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Measles was thought of as a normal childhood disease until fairly recently. Measles is unpleasant, with its fever, characteristic rash, cough, red eyes, and white spots in the mouth — just as the flu can be very unpleasant. Unless complications occur, measles really isn't a big deal; bed rest, vitamin C, and staying hydrated will take care of it.
Why should you vaccinate against a disease that will probably manifest as a minor annoyance if your child got it? Indeed, why should you vaccinate against whooping cough, since the vaccine against this disease isn't very effective anyway? Why do you need to vaccinate against the potentially crippling disease polio, if you do not live in one of the endemic countries?
Vaccines can cause adverse reactions, after all. Parenting is many things. It is also, inevitably, one of the grandest risk assessment games you'll ever play in your life.
An increasing number of parents is deciding that they'd prefer to go with the risk that foregoing childhood vaccines poses... perhaps because dying from “vaccine-preventable diseases” is so rare in first world countries? Perhaps because they've never seen someone crippled by polio, or die from measles-related diarrhea?
Indeed, vaccines pose a risk. Swansea, an otherwise pretty unremarkable small place in Wales, Britain, made headlines across the world recently after the British National Health Service (NHS) reported 800 confirmed cases of measles — that disease that really should not be a big deal, unless complications occur.
The thing is, complications are relatively common with measles. They include encephalitis (an accurate inflammation of the brain), bronchitis, and pneumonia. Back in the 1920s, the death rate for measles pneumonia was 30 percent. It's easy to see why doctors across the globe would rather see measles go the same way as smallpox, and the fight against this once common disease has been pretty successful so far. The number of measles deaths went down 71 percent between 2000 and 2011, and the World Health Organization has set itself the goal of eradicating measles completely by 2015.
That's in two years. The goal could be achieved through routine infant vaccination, and the WHO recommends two doses to offer protection against measles. Global coverage with the first dose was at 72 percent in the year 2000. By 2011, it was at 84 percent. The WHO does note large outbreaks of measles in several countries, including Congo, Ethiopia and India. In these and other developing countries, kids are still dying or sustaining permanent damage from measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
Could measles soon be a common sight in a neighborhood near you, too? How about other vaccine-preventable diseases? Absolutely yes, if vaccine rejectionism remains fashionable. So why should you still say yes to childhood vaccines?