouncy chair or the one that swings. Whether I should decorate his nursery blue or grey (I chose grey, and it’s lovely).

However, there was one thing I was completely certain about: Whether I would vaccinate my child. There was no difficulty in making the decision that yes, I would absolutely be vaccinating my baby. Not only would it protect him against deadly diseases, but it would protect other people’s children, too. It was a no-brainer for me.

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My son needed three sets of vaccinations over the span of 16 weeks. Due to COVID-19, it took a little longer to have his done - but he had his last set of vaccines at 20 weeks. His first two sets went well and there were no issues beyond the initial cries of pain from the injections (which made me want to bawl my eyes out). When the time came around for the third set, I wasn’t worried at all.

After a third round of vaccines, Hattie Gladwell's son stopped breathing. Image via Getty Images.
After a third round of vaccines, Hattie Gladwell's son stopped breathing. Image via Getty Images.

He went into the doctors exam room laughing and smiling and although he cried for approximately five seconds after the injections, he was soon smiling at the nurse once again, as if he’d already forgotten what had happened. He was given the Meningitis B vaccination, and we were warned that he may develop a bit of a fever - but that it’s normal. As usual, we gave him medicine as soon as we got home to help lower any potential fever. My son was his usual self all day, he was eating normally and was happy, smiley and alert.

At 1 a.m., 10 hours after he received his vaccinations, everything changed.

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He’d woken up, and although he was showing no unusual symptoms, I decided to take his temperature which read above average. I gave him some more medicine and waited 10 minutes to check his temperature again. Although it had gone down slightly, it was still worrying me. Soon after, his breathing became shallow and he began making these weird grunting noises. Something wasn’t right

Panicked, I called for emergency medical advice. I told the call-handler my son’s symptoms, and they told me they would send an ambulance and it would take about 20 minutes for help to arrive

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

I tried to keep my baby upright to help his breathing and he was still alert and even smiling, but his eyes looked somewhat delirious. Over the next 10 minutes his breathing worsened even further. He was trying so hard to breathe that each breath took a lot of his energy. At some points his face would go red as if he had been holding his breath for a long time, but nothing would come out.

I kept patting his back and tried to remain calm so that I didn’t distress him any more than he already was, but inside I was terrified. While I sat him up with my hand against his back, telling him everything was OK, he suddenly stopped breathing completely. I screamed for my partner, who had gone downstairs to pack the diaper bag, shouting, “He’s not breathing!”

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It took me firmly jolting my son before he managed to breathe, after at least three seconds without doing so. At that point my partner called 911 and demanded the ambulance get here right now. They set our call to highest priority and help arrived five minutes later. It was the longest, most gruelling five minutes of my entire life; my son stopped breathing multiple times.

The paramedics entered the bedroom and immediately took my son’s observations. His temperature was even higher, and though his oxygen levels were perfect, his respiratory levels were up and so was his heart rate. His chest was going inwards as he breathed, which showed just how hard he was trying to breathe. It was horrible looking at his tiny body all in wires. The whole time, he made his usual funny noises and smiled.

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

He fell asleep in the ambulance and was monitored the whole time. When we finally arrived at the hospital, things immediately turned around. Suddenly, after his sleep, my son was breathing fine. He was laughing with the nurse as she took his vitals. Everything was normal, except for his temperature which was still high, but other than that he was completely back to his usual self.

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The paramedics and doctor who examined him told us that everything was KO but that he most likely developed a fever as a side effect of the MenB vaccine. In my baby’s case, he developed breathing issues which they said was his body’s way of trying to fight the fever.

Just before we left the hospital, he drained an entire bottle of formula. I have never felt so relieved in my life. We were told to monitor him over the next few days, and we gave him medicine every six hours. But luckily, he was OK.

The experience was horrendous. There are few things quite as terrifying as having to force your own baby to breathe, but I know I’m lucky that he was OK within hours and I’m so thankful to the medical professionals who looked after him.

Image via Getty Images.
Image via Getty Images.

Despite having always rolled my eyes at anti-vaxxers, disapproving of their decisions not to vaccinate their children, I can now sympathize with those who refuse to vaccinate out of fear. I have never felt fear like I did after my son stopped breathing, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience it.

However, although the experience was horrific, I will continue to vaccinate my son. Don’t get me wrong, there were times while I was in the ambulance when I thought to myself, I don’t care what anyone says, he’s not having another vaccination again, but it was only during those moments when my body was filled with panic.

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When I was able to come to terms with what happened, I was able to realize that vaccinations are important. If I didn’t vaccinate my son, something even worse, perhaps deadly, could happen- and not just to my son, but to other children, too. I know in my heart vaccinations are vital, and to go against this would mean I would be making a dangerous choice for my son. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something awful happened. While I wish my baby never had to face another needle again, I know it’s for his benefit, and for that of other children.

I know that I’ll always become anxious whenever it’s time for him to receive more vaccines, but my son isn’t due for anything else until he’s 13 months old. When that time comes, and any other time in the future, I’ll be keeping an even closer eye on him for any signs or symptoms of a bad reaction.

Sticking with decision to vaccinate, one I was so adamant about throughout the entirety of my pregnancy, is the best choice for my son, and for the children who will grow up around him. If anything happened to him because I didn’t vaccinate, I’d never, ever forgive myself. In these situations, my anxiety doesn’t matter - my son’s health does.

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