When you have the time, you should listen to last week’s This American Life; it deals with an outbreak of measles among a group of children in San Diego, brought on by parents who refused to vaccinate their children. Here’s a quick summary:
Measles cases are higher in the U.S. than they’ve been in a decade, mostly because more and more nervous parents are refusing to vaccinate their kids. Contributing Editor Susan Burton tells the story of what happened recently in San Diego, when an unvaccinated 7-year-old boy returned home from a trip to Switzerland, bringing with him the measles. By the end of the ordeal, 11 other children caught the disease, and more than 60 kids had to be quarantined.
I have nothing but complete disdain for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, and selfishly count on “herd immunity” to protect their precious snowflake from sickness and ill health. For one reason or another, they don’t seem to understand that they are putting their children and others children at risk for really terrible diseases. Measles for instance, can cause temperatures as high as 107 degrees, which can put a child at risk for serious brain damage.
Contrary to what some parents apparently think, this isn’t a “private” concern, it is very much an issue of public health; once a sufficient number of children have not vaccinated, the chances of epidemic disease spread (and claiming lives) jumps dramatically. Unfortunately, there are growing numbers of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. In Ashland, Oregon (a small town of about 21,000) for example, almost one-third of children have not been vaccinated.
Although a good deal of this is driven by misplaced fears and misinformation, I think most of the blame, ironically, should go to modern medicine and public health. That is, there are probably very few people alive in the Western world who remember epidemic diseases like polio, measles and mumps, and the terrible damage they caused. I’m sure hardly any of these parents realize that the only reason why they aren’t terrified that little Johnny will get polio, is because mass vaccination has nearly eliminated the disease. And it’s precisely because there is no historical memory of mass outbreaks that some parents can forego vaccination for their children. If and when there is a mass outbreak of some preventable disease, and children die, those parents will sing a different tune.