If you’re a parent who is still on the fence, trying to decide whether or not to vaccinate your children, I’m going to try to be kind and helpful. Here is a link to a video by a physician and father, Dr. Zubin Damania, with facts that may address some of your fears.
If you’re firmly pro-disease and anti-vaccine, however, I am baffled at your irrationality and frankly enraged by it. I am speaking from the intensely personal point of view of a physician and mother who knows what it’s like to attend the funeral and watch the coffin of her own child being lowered into the ground.
My daughter Alexandra is dead. There is no vaccine that could have saved her. The only thing that could make that enduring grief any worse would be the knowledge that there was a vaccine, and she didn’t get it because of me.
The only bright side to the recent outbreak of measles in the northwestern U.S. is the fact that some parents are finally deciding to protect their children with vaccination, as the New York Times reported today.
I’m old enough to remember the terror that my parents went through every summer as polio epidemics swept the country, and the miracle of standing in line to take the sugar cube with the first oral vaccine in 1961. I have two dear friends who are paraplegic as the result of childhood polio, and you don’t want to have the anti-vaccine conversation with them, I promise you.
Every single one of us has a duty to the cause of public health to be vaccinated ourselves, and a duty to our children to make sure that they are vaccinated on schedule. Yes, I understand that in rare cases the flu vaccine can result in Guillain-Barre syndrome, but I still get the shot every year. It’s my duty to protect my patients, my husband, my children, and my grandchildren from being exposed to the flu, which could happen in the early stage before I might even realize that I was getting sick.
Our duty — all of us, as human beings in a civilized society — is to make sure that we and our children are immune to measles, chickenpox, whooping cough, and other infectious diseases so we can protect those who can’t be vaccinated due to real medical problems. We are the herd that has to take responsibility for herd immunity.
It’s particularly mind-bending to see that some parents think diseases like measles and chickenpox are benign. For every 1000 children who catch measles, one to three will develop encephalitis. Of those, 10 to 15 percent will die, and many more will have permanent neurologic damage. Chickenpox too can lead to encephalitis, and the blisters can get infected and cause full-blown sepsis or pneumonia.
The death of Olivia Dahl
Have you read any of Roald Dahl’s books to your children, and watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach with them? Did you know that his seven-year-old daughter Olivia died of measles encephalitis in 1962, before the MMR vaccine was available? Here is what Mr. Dahl wrote:
As the illness took its usual course, I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of colored pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours, she was dead.
For the rest of his life, Mr. Dahl pleaded with parents to vaccinate their children. Even today, there is little that can be done to save a child who develops measles encephalitis. What we can do is prevent it by vaccinating.
I would never wish for any parent, no matter how irresponsible and irrational the pro-disease advocates are, to suffer the relentless and indescribable grief of their child’s death. In centuries past, parents frequently lost more than one child, but the fact that children’s deaths were common didn’t lessen the pain. If you don’t believe me, read this:
There’s a narrow ridge in the graveyard
Would scarce stay a child in his race,
But to me and my thought it is wider
Than the star-sown vague of Space.
Your logic, my friend, is perfect,
Your moral most drearily true;
But, since the earth clashed on her coffin,
I keep hearing that, and not you.
Console if you will, I can bear it;
’T is a well-meant alms of breath;
But not all the preaching since Adam
Has made Death other than Death.
It is pagan; but wait till you feel it,—
That jar of our earth, that dull shock
When the ploughshare of deeper passion
Tears down to our primitive rock.
Communion in spirit! Forgive me,
But I, who am earthly and weak,
Would give all my incomes from dream-land
For a touch of her hand on my cheek.
That little shoe in the corner,
So worn and wrinkled and brown,
With its emptiness confutes you,
And argues your wisdom down.
That poem, “After the Burial,“ was written by American poet James Russell Lowell, who suffered the loss of three of his four children in the mid-nineteenth century. He hit the mark. So did Ben Jonson, writing about the death of his first daughter in 1593.
I will never write as eloquently as they have. So here’s the bottom line. Get a grip. Vaccinate your kids.
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