Monday, May 27, 2013

Incomprehensible Risks

Edward (name changed) does not understand how anyone who knows anything about vaccine preventable diseases could oppose vaccines. Living before vaccines meant being surrounded by death and disability from diseases we no longer see. Growing up, today’s vaccine preventable diseases were a vivid reality for Edward, one that marked his family.
Edward’s father told him about losing a little sister to diphtheria during the father’s teen-age years. His mother, working as a nurse, saw children die from diphtheria, whooping cough and small pox. Naturally, Edward’s parents immunized their children against those diseases that had a vaccine available  - the small pox vaccine and the diphtheria preparation.

Those immunizations did not, unfortunately, include the whooping cough vaccine. Edward is not sure why; he explained: “It is possible that we were not vaccinated against whooping cough because of the fear that during polio outbreaks the disease was more likely to disable a limb recently subjected to trauma, including vaccination. I asked my mother about it last year but she couldn't recall.” Without this protection, shortly after the birth of his youngest sister – youngest of six – Edward and all his siblings contracted whooping cough. His infant sister suffered most. “I remember her gasping for breath… she was seriously ill and today would be placed in hospital. In the 1950s there simply weren't enough places and my mother was a nurse.” His sister healed, but the after-effects stayed with her until her teen-age years.
“It was only a few months later that my brother developed tuberculous meningitis. It affected his hearing and balance. He spent over 2 years in hospital. When he was in an isolation hospital I'd go to visit him. I'd stand outside and he'd wave to me from behind a closed window on the first floor.”
The after-effects of polio were also all around him; children at school with shrunken legs in calipers, a music teacher who was also paralyzed by the disease. Co-workers also sported its effects: “one of my colleagues had a big built-up shoe and calipers, another had a small, skinny arm; both from polio.”

In 1962 a small pox epidemic broke out in the area where Edward lived. Edward says: ‘I joined the line snaking down the street outside our doctor's rooms to be re-vaccinated. That outbreak saw 47 cases and with 19 deaths.”

The details of that epidemic can be watched here: 

This was the reality of living before vaccines. Unsurprisingly, Edward has little tolerance for anti-vaccine activists. He lived the alternative; why won't they see its risks?

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