It’s being called the worst outbreak of the measles in 20 years. Cases of a disease once thought to be nearly eradicated in the United States have sprouted up in more than a dozen states, including New York.
Because of a small but growing group of American parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against life-threatening diseases. Their reasons are varied, but hardly solid. Many cite a small study – long since debunked by scientists and retracted by the medical journal that first printed it – that claims to link the MMR vaccine, the one that protects kids from the measles, to autism. They pull up articles on the Internet making nebulous claims with 0 links to anything resembling actual science. They quote celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, a mother of a child who may or may not have had autism, who has earned zero medical degrees but appeared in Playboy several times.
Others claim that disease like measles, which kill one to two out of every 1,000 kids is somehow “good” for kids to get because it’s “natural.” And then there’s the age-old, “well, we survived, so how can it be that bad?” Of course those who did not survive aren’t around to speak up and refute them, in much the same way that kids who died while riding in the back of a pickup truck aren’t around to raise their hands and scream, “we didn’t all survive!”
Of course, the irony is that these vaccines wouldn’t exist in the first place if there wasn’t danger in getting the disease. We don’t have vaccines for paper cuts or the common cold because you aren’t likely to die from them.
More ironic, still? Here in America there are parents fighting not to protect their kids from deadly diseases while in other countries, mothers would do anything to access the very vaccines we’re lucky enough to take for granted.
According to statistics compiled by Shot @ Life, the vaccination arm of UNICEF, 1.5 million children in developing countries die each year of a preventable disease like pneumonia, diarrhea, polio and — you guessed it — measles. Scarier still? One in five kids in developing countries doesn’t get vaccinated — because of access (or lack therof) to immunizations.
And then there’s this statistic, also from Shot @ Life: one child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine.
That’s more than 4,300 children dying every day.
That’s more than 4,300 mothers burying their babies every day.
They don’t have the luxury of a herd immunity – wherein so many people are vaccinated that few are susceptible to acquiring and then spreading a disease. Their babies get sick and die because 20 percent of kids don’t have vaccines. Twenty percent of the kids can get – and spread – fatal illnesses. And those who don’t die? They face life-altering complications.
Measles, for one, will cause an ear infection in 1 out of every 10 kids which may result in life-long hearing loss. One child out of every 1,000 with the measles will develop encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, deafness, and mental retardation.
How lucky are we here in America not to be where those mothers are? Life-saving vaccines are readily available everywhere. In some places you can get them at your corner pharmacy. In most places – including right here in our neck of the woods – there are free and reduced cost options to ensure that kids don’t have to go without simply because they were born into poverty.
It comes down to one thing: privilege.
How privileged are we here in America?
So privileged that there are parents who scoff in the face of danger. So privileged that parents put their own children’s lives on the line based on little more than some celebrity’s talking nonsense and ill-researched blog posts circulating around the Internet.
I can only wonder what the mother who just lost her child because she couldn’t get a vaccine would say to them.
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Image via Blake Paterson/Flickr