Doctor's Orders: Go to War Against Measles, Not Each Other

Let's come back to the table and talk

Doctor's Orders: Go to War Against Measles, Not Each Other

You’ve probably heard about the current measles outbreak that started in Disneyland. Scary, right? I’m a doctor and a mother, and I admit I’m worried about this outbreak from both those perspectives. 
Trouble is, much of the fear surrounding this thing is morphing into anger. It’s getting ugly out there. Online and in the media, there seems to be an awful lot of yelling, accusing, shaming, and blaming. People are threatening legal action. 
But the vitriol doesn’t help anyone. What it does do is force people into defensive postures. It pushes people into choosing sides and digging in their heels. And it makes rational conversation very difficult. War between parents is not going to help—we need to go to war against this virus, not each other.
So let’s come back to the table and talk.
If you’re a parent who—for whatever reason—opted out of vaccination for your kids, you may be feeling even more concerned and confused than ever. You may be wondering if now is the time to vaccinate. But I imagine your original concerns about vaccines haven’t gone away. Plus, I bet you’re feeling like you’re at the centre of a witch hunt – when all you were trying to do was make a healthy choice for your family. 
Maybe you’re looking for information and someone to talk you through the pros and cons – but how can you come forward now? Now that everyone seems to be snatching up their pitchforks?
It’s okay to be confused. We’re all just parents trying to make the best decisions for our kids. And in recent years there has been a lot of bewildering information out there. Some very persuasive, high-profile people have flooded the media with opinions. Plus, the issue tends to get bundled up with other, equally confusing controversies – fears about big pharma and government, for example. I don’t blame anyone for being overwhelmed in the face of all that.
But let’s see if we can clear some things up.


Measles is caused by an aggressive, hardy virus. It spreads through the air and is one of the most contagious viruses we know of. Approximately 90% of non-vaccinated people exposed will get sick. Even more frightening: the virus can hang suspended in the air for several hours. Which means you can get it just by walking into the wrong room at the wrong time. 
If you get infected, it’s a week of hell – at best. At worst, it can cause severe complications like pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and in an estimated 3 out of 1000 cases, measles can cause death.


The trouble started in 1998 when a UK physician published a study linking MMR with autism. Fears began to take root. But after no other researchers were able to reproduce his results, an investigation was launched. Since then, that original research has been thoroughly examined and has been found to be not only false, but fraudulent. That doctor was stripped of his license and he can no longer practice medicine. 
Even though the entire scientific and medical community is very clear that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, the damage was done by that one study. Media got hold of the story, panic followed, and vaccination rates have been declining ever since. Even though the WHO declared measles eradicated from the Americas in 2002, there have been outbreaks cropping up all over the developed world—of not just measles, but other comeback diseases, too.


I agree that, intuitively, it feels like the wrong thing to do. You’re holding your tiny perfect infant and someone wants to jab her with a lot of needles containing a laundry list of ingredients you can’t pronounce. Of course that feels scary. And you are right to question it, to apply critical thought, and to be sure it’s the best course of action. 
But when it comes to modern medicine and the application of science—we need to go beyond intuition and gut feel on these decisions.
It’s important to know that our immune systems are incredibly sophisticated. Shortly after your baby is born, her body is colonized with trillions of bacteria, and we all encounter many thousands of microorganisms every day—bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Many of them are harmless, but they are everywhere, on every surface. Our highly evolved immune system is specifically designed to recognize and manage all these threats, simultaneously. The components of vaccines, even combination vaccines, are a drop in the bucket compared to all that.


This is where the choice to vaccinate moves beyond a personal one and into the realm of community responsibility. Because the fact is, we all depend on each other to do our part. By vaccinating a majority of the population (“herd immunity”), it means we keep a virus at bay in the community. We stop it from gaining a foothold. When vaccination rates drop, herd immunity fails, and viruses stage a comeback. And I say “majority of the population” because some people cannot be immunized: newborn babies, pregnant women, and people who are immune suppressed. In other words, the most vulnerable among us. 
So your decision to vaccinate is not just for your kids but for your neighbour’s kids, too. It’s for your best friend’s newborn infant, or the kid down the street who is battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy right now. We all need to work together on this one.


Good nutrition will not make your kids bulletproof. I wish it did. There are many holistic ways of staying healthy, which I frequently recommend, and I always advocate a healthy diet - plus plenty of sleep, and regular exercise - but unfortunately it’s not going to be enough in the face of diseases like measles. 
You’re right; it is a more “natural” approach. But natural doesn’t automatically mean better. Think of it this way: another thing that’s completely natural is to get sick. The harsh truth: a lot of kids used to die from measles. It was considered a completely natural phenomenon. 
The fact is, because of modern medicine, we’ve moved beyond being at the mercy of nature. Your kids—all our kids—can benefit from those advances.


It’s not too late to reassess and re-examine your thinking on something. Although, admittedly, it’s not easy to come forward, particularly when pushed into a defensive stance by all the nastiness out there. But please don’t be ashamed to talk to your doctor about it—that’s a good place to start.
I’m hoping we can all find our way through the anger and the fear. I’m hoping we can stop the brawl and call off the witch hunt and, instead, come together for rational conversation. 
Our kids are counting on us to do that.