This morning a friend sent me a link to a blog with a piece about a doctor remembering a 1-year-old he’d seen who had died of measles 25 years ago because his aunt and mother didn’t believe in vaccines. The memory and piece were prompted by the recent news about the outbreak of measles connected to visitors at Disneyland.
The year was 1990, the peak of the last epidemic of measles in the United States. It was a year of frustration for doctors as we were forced to deal with a disease that was close to disappearing just a few years earlier. Prior to the development of the measles vaccine, measles was an incredibly contagious scourge. The numbers from the late 1950’s are staggering. It is estimated that there were nearly 4 million cases a year, only a fraction of which were reported to health officials. The yearly averages were frightening, 150,000 pneumonia like complications, 48,000 hospitalizations, 4000 devastating brain infections and 450 deaths. Measles was a disease as unavoidable as it was harmful. Over 90% of the population was believed to be exposed in their lifetimes.
Dr. Barrett goes on to say,
In 1988 the story was different. Cases were rare with the majority of cases occurring in non-immunized immigrants. Measles cases were estimated to be fewer than 10,000 a year. There was talk that we might accomplish with measles what had been miraculously accomplished with smallpox, complete eradication of the disease. Then something happened. From 1989-1991 measles made a comeback. The boy I saw die was one of 55,000 cases and 123 deaths during that time.
Sources to those staggering numbers are listed at the bottom of Dr. Barrett’s piece, for your review. Be sure to check out the map of cases of preventable diseases around the world. There is absolutely no doubt that the anti-vaccine movement has hurt us as a society, both in lives lost and in focus and resources we could be using to deal with other world problems. Racism. Inadequate healthcare. Girl brides. Clean water. Human trafficking. Just to name a very few.
Just as much as I believe my kids should be safe to go to Disneyland and not be at risk to catch a completely preventable disease the medical establishment has successfully worked against for years, I believe that black boys should be able to walk to the store in a hoodie without getting killed. Just as I believe we all should have access to affordable healthcare and fresh food, I believe that young girls shouldn’t be traded by their families for money or live stock to marry at 10 years of age.
I know as people, we come to our lives with our own issues, our own priorities, our own value system, I do. It’s why I have friends who spend a great deal of their time fighting other injustices besides those against people with disabilities like I do, but we still stand united in what is right and just and fair, because we’re a people first. As a society, we owe it to each other to want what’s best for everyone, not just us as individuals, or even us as families. I want people who are immune suppressed, like my kids, to be safe. My kids have spent the better part of their young lives fighting against a disease that can kill them for any number of reasons. Just. Like. That. Just one interaction with one contagious individual can put them in the hospital for a couple of weeks at best and yes, easily cause their deaths, as worst.
I know people have the right to raise their kids as they see fit, I do. Where do we draw the line though at a responsibility to each other? You don’t want to vaccinate? Fine. Don’t hang out in public places, ever. I’m guessing you’ll say, “Not fair!” But I can live with that and sleep well at night. Because I am sure that I don’t want myself or anyone for that matter, to be yelling those words over their dead child because of something absolutely preventable and under society’s control.
I’ll do my part. I am doing my part. Horrific things happen when we’re only looking out for ourselves. All we have to do is look at history.
I won’t get into debates about the falsified Wakefield study, I don’t care why you don’t vaccinate, today I just care that you don’t. I also have a very hard time speaking rationally to anyone who gets their medical advice and research findings from a “celebrity,” so I won’t even try it. — Julia
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