I am troubled by the growing sentiment in the US against having children vaccinated. There are some who believe that vaccinations are linked with autism. I don’t find the evidence of this convincing myself, but even if such a belief were true, several experiences lead me to conclude that a small number of autistic children is far preferable to a large number of dead children.
I was born in 1945. From early childhood, the specter of polio hung over me and my friends. We all knew someone who’d been paralyzed by the disease, someone who’d spent his or her childhood encased in the metal braces that allowed them some mobility. We knew too that the disease could strike at any time—and we knew fear. The creation of the polio vaccine was a life-saver, and we appreciated it wholeheartedly.
In 1979, I lived for a year in a village in Indonesia. During the second month I was there, 9 children (in a population of 1000 people) died of measles. I had been dangerously ill myself with measles, but had not encountered death from the disease until that time. It was with shock and dismay that I realized that it could also be a killer.
After that, I went back to school to study public health. I studied epidemiology and learned about the importance of reducing the number of people—by vaccination—who are subject to infection, and the role of such reduction in eliminating or controlling the disease. The fewer people subject to infection (due to vaccination), the fewer sources of it circulating among the population and the fewer people who therefore get the disease.
I read today—in an article on the desperate situation in NE Nigeria—that measles is the most contagious disease on earth. Efforts to vaccinate the population there have been seriously hindered by the war-like actions of Boko Haram. Children in the Northeast are dying in great numbers from diseases for which vaccinations exist but against which they have not been vaccinated.
Why would we want to expose our own children to all the deadly diseases we know how to prevent through vaccination? It simply makes no sense. Perhaps people don’t realize that their children can die from such diseases. If that is true, it is incumbent upon us to educate them! If you love your own children, vaccinate them. If you care about the well being (and lives) of other children in your community, encourage others to vaccinate their children. Help keep down the number of potential carriers of these dread diseases.