Take an ill-informed group of parents who want to go “natural”. Add a dollop of professed dread of governmental interference. Toss in a few teaspoons of “what’s in that?” and a pinch of fear of vaccines in general. Dip the mixture in a film of ignorance of disease progression, and roll it in a coating of total disregard for how one person’s idiotic choices affect many other people.
Presto! You’ve got an epidemic.
This time, it’s whooping cough. Also known as pertussis. As the news reports this week, the US is in the grip of an entirely preventable (let me stress that: entirely preventable) whooping cough epidemic. We’re up to 18,000 cases in the worst epidemic in over fifty years, with Wisconsin and the state of Washington reporting the biggest numbers of cases.
Call me skeptical, but shouldn’t this fight have been over decades ago?
Whooping cough is not just a clearing of the throat. You can’t NyQuil it away. It’s a serious disease that affects everyone, but is mainly fatal in the elderly and children (keep in mind that the latter are people who are not able to make their own decisions about healthcare). There’s a description of it here. The disease, once visible and audible, lasts 3 to 10 weeks. It can result in earache, pneumonia, encephalopathy, seizures and death. In fact, whooping cough is the only vaccine-preventable disease associated in the US with an increase in mortality (especially among newborn infants).
An effective whooping cough vaccine was developed in the 1920s. For almost a century, we’ve known how to prevent this disease. It’s not a question, as it can be in other nations (sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are filled with pertussis) of a dearth of vaccine, or its high cost. American pediatricians have the vaccine at their fingertips. So do clinics. Smart parents get their kids vaccinated on time.
Parents are unfortunately not uniformly smart. Some of them (in the UK and Australia as well as the US) have been avoiding vaccines for their kids. Their reasons vary:
The government can’t tell me what to do.
I don’t know what’s in those vaccines.
My kid could get hurt from vaccine.
Vaccines aren’t natural, and I believe in the body’s ability to defend itself.
Whooping cough isn’t that bad.
You choose for your kid, I choose for mine.
Because they elect not to vaccinate their children against this disease, a disease from which millions of people suffered and died before the 1920s, they can infect not only their children, but surrounding people. The vaccine does not confer lifelong protection. Thus adults and children may fall ill due to others’ bad decisions. They can develop secondary infections. Like pneumonia. People die from pneumonia.
And their own children? Isn’t it a parent’s responsibility, at minimum, to do their best to help their child survive until adulthood? At minimum? Of course children fall ill with cancer, with unforeseeable diseases. They’re hurt in car wrecks, hurt by other people. We all know that.
But children – and others – need not be hurt by whooping cough. Not in 2012.
For heaven’s sake, vaccinate.