The Real Culprit in the Measles Outbreak

Polio. In my mother's generation, everyone knew people who died of polio. My aunt had polio and she walked in a funny way, with a limp, because of the polio. The president of the United States had polio. When the polio vaccine came out, everyone vaccinated their children because no one wanted anyone to get polio. You vaccinated your children to keep them safe, and to keep the country safe. People remembered not only who got polio, but they remembered the line of transmission. Jim had it, and gave it to Joe, and Joe died. They remembered that bad as it was to get one of these diseases, it was worse to get it and pass it on.

I am old enough that the measles vaccine was pretty new when I was a kid, and people still got measles. The shots, which were painful, were accompanied by stories about measles complications. In fact, in 1962, before the vaccine, 1 million people got measles, about 50,000 people required hospitalization from complications from measles, and about 1,000 people died from it.

I remembered these facts when my children were born. I vaccinated them. Yes, for one of them, there was concern about a possible link between autism and the Measles Mumps and Rubella vaccination. The pediatrician suggested I spread out the vaccinations - measles one month, mumps the next month and so on - because no effects had been demonstrated with the single vaccinations. Yes, there was three times as much inconvenience for me, and pain for him, but I remembered the importance of vaccination.

Currently, Zimbabwe has a 99% vaccination rate for measles. Many countries in Africa have better rates than the U.S. I think it is because the parents there remember measles and want a better chance for their children. Parents in the U.S. today, born in the '70s and later, don't remember polio, or measles, or even chicken pox. I think they haven't heard the stories, and don't have the personal memories. Then, the danger of getting or passing on the disease is abstract, and the pain and inconvenience of the shot is real, and they choose not to vaccinate. Perhaps Disneyland 2015 will help parents understand it's important to vaccinate your children. But in addition, let's let the grandparents and great-grandparents share their stories of life and loss before the vaccinations were developed. Let's elevate the importance of keeping ourselves and each other safe through vaccinations as part of our cultural heritage.

Here is a webpage with a history of vaccines. Read it, enjoy it, importantly, share it with the people you love who will one day have children of their own.