In the 1970’s when I was a new, young nurse in a Chicago hospital, I was assigned to an experienced nurse for supervision during my orientation. She was about five years older, wonderful to me, and had what she called a “shriveled” right leg noticeably shorter than her left leg. She wore an orthotic brace, walked with a limp and said she was often in pain. She had survived polio as a child.

Years later when I held my own crying children as they received their vaccinations, I thought of her.

Some parents have recently become confused by the anti-vax movement and its false message about vaccines. In Clark County, Washington, 25 percent of the children have not been vaccinated against a disease which was eradicated in this country (but not the world) 20 years ago.

New York and Washington states are experiencing large measles outbreaks. Public health officials have linked outbreaks there and in other states to travelers from countries with large measles outbreaks such as Israel and the Ukraine. Ease of world travel also means increased opportunity for the spread of infectious disease.

Measles is a highly contagious and potentially devastating disease caused by a virus, and vaccinations are very effective at preventing it. The World Health Organization reports that worldwide there was an 80 percent drop from 2000 to 2017 in measles deaths, thanks to vaccinations.

However, in 2018 there was an alarming reversal of this trend, as the number of measles cases doubled. The WHO reports that vaccine skepticism is among the 10 biggest public health threats in the world.

The WHO reports that 2.6 million measles deaths occurred each year prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963. It is not a misery anyone should want to revisit.

France has taken a hard line on vaccinations, making them compulsory and threatening to bar unvaccinated children from school.

This appears to be a global phenomenon. In the Philippines, a massive immunization campaign has begun in Manila and some provincial regions, in an attempt to control an outbreak which has killed 136 people, half of which were 4 years old and younger.

The more aware we are about world health and disease prevention, the better we are able to protect ourselves and our children. A new generation of parents in this country have not experienced the ravages of communicable diseases like measles, diphtheria or polio as they race through a community, causing misery, disability and death. These diseases used to be called the “childhood killers” with good reason.

When I was five years old, I had both rubella and measles. I remember overhearing my parents talk in worried voices about “brain infection.” I was lucky; I managed to escape encephalitis.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention notes that for every 1,000 children who get measles, one of them will contract encephalitis which may result in deafness or intellectual disability. For every 20 children who get measles, one will get pneumonia, which is the most common cause of measles death. Measles kills one to two out of every 1,000 affected children.

A two-prong approach to this problem is needed. State legislatures must act to protect children by following the example of California. In 2014 one measles-infected child attended a California theme park and started an outbreak which spread to other states.

California passed a law eliminating vaccine exemptions for personal and religious reasons. Every state in the Union needs such a law. We also need our large scientific community to consistently and assertively stand up to the fake science of the anti-vax movement.

Every state in the Union has made vaccinations available for all adults and children. Private medical practices, pharmacies and public clinics can all provide this life-saving protection from disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a website to help find vaccines. Just type in your zip code.

My late mother-in-law years ago told stories of families in central Illinois with “Quarantine” signs posted on their front doors because diphtheria or polio lurked within.It is necessary that we not allow history to repeat itself as every family and every person has a right to be free of preventable diseases.

Lois M. Platt, DNP, APRN, LCPC,  is an assistant professor at Rush University College of Nursing.  She is also a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.

 

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