When I was a kid, the first ‘blockbuster’ line I ever saw was not at a movie theater. It was at my school. The line stretched from my school gym, past the office, down the primary hallway, made a turn at the music room, went down that hall and out the door. Once the line was outside it went down the sidewalk to the parking lot where it turned again to head down the drop off area and end at the school driveway. It was very impressive to nine year old me, but also very confusing as all these people were lined up to get a shot. The MMR vaccine had just been released to the general public (instead of just children and those at highest risk) and so many people wanted to protect themselves that hospital and doctor’s offices couldn’t handle the demand. So they set up immunization clinics at schools and people literally waited hours in long lines to take advantage of the availability. It was important. Being a shot avoidant nine year old, I didn’t understand that but my mother explained it to me.
I was not simply shot avoidant as most nine year olds are. I had actually been in treatment for 27 months for kidney disease. I had been hospitalized for the greater part of two months while they figured out what was wrong with me and then transferred me for treatment. I celebrated my sixth birthday in the Cleveland Clinic unable to get out of bed. They did bring me some cake in between blood draws. It didn’t stay down. My medication made me too nauseous. The ultimate result of all this (in addition to my remission) was a severe needle avoidance (which I still have) and a compromised immune system. We were told that any disease severe enough could cause a relapse and necessitate a repeat of the treatment. I was not allowed to get immunizations as injecting a disease directly into my system was considered too dangerous for me. After the age of five I had no immunizations. Fortunately for me everyone else did. As evidenced by the turn out at my school, with a great deal of enthusiasm. In addition to protecting their own health, they protected mine.
I am confident in saying that the anti vaccine movement would make no sense to any of the people who stood in line for the better part of a day at my elementary school. The idea that vaccines are some sort of health risk or a plot by pharmaceutical companies would seem absurd, because of course it is. Vaccines are the single largest contributing factor to the lowering of childhood mortality in the world. Nations that introduce vaccines, especially the MMR vaccine, show an 80% drop in childhood deaths over 10 years. Children are healthier when they are vaccinated. Their immune systems are stronger and they are better able to fight off other less severe illnesses. A recent study has posited this and new studies on larger scales are being created to verify the results. Unlike the study that posited that immunizations cause autism which was disproved repeatedly and caused the doctor who publicized it to lose his license to practice medicine. As for the notion that vaccines are a money making conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies, it is a fact that they make more money treating diseases than preventing them.
Case in point:
Last month Oregon saw it’s first case of juvenile tetanus in decades. An unvaccinated child cut himself while playing, got infected, and was rushed to the hospital where he was given a tetanus shot and began treatment. Tetanus is now so rare that his care givers had never seen the disease outside of a textbook. He spent 57 days in medical care which cost approximately $800,000. A tetanus shot costs $55 – $65 at full price and is often free with insurance or at immunization clinics. It is not hard to determine which option is more profitable for the drug companies.
In spite of all of this, more and more parents are refusing to vaccinate their children in spite of all the scientific evidence that it is in the children’s best interest. They endanger not only their own children, but infants who can’t be vaccinated, the elderly, cancer patients, and children like I was who are immune compromised. There are measles outbreaks in fifteen states, almost of third of the cases are an hour from where I live in the major city where I go to Costco, get my dog groomed, and do my specialty shopping. That means I am likely to be exposed any time I go do my errands. Fortunately for me, I am now safe.
Two years ago, my doctor and I had a long conversation where we decided that it was time for me to get immunized again. Based on my overall health and the rising prevalence of anti-vaccine parents he decided that the risk of a disease flare was dramatically less than the real risk of contracting measles. Let me be clear. My doctor believed that risking a life threatening complication to a vaccine was safer for me than walking around unvaccinated in the current climate. I was monitored and I am fine, but the whole thing is troubling.
If you are a Disney fan who visits Disney Parks, get vaccinated if you aren’t already. The parks see outbreaks of disease including measles on a regular basis. Keep yourself and those around you safe. It’s easy and fairly inexpensive. If you are not vaccinated, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing that I can say that will change your mind. No study, no proof, no reasonable explanation will work.
How do I know this?
Remember the anti-vaccine family from earlier whose son spent 57 days hospitalized for tetanus? When the doctors were preparing him for release, they asked the family if they would like the second dose of the tetanus immunization so their son would never contract it again.