The secret about vaccines is that they work — and people who skip them are putting themselves and others at risk for easily preventable illnesses. Kristen O'Meara, a mom of three, learned that the hard way.
The Chicago-area teacher was "pretty convinced" by things she saw on the internet about vaccines being bad, so she decided not to vaccinate her three young kids, O'Meara said in an interview with ABC News that aired on Good Morning America Monday.
O'Meara's attitude changed, however, when all three of her daughters came down with rotavirus, a virus that can cause stomach pain and severe diarrhea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that babies get the rotavirus vaccine in two or three doses, starting at around two months old.
According to the CDC, before the rotavirus vaccine was available, an estimated 55,000 to 70,000 young children had to be hospitalized each year because of the virus, and 20 to 60 of them died annually from the illness. But now, the CDC says, "almost all babies who get rotavirus vaccine will be protected from severe rotavirus diarrhea."
O'Meara explained that seeing her children fall ill with a virus she could have prevented made her take back her anti-vaxxer beliefs. "It was awful and it didn't have to happen because I could have had them vaccinated," she told ABC News. "I felt guilty. I felt really guilty."
In a piece O'Meara wrote for the New York Post, she said she watched as her children "screamed out in unison as agonizing cramps raged through their tiny stomachs."
"The guilt was overwhelming," she added. "But I thanked my lucky stars that they were neither newborn babies nor medically fragile, the type of children rotavirus can snatch from this world in a heartbeat."
O'Meara said that she "purposely" sought out anti-vaccine information — which isn't hard to find. But much of the fear surrounding vaccines dates back to a since-retracted and widely discredited paper that claimed a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism in children.
Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe, some parents refuse them, like O'Meara had — thereby putting their own children at risk and compromising the "herd immunity" that keeps the most vulnerable people, like newborns and the elderly, safe from illnesses that could be fatal.
After O'Meara's experience with rotavirus, she completely changed her tune and brought all three of her kids up to date on their vaccinations. Now she's telling her story in hopes it will encourage more parents to vaccinate.
"I'm here because I wanted to share my personal story," she told ABC News. "And if it does help someone change their mind, then that's great."