The recent measles outbreak at Disneyland reminds me of an incident that happened when I was younger. I was in my late twenties, and working as a secretary for the Ohio Department of Education. I was married and expecting a baby. I had been married for almost ten years, and the baby was highly anticipated and planned. I was in my first trimester and following the doctor’s dietary restrictions closely. I was also taking prenatal vitamins and going to the ob-gyn on a regular basis. So when my boss called me into his office with a grave face I wasn’t prepared for what he was about to tell me.
“Carol has the measles,” he said. “Her children all had the measles and now they have scarlet fever.”
Carol was a single mother who worked in our office. She was on public assistance because the father of her children had abandoned the family both physically and monetarily. I felt bad for her, but at that moment her actions or rather inactions were sinking into my brain.
“You’re kidding,” I said. I stared at my boss. My mind started whirling.
I had pointed out to Carol in previous conversations that the State Health Department gave free vaccinations for the measles, mumps, and rubella commonly called a MMR vaccination. They also gave the DPT shot to prevent Diphtheria Tetanus and Pertussis. I had a cousin that had five children and poor health insurance, and he had mentioned that he had marched all five of his children down to the Health Department to get vaccinated free of charge. Carol’s response to my advice was to shrug and say, “So, they’ll get the measles or whooping cough. Big deal.”
My boss held his hands out in supplication. “I suggest that you go back to your desk and make an appointment with your doctor immediately,” he said.
“I’ve never had the three day measles,” I said, after searching my memory. I’d had chicken pox, the ten day measles, and whooping cough. I’d almost died from whooping cough. But I had never had the common measles.
My boss looked sympathetic. His wife had recently lost triplets so he had an idea of what I could potentially go through.
A visit to my doctor the next day confirmed what I suspected.
“Even though you’ve been vaccinated you could still get the measles. We don’t really know how long the vaccination lasts. If you get the measles,” he said, “we’ll have to abort the baby. It almost certainly won’t be normal. You’re young. You should be able to have another child,” he said, patting my hand.
But the doctor didn’t understand something. I’d had a bad childhood, and it had taken me several years to decide to have a child at all. If I had to abort my baby, I didn’t know if I could get over the loss. The doctor sent me home with the advice that I take the next week off from work so that I didn’t endanger others if I happened to get the measles. I could be in an incubation period.
From what I remember, I stayed home and prayed that I didn’t get the measles. I restricted my movements so that I didn’t go out in public and potentially expose others.
That why today I have a real problem with people that refuse to have their children vaccinated because they say they fear the potential consequences. Not only can other children get the disease, but pregnant mothers and people with compromised immune systems can get infected too.
I was born in 1950, and I had a cousin that contracted polio. Polio is a horrible disease to have. We still don’t know what causes it. Jonas Salk developed and tested the first polio vaccine in 1952 and Albert Sabin developed a polio vaccine that was licensed in 1962. I remember when I was in junior high school that we all had to line up in the auditorium to take the oral Sabin vaccine. After seeing my cousin walk with a leg brace when she was a child and others enclosed in an iron lung when I was younger, I had no problem taking the vaccine.
And now we get into people’s rights in this country. I guess someone has a right not to be vaccinated, but they don’t have the right to infect hundreds or thousands of people due to their neglect. If they live on an isolated mountain top and never leave it and have all their supplies and food delivered, then maybe don’t get vaccinated. But I don’t want to see them in the general population again until they come to their senses and get vaccinated.
Last summer, the Ohio Department of Health had a series of public announcements about the MMR and DPT vaccines. They offered vaccinations to the public free of charge whether they had insurance or not in order to avoid an epidemic. It’s been determined that being immunized as a child does not provide lifelong protection. Since I planned to attend some writer conferences, I hauled myself down to the Health Department and held my arm out for the needles.
If you’re wondering what happened with my pregnancy, I did have unrelated complications and had to stay home from work an additional week. But I didn’t get the measles. That December, I had a healthy baby girl. She’s an adult in her thirties now. I hauled her butt down to the Health Department too. She hates shots with a passion, but she’s not selfish enough that she’d risk getting or exposing others to a disease as deadly as the measles
No one should have the right to put other lives at risk for contracting diseases that could be prevented with a couple of shots. You’re going to have to come up with a lot better excuse than “I’m afraid of potential side effects” to convince me. How dumb can you get?
Wikipedia article on “Polio Vaccine”
Merck Manual “Home Edition” article on “Common Vaccinations”