Measles: A Battle of Love and Fear

Who would willingly subject their own kid, or an infant who becomes exposed, to the same fate as this little guy suffering through measles? Credit: CDC

 

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks going berserk  raging marveling at how our first-world public health accomplishments could spiral so horribly out of control with recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough, dangerous diseases that were nearly eradicated for at least a generation due to high vaccination rates and the ensuing herd immunity. Even a couple of my coolest, smartest friends somewhere along the way read something or heard something that causes them to doubt the safety of vaccines. People believe what they want to believe. But last week, when my daughter’s preschool had a measles scare, the threat became very personal. Even though Grace is fully vaccinated, my mind reeled at the thought of what a school closure or quarantine might mean for all the school’s families, not to mention the suffering of one or more exposed children because somebody along the way chose not to vaccinate their own. (Fortunately, the child in question did not have measles.)

Today I posted a two-part story on Forbes.com: The first is how much measles costs (answer: up to $142,000 for a single case) and the other is how even highly educated, affluent parents don’t understand vaccine information they’re sifting through on the internet.

I know everyone loves their kids, and what we do for them (or don’t do, in the case of not immunizing), is because on some subterranean level, we’re scared every second of every day, and all the spaces in between the seconds, that something bad will happen to them. Anti-vaccers have the belief, which is not supported by any science, that vaccines are more harmful than the diseases against which they protect. I spoke with the exceptionally smart Dr. Courtney Gidengil, MD, at the RAND Corporation, an expert on pediatric infectious diseases, and she told me that studies show the course NOT to do something seems less harmful than DOING something, such as giving a vaccine, when parents are scared or confused.

Doing my research, I felt a lot of anger and disbelief that people would willingly risk the lives of babies and those who medically can’t tolerate vaccines because they have a “feeling” that vaccines are toxic. A 2014 vaccine safety study in Pediatrics reported a few adverse affects with vaccines, notably, ferbile seizures. My blood ran cold when I read this, because I’m not sure the anti-vaccers are aware of this. It seems like such a dangerous simplicity: “Fortunately, the adverse events identified by the authors were rare and in most cases would be expected to resolve completely after the acute event. This contrasts starkly with the natural infections that vaccines are designed to prevent, which may reduce the quality of life through permanent morbidities, such as blindness, deafness, developmental delay, epilepsy, or paralysis and may also result in death,” the report states.

Anyway, these stories are packed with science and lead directly to the reports and abstracts, which I hope you can use to show your friends–or make yourself less afraid.

Vanessa McGradyMeasles: A Battle of Love and Fear

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