This could hurt you more than it hurts me

There have been more than 90 cases of measles in New Zealand this year. Not that many, you might think, compared with something like swine flu. But unlike flu, measles is entirely preventable. In a developed country with a modern, albeit imperfect, public health system, there ought not to be any cases at all.

Now I'm generally a fairly liberal sort of bloke, who stoutly defends the rights of the misguided and the mischievous to kick against the mainstream. But on this subject I become quite intolerant. I'm not far off agreeing with the letter writer to the Dominion Post who suggested that any parent not having their child vaccinated should be charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life.

I'm prepared to accept that, in some impoverished and under-educated parts of the country, this failure is the result of simple ignorance, but I fear that Johann Morreau, of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, was nearer the mark recently when he blamed the absence of a herd immunity on middle-class anxieties about possible, but statistically tiny, side-effects. I suspect he may well have been biting his tongue and would have loved to say "self-indulgent middle-class paranoia"  - it's certainly the phrase I'd use.

For goodness sake, this is a disease that can and does kill children, as does whooping cough, for which immunisation rates in this country are also far lower than they ought to be. It has been reported that, of children under six months old who are admitted to hospital with whooping cough, one in 30 will die. That's an enormous percentage compared with the number who may possibly suffer some sort of side-effect from vaccination.

We have a simple and highly effective way of preventing such deaths and yet, for some reason I truly cannot fathom, we are not taking advantage of it. And worse, those who fail to take advantage of it are putting the lives of all our children at greater risk.

There have been more than 90 cases of measles in New Zealand this year. Not that many, you might think, compared with something like swine flu. But unlike flu, measles is entirely preventable. In a developed country with a modern, albeit imperfect, public health system, there ought not to be any cases at all.

Now I'm generally a fairly liberal sort of bloke, who stoutly defends the rights of the misguided and the mischievous to kick against the mainstream. But on this subject I become quite intolerant. I'm not far off agreeing with the letter writer to the Dominion Post who suggested that any parent not having their child vaccinated should be charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life.

I'm prepared to accept that, in some impoverished and under-educated parts of the country, this failure is the result of simple ignorance, but I fear that Johann Morreau, of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, was nearer the mark recently when he blamed the absence of a herd immunity on middle-class anxieties about possible, but statistically tiny, side-effects. I suspect he may well have been biting his tongue and would have loved to say "self-indulgent middle-class paranoia"  - it's certainly the phrase I'd use.

For goodness sake, this is a disease that can and does kill children, as does whooping cough, for which immunisation rates in this country are also far lower than they ought to be. It has been reported that, of children under six months old who are admitted to hospital with whooping cough, one in 30 will die. That's an enormous percentage compared with the number who may possibly suffer some sort of side-effect from vaccination.

We have a simple and highly effective way of preventing such deaths and yet, for some reason I truly cannot fathom, we are not taking advantage of it. And worse, those who fail to take advantage of it are putting the lives of all our children at greater risk.

As Dr Morreau suggests, our generation has become lazy and self-indulgent, but I fear we've also lost our sense of historical perspective. How often do we hear someone say these days, after some awful childhood tragedy, "It isn't right that a child should die before its parents." I'm sorry, but what a foolishly modern conceit.

For thousands of years, until only a couple of generations ago, it was routine for babies to die and for parents to outlive their children. The change for the better has come about almost entirely because of advances in public health, including vaccination. As a child in the 1960s I can well remember the fear of various outbreaks of diseases such as mumps and can recall children with calipers on their legs because they'd had polio. These are the very real fears we could soon go back to if we let our paranoia get the better of us.

Photo: Reuters