Have you ever sat down with your grandparents and asked about what their life was like? Their childhood? Isn’t it fascinating to imagine growing up with no TV or microwaves or washing machines, or even a car? Yet this was the reality for the oldest generation in America. They can tell us captivating stories of walking five miles to school, having to join the work force as elementary school aged children, and listening to the roar of the crowd on the radio as Babe Ruth hit home run after home run for the Yankees.
But you know what else our grandparents can tell us about? They can tell about when their best friend contracted polio and suffered muscle spasms and subsequent meningitis as a result. Or when their baby sister died from whooping cough.
They can tell us about children, who looked just like ours, but who lived their short lives in the hospital, quarantined behind a plastic sheet, unable to be hugged or kissed or played with.
They can tell us about the rash and red eyes and fever and the panic as parents realized their child had the measles or the mumps.
And they can probably tell us about how joyous they were upon realizing successful vaccines were developed so their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would now be safe from these horrifying, often-life-threatening diseases that stole far too many childhoods in their lifetime.
Yet, here we are. Despite the complete eradication of so many highly contagious and infectious diseases in this very modern nation of ours, we have a governor declaring a public health emergency due to a measles outbreak in Washington.
The measles was basically gone, people. Gone. After the measles vaccine was first introduced in the 1960s, it took about 40 years of wide-spread use to nearly eliminate it from our country. Until now.
Now, in 2019, a disease that was a thing of the past, an old horror story, a sickness that can cause pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness, and even death, is back.
Is it because the vaccine is no longer available? Or is only available in limited quantities? Or is not covered by most insurance plans?
No. Any child in the United States has access to all vaccines that prevent potentially fatal illnesses. All they have to do is visit their local pediatrician or health clinic. Except many parents in the 21st century, a large number of whom live in the Pacific Northwest, are opting out of vaccines. And because of that choice, which is made possible by Washington and Oregon’s lax vaccine laws, 7.9% of children entering kindergarten in Clark County, WA (which borders Portland) had been given exemptions from vaccines.
7.9%. That may not seem like a huge number. But when the national average is 2%, it is actually a huge number. And when the epidemic involves such an extremely contagious disease—one that can be passed via droplets in the air left hours before by an infected person, it is a number that can cause widespread outbreaks.
According to a report on Clark County’s government website, people in the area who were infected with the virus “had visited public places including health care facilities, schools, and churches, as well as Ikea and Dollar Tree — potentially spreading measles to others.”
Here’s the thing, folks. Vaccines like the one that eradicated the measles decades ago work because of herd immunity. A Vox article reporting on this public health crisis explains that “in order for any vaccine to be effective, you need to have a certain (high) percentage of people in a population immunized. Herd immunity keeps diseases from spreading through populations very easily, and keeps vulnerable groups who can’t be vaccinated (such as very young babies or people with allergies to vaccines) protected.”
Herd immunity and vaccinations are what, according to the CDC, have saved over 20 million lives from 2000 to 2016. TWENTY MILLION LIVES. Because of the measles vaccine, the death toll has decreased globally by 84%.
So what exactly is happening in the Pacific Northwest? Well, people who aren’t immunized for whatever reason—personal choice, medical reasons, etc. are getting sick. And, consequently, babies who aren’t old enough to be fully protected yet are also getting sick.
Sadly, until people collectively agree to adhere to scientific facts and have their children (and themselves) fully vaccinated, and this disease is eradicated AGAIN, there’s no way a parent can guarantee full protection for their baby. But Dr. Dawn Nolt, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases School of Medicine of Portland, OR, does make the following recommendations:
– Make sure family and friends are vaccinated
– Stay away from unvaccinated people
– Stay away from areas that may have been exposed to the measles virus
– Breastfeed to pass on the mother’s antibodies to the infant
And as much as this list helps, what about mothers like me who had three little kids and a husband who traveled every week? Who spent the first few years of motherhood dragging all her babies (sometimes before they were fully vaccinated) to and from the grocery store, preschool, playdates, birthday parties, etc?
Or, what about mothers who cannot breastfeed? Or who have a child with a medical condition that legitimately prevents them from being vaccinated?
Is this really what we’ve returned to, in 2019?
Yes, in fact, we have. And people, it’s only going to get worse unless this anti-vax movement changes its naive, uneducated mindset. Vaccines are safe, and they are effective. But don’t take my word for it — the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization, and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (just to name a few) all say so.
Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do until laws change and more people start believing peer-reviewed medical science over whatever they read in their Facebook groups or hear from a celebrity or their friend Brenda at the coffee shop down the street.
The least we can do is educate ourselves on proper and safe protocol in handling this outbreak.
For one, it’s crucial that we know the symptoms of the measles, which include “a high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed by a rash that usually begins at the head and spreads to the rest of the body,” according to Clark County’s government website. Also, it’s important to know that “a person can spread the virus before they show symptoms. People are contagious with measles for up to four days before and up to four days after the rash appears.” And, finally, “After someone is exposed to measles, illness develops in about one to three weeks.”
Equally, if not more important, if you think you may have contracted the measles, Clark County implores you to “call your health care provider before visiting the medical office. This will enable the clinic to develop a plan for providing care without exposing others at the clinic.”
See how serious this is, people? You cannot just waltz up to your local walk-in clinic like you have a sinus infection once you have symptoms of the measles. This is a big deal. People could die—innocent children could die—if we don’t get this under control.
Finally, I implore you to get your family vaccinated. Believe scientific facts. Innocent lives are depending on us.