I wept at the end of the movie I watched last night, The Imitation Game. The reason really was this: it reminded me how we’re just so terrible to each other at times. How much suffering occurs when we don’t think things through. The movie wasn’t about measles or vaccination, but injustices in it pushed me to leave my Sunday morning with my children to share this:
My patience with vaccine hesitancy has pivoted. I’m embarrassed to say it took an outbreak of measles stemming at Disney to move me from impatient and passionate to hands-on-my-hips fired-up and disappointed. Today I feel a bit of outrage that unvaccinated families are not pounding on the door to get their MMR vaccine, even on Superbowl Sunday. In my mind they should be doing so selfishly (for personal protection) and they should be doing so altruistically (for others who really count on them). I expect both from the public.
Read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl’s 1988 message about his daughter’s death from measles — insane that it rings true today.
I feel somewhat enraged that many parents with babies in the United States are nervous right now about their infants getting measles. The chance is small but it shouldn’t even be a chance when there is a vaccine that is nearly 100% protective for those milling around these delicious babies. I’m angry because a friend of mine has a child who got measles when she was too young to be immunized. I’m enraged that children who fulfill their “Make A Wish” trip to Disneyland — after a liver transplant or after chemotherapy or after a tumor is cut out of their bone — must feel a little shaky making the choice to go there now. Can you imagine getting a short straw like a liver that didn’t work like it should or a childhood cancer diagnosis and then getting another one (increased measles risk) just when you’re elevated to celebrate your life?
I’m angry at myself for not being a good enough communicator to sometimes sway a nervous or distrusting parent into believing in the promise of the MMR shot. I’m angry because I’ve remained calm at moments when I maybe shouldn’t have. Right now I’m recalling a mother who laughed at me, at my intensity for wanting to protect her child with the MMR vaccine, in a visit a couple years ago. I should be better than this as a pediatrician, mother, advocate, writer, and spokesperson. All this reach and potentially no good?
I’ve been here (right here) for over five years writing about the opportunity of vaccines, the science that is on their side, and the rich potential of prevention. I’ve discussed the rare side effects to the remarkable MMR vaccine. I’ve detailed different small outbreaks and the confidence those of us who are immunized can feel traveling and going to school and having playdates even when outbreaks pop-up. I even entitled a chapter in my book, “Measles In America.”
There’s simply no reason for measles outbreaks in 2015. The hysterics around misinformation and “liberty” and righteousness about expertise misplaced have no place right now. The science and morality is clear here: measles was once declared done in the United States (year 2000) and now because people went against scientific and medical advice, it’s returning. Unvaccinated pockets have grown. Consequently babies, unvaccinated or vulnerable children, teens and adults are getting an infection they never needed to have. Rarely, vaccinated individuals who didn’t respond to their shot are getting measles, too.
I’m so pleased with the density of press entrenched in the measles issue this week. I’ve done numerous interviews about measles where I detailed the numbers, the risk, the MMR shot’s profound success. I see a new measles article every few hours in my social channels. I’m not including the data about the outbreak here because I think most of you know it (please ask for info, I’ll happily respond in comments with data & links). My email inbox is full of content on the outbreak, physician list-serves are jam packed with pediatrician dialogue about how to avoid missing a measles diagnoses in the office, how not to confuse it for adenovirus, and opinions/questions regarding the challenges and fears we have for our patients that may not be protected.
Thank goodness I can report I have still never seen measles in practice. I will be so overwhelmingly sad if I do. In fact I’ll tell you now that if I ever do see measles I’ll weep at the bedside or in the exam room after I care for that child or family.
Unvaccinated pockets of well people are just another example that as a culture we’re just not good to each other. We’re just not as good as we can be.
In the past year we have seen countless examples of thoughtless mistreatment of our fellow humans, both in the U.S. and abroad. Vaccines represent a chance to do the right thing, to protect ourselves, our children, and our at times vulnerable communities
A major U.S. newspaper (I refuse to link to it) published a piece earlier this week highlighting the attention a vaccine-antagoinst-pseudoscience-doctor was getting for his counter-current ideas about shots amid the outbreak. The minute they hit publish, his attention skyrocketed. We live in this world where I wrote about the Injustice of Immunization Interviews by the news media way back in 2011; little has changed.
After I sent a tweet yesterday that I was thinking of writing a post on measles a physician colleague replied, “Stand up.” It was retweeted numerous times. This is my attempt to stand unlike before and let you know I’m still in it for passion and clarity, compassion for those who distrust, but there’s new fuel to my intensity.