Monday, February 16, 2015

Measles: What Else is There to Say?

I have been trying not to get into the vaccine debate, mainly because I have friends who choose not to vaccinate their children, and whether I agree with them or not, I do respect and love them.

This used to be the only protection against measles.
I'm still hesitant to post this: I mean, there's already enough blogs on the subject, aren't there? Why should I post this and risk further alienating those who disagree with me? (I say further, because for the first time tonight I did speak up on a friend's post, and I was torn about whether to do that or not, too.) What more can I possibly add to the ever-mounting din of measles and vaccination debate?

Not much, I suppose. Except this.

I suspect most parents my age or younger have no real concept of measles. The first measles vaccines were around in the 1960s. In 2000, the year before my oldest child was born, measles was essentially eradicated in North America. Most of us have never seen a person with measles. Up until the glut of news coverage lately, I would imagine that most of us thought of measles as similar to chicken pox: a fever, some spots... just another childhood disease to check off the list in the baby book.

But it's not. Yes, it was once a common childhood disease that almost everyone got. But it was also the most lethal one. In the years leading up to the 1963 introduction of the measles vaccine nearly everyone got measles at one time in their life. According to the CDC, 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 people were infected each year, and approximately 400-500 of those would die. Another 4,000 were affected by encephalitis (swelling of the brain that could lead to permanent mental impairment.)

And it nearly killed me.

I was 11 months old, according to my mom (I obviously don't remember the details) and too young to be vaccinated. Mom says she's put a lot of the details out of her mind, which is understandable, I think, but basically she just remembers giving me alcohol baths, and praying that my fever would come down, because there really wasn't anything else she could do.

I can't imagine going through that with one of my children. I went through a life-threatening illness with my husband last year, and that was one of the most traumatic things I've been through in my entire life. If it had been one of my children, I don't know how I would have coped.
Roald Dahl dedicated his book, "The BFG" to his daughter, Olivia,
who died at the age of 7, after complications from measles.

The mistrust I see in my generation - of the political system, of capitalism (or socialism, in some cases), of "Big Pharma" - it's a systemic problem that isn't going to be cured overnight. There's no vaccine for it. This measles outbreak may convince a few anti-vax parents to vaccinate, but most of them, like my friends, will just dig their heels in even further. They will be even more convinced of the conspiracy behind vaccination. It won't matter to them that their children are more likely to be killed in a shark attack than they are to be injured by a vaccine. They are more likely to be struck by lightning.

It's true: you don't know that your child won't be the 1 in 10,000,000 to die from a vaccine complication. You also don't know that they won't have a reaction to peanuts, or eggs, or Tylenol, or any other number of things.

No matter how much we want to, we can't protect our children from everything.

You know what we can protect them from?


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