No one likes to think about it, but yes, healthy kids can just die.
Tragically, misunderstanding this fact can lead some parents who have lost a child to blame vaccines.
It certainly doesn’t help that anti-vaccine folks are targeting families who have recently lost a child, pushing them to blame vaccines…
Healthy Kids Can Just Die
Speaking of vaccines, that leads us to one group of healthy kids who can die suddenly – those who die with a vaccine-preventable disease.
All of those kids who die with the flu each year? Many are healthy. And many are unvaccinated.
Infants who die with pertussis.
Teens who die with meningococcemia.
They were all typically healthy – at least they were before they got sick.
And then some of them died.
Of course, vaccine-preventable diseases are not a common way for children to die in developed countries anymore – thanks to vaccines.
Healthy Kids Dying is Not a Vaccine Injury
Again, although no one likes to think about it, healthy kids can just die.
Surprisingly, about 10% of deaths in children over age 12 months are classified as sudden death, including many in healthy kids with no explanations for how they died.
These types of sudden, unexplained deaths are actually the 5th leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 4 years. That adds up to about 400 deaths a year in the United States alone!
Were some of these kids recently vaccinated?
Just like some infants who die of SIDS were recently vaccinated.
That doesn’t mean that the vaccines caused the deaths though.
“Dealing with the sudden, unexpected death of a baby to any cause is devastating – but in the case of a death for which no specific cause can be found, the lack of answers about why your baby has died can be overwhelming.”Surviving the Sudden Death of a Baby
So why do some people blame vaccines?
“The parents’ need to understand why their baby died came across very strongly in most interviews despite parents not being asked specifically about this.”Garstang et al on Parental understanding and self-blame following sudden infant death: a mixed-methods study of bereaved parents’ and professionals’ experiences
Few people like the idea that there isn’t a known reason for why a child died.
“Our results suggest that most parents really want to know why their baby died; not knowing why their baby died may cause further distress to parents, whether this is due to long waits for the results of postmortem examinations or because deaths remain unexplained. An unexplained death by its nature is an unpredictable event rendering the parents powerless to prevent future tragedies, thus increasing the anxiety and grief; having as much information as possible should help parents to emotionally accept and make sense of the death to themselves.”Garstang et al on Parental understanding and self-blame following sudden infant death: a mixed-methods study of bereaved parents’ and professionals’ experiences
Saying it was vaccines gives people an answer.
“The aggregated theme, We Feel Like We’re to Blame, was composed of three categories: (a) Not where s/he was supposed to sleep, (b) Naming the cause of death increases my guilt, and (c) It was our fault. Mothers often felt that they were being told that the baby’s death was their fault.”Stiffler et al on When Baby Stops Breathing: Analysis of Mothers’ Interviews
And in the case of SIDS, especially if the baby was in an unsafe sleeping environment, it is easy to see that blaming vaccines might help those who were made to feel that the death had been their fault, even though bedsharing is widely pushed as a safe alternative to roomsharing in many parenting circles.
“The mothers talked about how difficult it was trying to move on after an unexpected infant death. They expressed that they are not only dealing with the grief of losing a child, but they are dealing with the feelings of guilt, despair, and regret. In this aggregated theme, there were three categories: (a) I can’t talk about it, (b) One step forward, and (c) Support helps me get through.”Stiffler et al on When Baby Stops Breathing: Analysis of Mothers’ Interviews
One thing should be clear.
Seeking support in anti-vaccine Facebook groups is not healthy and will not help parents deal with their feelings of guilt, despair, or regret.
Shaming was described from the mothers’ perspective “ . . . it sounds so blaming and makes me feel like they think we killed our baby.” Parents were dealing with the grief of losing children, but they were also exhibiting feelings of guilt and responsibility for the deaths. The mothers did find support and eventually moved forward emotionally. In the end, as one mother succinctly expressed, “I am pregnant now . . . we are happy, but are scared, too.”Stiffler et al on When Baby Stops Breathing: Analysis of Mothers’ Interviews
These parents instead need support and doctors, nurses, first responders, child protective service workers, and medical examiners that don’t worsen their grief and guilt.
If you need to blame vaccines, then go ahead and do so, but please also get some extra help from the resources below.
And lets work to figure out why these healthy kids are dying, so we can get better at saving them and preventing these deaths.
More on Healthy Kids Can Just Die
- Grief Resources for Parents
- If You’ve Lost a Loved One
- Healing Hearts Resources at Cribs for Kids
- The TEARS Foundation’s Center for Child Loss
- Bereavement Packet from the Compassionate Friends
- Share Support Resources
- Ways to Support a Parent Whose Baby Has Died
- Seeking bereavement counselling after the death of a child: our advice
- Study – When Baby Stops Breathing: Analysis of Mothers’ Interviews
- Study – Observations of paternal response to sudden unanticipated infant death
- Study – Parental understanding and self-blame following sudden infant death: a mixed-methods study of bereaved parents’ and professionals’ experiences
- Study – Nonseizure SUDEP: Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy without preceding epileptic seizures.
- Study – The Sudden Death in the Young Case Registry: Collaborating to Understand and Reduce Mortality
- Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood
- The SUDC Foundation
- The SADS Foundation
- SDY: Sudden Death in the Young
- SUID and SDY Case Registry
- North American SUDEP Registry
- Preventing SUDEP
- Safe sleep for your baby
- Why do seemingly healthy children suddenly die?
- Genetic tests could explain why some children and teens die unexpectedly
- After healthy child, 11, dies in her sleep, here’s what parents need to know
- ‘He was cold as ice’: Hundreds of children die each year with no explanation. Their parents are pushing for answers.
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