A sixth case of measles was identified in the Victoria area this week.
A few years ago I never thought I’d see this kind of news story cross my desk. A new disease? Sure. But an old one? No.
It’s a disease that was declared eradicated in Canada in 1998. What’s next? An outbreak of smallpox? Polio?
Perhaps a more important question: is that what it will take to shake up the complacency of the anti-vaccine crowd? Will it take an epidemic, with mass deaths? B.C. and Quebec have been identified as the areas in Canada with the highest percentage of unvaccinated people. While rates of vaccination are still relatively good, there are pockets of unvaccinated people where such diseases can once again take hold. From there, the risk is a wider spread, particularly to those who, for medical reasons, are immune-compromised, or cannot get vaccinations.
I tend to think a big part of the problem is a kind of willful amnesia, a drastic forgetting of history.
It has disturbed me as we’ve carried stories of the Island outbreak and one on the Mainland, that a fair number of comments on them have come from anti-vaccine advocates, spamming with often debunked pseudoscience and claims that are just plain wrong.
For example, there’s the belief of some that it’s actually a good thing for people to get measles and other traditional childhood diseases for which we now have vaccines, because, they say, it never really hurt anyone and just immunized them for life. As my publisher Warren Goulding said to that little gem: they haven’t taken a walk through an old cemetery lately. If they had they would have noticed how many children’s graves there are. This is the true cost of diseases like measles. Ask anyone in the Boomer generation and they likely remember their parents keeping them indoors over the summer as kids because of the in no way exaggerated fear of polio. This is the reality to which we would be returning if anti-vaxxers had their way and children were no longer given vaccines. It is fortunate for them that they currently live in a world where they don’t have to worry too much about infection, due to the herd immunity they enjoy.
I’m in the age group that had only one dose of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, and I plan to get the booster now available. It never before occurred to me that I’d have to weigh the possibility of getting an eliminated disease, but with the recent outbreaks, I’ll happily make sure I’m part of the herd. For myself, and everyone around me.