The Epidemic

North America has been seized by a measles hysteria. Should I admit I have never received the measles vaccination? Or would that admission cause panic?

In Ontario there have been 15 cases reported (in a population of about 10 million) and that fact leads the radio newscasts. I am a little puzzled about that. I know about the hazards of contracting measles, but perhaps some perspective is necessary. As I understand it, most people have been vaccinated against the disease. I don’t think an epidemic is imminent. There are 10 cases in Quebec, all people who were recently at Disneyland in California. I imagine such publicity is not what Disney wants, though you can’t blame the theme park for not requiring proof of vaccination before allowing people through the gates.

Certainly the attention surrounding the few reported cases has generated a lot of discussion about the wisdom and practice of vaccinating children against preventable diseases. Which seems, in a way, rather odd to me. I have always accepted the idea that vaccinations are generally a good idea. In recent years I have even gotten the flu vaccination each fall, even though I have doubts how effective it is.

Sure there is risk. I could have had an adverse reaction to the shot; I suppose it is theoretically possible I could have died from it. It is also theoretically possible I could be killed by a meteor strike tomorrow. The likelihood strikes me as being rather slim.

When my children were younger they were inoculated against all the usual childhood diseases. Not just because it was a requirement to attend school (there are ways of getting an exemption) but because it makes sense. However, when Ontario introduced a program to vaccinate young girls against the human papillomavirus (HPV), my wife and I decided our daughter would not receive it. The virus is a sexually transmitted disease, at age 12 my daughter was not at risk.

That particular vaccination has other issues, financial ones. The Government of Ontario entered into a deal for the vaccine with what apparently at the time was the only company with an HPV vaccine. That made it a very lucrative deal for the company – and once all the young women were vaccinated the suggestion was that boys should receive the shot also. Not that males can get cervical cancer, but they can carry the HPV virus and if they are vaccinated they won`t pass the virus on to their sexual partners. I must admit I wondered if that was being driven by medical science or economics. If the females are all vaccinated, then the males don`t need to be – or at least that is how I would see it.

Which brings us back to the measles. The vaccine has been around for 50 years or more, much longer than the HPV vaccine or the flu shot. Generations of children have been successfully inoculated with little to no risk. But in recent years there has been some controversy over the vaccine, and with the attendant publicity it appears that many parents have decided not to have their children inoculated.

The “study” that generated the controversy was apparently less than scientific. The chief propagandist for the anti-vaccine movement is an American “actress” who is best known for taking her clothes off in a men’s magazine. With all due respect, I don’t take my car to the bakery when it needs repairs. Being good at making bread doesn’t make someone an expert in automotive repairs. Nor do I look to an “actress” for medical advice.

So why haven’t I had the measles shot? It is basically an age thing. There was no measles vaccine when I was younger, and like many of not most of my generation I contracted measles (and later rubella, for which there is also now a vaccine). As I understand it the antibodies are still in my system, I don’t need to be vaccinated. But you might need to be – and your children definitely should be.

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