This could hurt you more than it hurts me

BY PATRICK PIERCY
Last updated 08:24 11/08/2009

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.

JabNow 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

 

130 comments
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George   #1   08:54 am Aug 11 2009

"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"

Exactly the same phenomenon as that at work in the anti-smacking issue.

The Lord preserve us from well meaning middle class parents!

Amanda   #2   09:09 am Aug 11 2009

Vaccinations are OK - as long as the parents know the statistics behind them. Some vaccinations are against diseases that have such a low chance of being caught that it is possibly more damaging to the child to be vaccinated than not. And consider all the cancers now-days. Is there a possible link between 'babying' a childs immune system and all the cancers that are out there now? Its like the parents that overuse 'germ control' cleaners - they ARE damaging their childs natural defence systems.

Clare   #3   09:10 am Aug 11 2009

I'm totally with you on this one. I get very exercised when I come across parents who have decided not to immunise their children. Do they WANT their kids to suffer the awful experience of measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, tetanus, etc, not to mention the knock on effect of lowering the herd immunity and jeopardising other kids? It's completely irresponsible.

And when they tell me it's because of some story they read on the internet about immunisations being linked to autism I have to stop myself from shaking them. That is a myth! Do some basic research! Talk to your GP!

I liked the old days where we were just lined up at school and immunised, no parental consent asked for. There's something to be said for a totalitarian state in some circumstances.

ugly   #4   09:17 am Aug 11 2009

Excellent article. Unfortunately it will fall on deaf ears - not doubt the "self-indulgent" will belong in just a minute with some ill-concieved ramblings.

I am at least heartened that this issue has come up - hopefully the medical community can start to get through to some of these people, although I'm not holding my breath. Seems that immunisation is a handy scapegoat for some people when things don't go exactly as they planned in their kids development.

Denise   #5   09:17 am Aug 11 2009

Could not agree more. The consequences of these diseases far outweigh any risk from vaccination. Having had Whooping cough as an adult (I was not aware that this vax wears off), I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, let alone a tiny baby.

For some perspective, check this out: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/010978.html#010978

And if anyone mentions MMR/Autism, that "science" and scientist have been thoroughly discredited.

Tom   #6   09:20 am Aug 11 2009

NZ's poor Herd immunity has been a ticking time bomb for preventable disease. When children start suffering serious preventable illnesses or dieing some parents who haven't the historical memory will then realise too late the cost of no vaccination to their children or others. Tom

Tim   #7   09:22 am Aug 11 2009

Amanda - The reason there is a statistically low chance of catching one of these diseases is because a large proportion of the population is immunised. This is herd immunity - it can't spread because there aren't enough people to carry it. If people continue to stop immunising these diseases will come back.

Your comments about germ control and cleaners might have an ounce of validity but links with cancer?!? This is completely unfounded.

Sarah   #8   09:24 am Aug 11 2009

My child had a severe reaction from a vaccine. What then. Was that a myth? Your all lucky there is a bloody middle class

A   #9   09:26 am Aug 11 2009

wasn't this article on stuff a couple of weeks ago? time to dangle someone out the office window at Stuff?

Edward   #10   09:33 am Aug 11 2009

"Some vaccinations are against diseases that have such a low chance of being caught that it is possibly more damaging to the child to be vaccinated than not." I know! Look at the damage from the malaria vaccines we all had at school! Oh, wait...

"And consider all the cancers now-days. Is there a possible link between 'babying' a childs immune system and all the cancers that are out there now?" Might be, care to cite some peer-reviewed research?

"Its like the parents that overuse 'germ control' cleaners - they ARE damaging their childs natural defence systems." Right, because deliberately introducing weakened/dead diseases to train a childs immune system is exactly the same as keeping a child in a near sterile environment where it's immune system never gets the chance to practice?

No, it's not, it's the exact opposite.


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