Last week, Stephanie Morris, a nurse in the intensive care unit, stopped me. In the hospital, Stephanie cares for the sickest of sick patients, but at home she cares for her two children, ages 8 months and 2 years. And with the outbreak of measles, she is concerned about the younger, who has not yet received his first shot of the measles vaccine, which is due on his first birthday.
She is not alone.
At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, doctors, parents and caretakers are concerned for hundreds of children with fragile immune systems who are teetering on the edge of life. And because of their cancer and chemotherapy, the children cannot receive the measles vaccine. Even the slightest exposure to the measles virus would most certainly result in severe illness and complications of pneumonia or inflammation of the brain or even death.
A child who is not immunized is 35 times more likely to get measles when exposed to the virus than one who is immunized. The child with measles has a 1-in-4 chance of getting pneumonia, and a 1-in-1,000 chance of dying.
But we can protect them — through “herd immunity.”
Herd immunity is achieved when a sufficient percentage of the population, 95 to 99 percent in the case of measles, receives the vaccine so an isolated case does not result in a community outbreak. The chain of transmission is broken with just one or few cases.
So why do parents not get their children vaccinated?
In part it is misguided fear. In 1998, a British doctor published a fraudulent study on the risk of autism increasing after a child receives the measles vaccine. The study was redacted, and the doctor lost his medical license. Yet the myth continues to feed fear.
The results are real.
In the United States, for 1-year-olds, we have a measles vaccination rate of 91 percent. That’s nothing to be proud of. Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, as well as Libya and Zimbabwe — 113 countries in all — have higher measles immunization rates than the United States.
Just as there is herd immunity, there is herd ignorance. Leading the pack are a few politicians, who should know better. In particular, former presidential candidates Dr. Ben Carson and Dr. Rand Paul, as medical professionals, should reconsider their comments about vaccines.
I think it would be malpractice if Paul were to reiterate his comments in a room with parents of 1-year-olds. “Many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines … .” he remarked.
In part, the media is also to blame. In its effort to be “balanced,” it gives two sides of the debate. There is no debate about the benefits of vaccination and the lives it saves. There is no link between autism and vaccination.
For the record (and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3 million to 4 million people got measles each year. Of those people, 400 to 500 died, and 48,000 were hospitalized. Now with vaccination there are just a few hundred cases each year and virtually no deaths from measles in the United States.
We cannot let our progress erode; otherwise we will see more outbreaks like this in Memphis. Not having your child vaccinated for measles is irresponsible.
There comes a point when a choice becomes a duty and an obligation. Those who refuse to vaccinate their children pose a danger to others. If their child becomes infected with measles, he or she becomes a reservoir and carrier of the disease, exposing vulnerable children such as Stephanie Morris’s baby and the children at St. Jude.
Source: Commercial Appeal