It’s no secret vaccinations are a hot topic in the U.S. Anti-vaxxers get blamed for almost as many things as Obama, and with the recent measles outbreak, it’s likely you’ve been reading a lot of “Thanks anti-vaxxers!” material across social media.
But whatever side of the vaccination debate one may dig his or her heels in on, there is one thing the two sides have in common – an obsession with following the subject. Consequently, it may be of interest to all participating in the great vaccination debate what a famed and beloved children’s author who lost a child to measles some 50 years ago might have to say regarding vaccinations.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl once wrote on vaccinations and the death of his daughter, Olivia, to measles:
Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
‘Are you feeling all right?’ I asked her.
‘I feel all sleepy,’ she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.
It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.
Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.
LET THAT SINK IN.
Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.
So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?
They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.
So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.
The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.
Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.
You see, there is fear on both sides of the issue. One side fears complications from vaccinations that could lead their child into autism, seizures, or who knows what; whereas, the other side fears their child succumbing to some vile illness from not vaccinating the child. Both sides fear, and both sides dig in their heals like tent stakes.
However, those who choose to not vaccinate will have the guilt of not having done so eating at them should some archaic disease come back to catch them with their guard down. It may be uncommon, but it happens, and the guilt of that would be immeasurable. There is also that added risk and guilt one runs of infecting others, which is a fist in the eye of social, collective courtesy and responsibility. After all, if we are to live as a civil society, together, we have certain obligations to each other to ensure we can all live together in the best, most rational, loving and healthy environments we can.
We have every right to live as we see fit, so long as our decisions do not harm or hinder others, and choosing to live within society in a manner that could ultimately lead to the detrimental health of others, or even death – well, that we have no right to do.
If that is one’s desire, one can find a means to live apart from mainstream society and still live responsibly that way, simultaneously preserving one’s preference for living vaccine-free.
On the other hand, should one choose to vaccinate a child and something were to go wrong, some unforeseen complication that anti-vaxxers fear, one would certainly feel pangs of sadness and regret, but one would not necessarily feel guilt, as one knows that he or she was acting responsibly for the sake and security of the child, as well as all of society. One knows that what happened to their child was an improbable tragedy, but is also able to maintain the confidence that what they were doing was right, that he or she and their child did what was necessary to live responsibly within society in order to ensure that they do not infect, harm, or lead to the death of others.
Both sides operate from fear. Both sides of the vaccination debate could face tragedy, so it seems like a crapshoot. The distinguishing factor seems to be that one side operates through a means that looks out for itself, primarily, and the other side does the same, but through that decision they inadvertently also look out for the greater health of society, whether that’s genuinely a concern of theirs or not. In that way, the scale tips in favor of vaccination.
Now, if we could just stop attacking the anti-vaxxers like they’re a bunch of idiots, though, and work on the root problem that creates them, which is the enormous sway of the pharmaceutical lobbyists working to hook the entire country on whatever pills they can push, we might be able to get somewhere. Anti-vaxxers aren’t naïve, stupid idiots. Predominantly, they are people who recognize the propaganda of the pharmaceutical industry as a warping agent in the realm of science and medicine. It is because of the enormous money behind that industry, and the willingness of our doctors and politicians to be collectively bought and sold, that it becomes difficult for citizens to discern what is truth and what is fiction. Everyone on all sides is trying to do what’s best for their child.
Like so many issues plaguing the nation, we need to wrestle down the influence of mega-corporations in order to know what is what anymore. With proper information available that people know they can trust, the anti-vaxxer population will disappear like so many other diseases that have gone the way of the past.