On Wednesday morning, my two-year-old daughter woke up hotter than a bucket of lit coals. Her face was flushed, her eyes were heavy-lidded, her breathing was labored, and she was – I swear to God – grinding her teeth. In all my life, I’d never even heard of the idea of a toddler grinding their teeth. She laid in my arms, her hands clasped behind my neck, and would not let me go. It was like having a towel fresh out of the dryer draped over me; she was that warm.
My plan, of course, was to break out the thermometer and see exactly what I was dealing with, but first I gave her a dose of baby Tylenol to knock the fever back. She made it clear that she wanted some breakfast first, so it was a little banana and a little yogurt and a whole hell of a lot of water…
… and then wouldn’t you know it? The flush evaporated, the fever disappeared, and after a few more colossal gulps of water, she was running around the room and bouncing off the walls, chattering like a magpie, her old self again. The fever never reappeared. It was like a thunderstorm down South; you’re soaked for ten minutes, thunder and lightning and wind and darkness, and then it’s gone.
Kids. They’ll scare the ever-loving bejeezus out of you, and then suddenly bounce back like they’re made of rubber.
Know what I wasn’t scared of?
Measles. Mumps. Rubella, and a whole host of other dangerous diseases.
Because I have taken her to her pediatrician, held her tight, and soothed her after she got all of her vaccination shots. Before we moved to New Hampshire, her pediatrician was in Boston. Upon our first visit, we were handed a bright orange flyer that said, in short, “If you don’t believe in vaccinations, take your business elsewhere.” The crux of their declaration reads:
By not vaccinating your child you are taking selfish advantage of thousands of others who do vaccinate their children, which decreases the likelihood that your child will contract one of these diseases. We feel such an attitude to be self-centered and unacceptable.
Please be advised, however, that delaying or “breaking up the vaccines” to give one or two at a time over two or more visits goes against expert recommendations, and can put your child at risk for serious illness (or even death) and goes against our medical advice as providers at Centre Pediatrics. Such additional visits will require additional co-pays on your part. Furthermore, please realize that you will be required to sign a “Refusal to Vaccinate” acknowledgement in the event of lengthy delays.
Finally, if you should absolutely refuse to vaccinate your child despite all our efforts, we will ask you to find another health care provider who shares your views. We do not keep a list of such providers, nor would we recommend any such physician. Please recognize that by not vaccinating you are putting your child at unnecessary risk for life-threatening illness and disability, and even death.
After we moved north, our new pediatrician said exactly the same thing.
Blind obedience to anything – leaders, religion, the medical industry, etc. – can and has led to some pretty spectacular disasters over the course of history. That being said, people who ignore the settled science of vaccination safety and efficacy – for themselves, their children and the community at large – because they don’t trust “Big Pharma,” are the reason why outbreaks like this take place. The false equivalency – “Big Pharma” is bad, ergo vaccines are to be avoided – is deadly dangerous.
The measles outbreak, which began in California and spread to 14 states, has affected more than 100 people, most of them children. The anti-vaccination people are in an uproar of self-doubt and blame deflection, even as every reputable doctor and scientist on the planet is leveling the finger of blame at people who refuse to vaccinate their children. Measles is not a big deal, they say, as they listen to celebrities who peddle the thousand-times debunked fiction that vaccines cause autism … because that’s where people should go to get medical advice for their children.
I hear people say measles is nothing to worry about, and in my head, I hear the voice of Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. In 1962, his daughter Olivia contracted the measles when she was seven years old. She seemed fine, and then, wrote Dahl, she suddenly got sleepy and physically uncoordinated.
“In an hour, she was unconscious,” wrote Dahl. “In twelve hours she was dead.”
Measles can kill. It can cause permanent brain damage. It is nothing whatsoever to trifle with.
Contrast that with the defiant cry I have heard so often from parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. “They are my kids,” goes the refrain, “and I can do what I want with them.”
That’s not parenting. That’s ownership, and there is an ocean of difference between the former and the latter.
Rand Paul, when asked about the subject of vaccinations, vomited up the old canard about vaccinations causing “mental disorders.” He went on further to state, “Parents own the children.”
I own a hat. I own a camera. I own this computer in front of me. I do not own my daughter; I raise her, and it is my solemn duty to do so in the most responsible manner possible. Part of that responsibility is making use of every tool available that assists me in the nurturing and creation of a whole person, every tool that helps me to keep her safe, and by proxy, every tool that helps to keep those around her safe. One of the most important tools in that chest is vaccinations.
Given the debate that has suddenly erupted between the Republican presidential hopefuls over this issue, it would be easy to paint this as another example of right-wing anti-science nonsense. The fact of the matter, however, is that rank and dangerous stupidity enjoys bipartisan support; plenty of liberals have swallowed this fetid goop, and put us in peril while standing shoulder to shoulder with the anti-science Tea Partier who believes dinosaurs never existed because they aren’t in the Bible, and wants the government to keep its hands off his Medicare.
Splendid company you’re keeping, folks.
This is quite probably the most brightly-lit example of cognitive dissonance we have seen in years. Cognitive dissonance, for those not in the know, is a phenomenon by which your closely-held belief is challenged by black-letter facts. Rather than encompass those facts and reconsider your provenly-incorrect opinion, those facts motivate you to cling to your wrongness even tighter. This is not intellect; this is ego.
It is my devout hope that this measles outbreak has one positive outcome: Parents who look in the mirror, talk to the doctor, and do the right thing for their children, for my child, and for us all.