When I was a boy, a friend of mine had a magic rock. He kept it with him at all times, deep in a pocket of his Oshkosh denim overalls. He claimed that his magic rock kept away tigers. I’d tell him that if he believed that, he was crazy. But he’d throw out his arms like a priest invoking benediction and shout, “Do you see any tigers around here?”
One day much more recently I was waiting to see my family doctor, and I overheard one young woman proudly telling another that she would never have either of her toddlers vaccinated. While she chatted, her son and daughter wandered around the waiting room, stopping occasionally at the children’s play area to stuff toys into their mouths and to interact with the other little ones. I challenged her, telling her that she was exposing every child in the waiting room to the risk of acquiring a number of devastating infections. Before telling me to mind my own business, she asked indignantly, “When was the last time you saw a kid with polio or the mumps?”
The reason we don’t see tigers prowling Jackson Square is because we keep them safely locked away in places like the Killman Zoo. The reason we don’t see kids with polio or the mumps is because we keep the tigers of infection safely locked away in cages called vaccines.
Today, some people want to open these cages because they think the tigers have gone away. They haven’t. They’re still there, lurking in the darkness at the back of the cage, waiting to pounce. Or perhaps these people think that the tigers, once loose, will eat someone else’s child, not theirs. That’s an awful risk to take, and it’s thoughtless and terribly unfair to place someone else’s child in danger just to satisfy your own magical thinking. We locked these viruses away for very good reasons: They maim, they destroy lives, and they kill people.
Some people refuse to vaccinate their children because they think such shots as MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) cause autism. They don’t. Sixteen epidemiological studies have all concluded there is no link between autism and such vaccines as MMR or thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in vaccines. Thimerosal has not been present in any childhood vaccines, except inactivated influenza vaccine, since 2001. In those 10 years, have the number of identified cases of childhood autism decreased?
No. Actually, they’ve increased.
Since vaccines or thimerosal can no longer be blamed for causing autism, a lot of parents now fault the vaccine immunization schedule. They claim it overwhelms the immune systems of children by introducing too many new vaccine proteins at one time. Yet, every day of their lives, babies and young children successfully adjust to thousands of foreign proteins that are contained in food, dirt, animal hair and everything else that populates the less-than-sterile environment of home. The current vaccines used to prevent 14 childhood diseases contain only 153 proteins. So if it’s not the vaccine and it’s not the immunization schedule, then what are parents waiting for? Science is never going to construct the perfect tiger cage.
Andrew Zimmerman, a pediatric neurologist at Johns Hopkins University, states that some cases of autism are caused by viral infections, such as congenital rubella. Congenital infections occur in the womb before birth. That means that the toddler you refuse to inoculate today could, as an adult, give birth to a child with cataracts, glaucoma, hearing loss, heart defects, developmental delays and, irony of ironies, autism if the unvaccinated mother contracts rubella while she’s pregnant. Do you really want to be responsible for harming not just one generation of children, but two?
Vaccine skepticism is becoming the new public health threat. Squeeze enough unimmunized people into one area, and you have an outbreak of disease. Currently, the World Health Organization warns that an outbreak of polio first identified in Pakistan has now spread to China. This year alone, there have been outbreaks of measles in 33 European countries. Think it can’t happen here in Ontario?
The town of Norwich lies in Oxford County, and is only 66 kilometres southwest of Hamilton. In 2005, 283 people in Oxford County were infected in a rubella epidemic. 394 elementary and high school students were excluded from school in Norwich because only 40 per cent of them had been vaccinated against the disease. Immunization clinics were held on three different occasions in Norwich, but attendance was poor. Only 42 students were immunized during the entire outbreak. Ten pregnant women also contracted the disease.
Parents who refuse to immunize their children against illness and possible death are, in my opinion, committing a form of child abuse.
Get your children immunized. Magic rocks don’t keep the tigers away.