The Forum recently printed a letter to the titled, “Hysteria over measles outbreak is ridiculous.” I don’t know who the author is, or his professional background, but I will tell you mine: I am a public health professional. I have a bachelor’s in chemistry, and a master of public health in infectious disease management. In my career, I educate healthcare providers about vaccines, their safety, their effectiveness, and the diseases they prevent.
In his letter, the author provides a great example of a logical error known as “survival bias.” Yes, of course anyone alive today who can remember suffering from diseases that are now vaccine-preventable can say, “I got this, and it didn’t kill me.” If you are among the 1 in 500 people that dies from measles, you wouldn’t be alive today to tell people you think it is a benign disease (CDC 2015). Putting deadly in quotes is a cruel insult to the 110,000 people worldwide who died of measles in 2017 (WHO 2018).
There are plenty of people alive today, however, who don’t spurn vaccines, because they do remember the consequences of these diseases. My own mother-in-law suffered hearing loss from mumps, and repeated ear infections from bacteria that are now vaccine-preventable. My mother, a CRNA who worked as a critical care nurse in the early 1980s, is still haunted by memories of children suffocating to death on their own epiglottis, due to infection from Haemophilius influenzae B. By the time these women raised their own children, mumps and measles were totally preventable, and by the time their grandchildren were born, every one of these diseases, along with the lost nights of sleep wondering whether an ER trip was necessary, were a memory.
Because of vaccines, many parents my age haven’t seen these diseases, or study them as I do, so they don’t know what we are preventing. We, who have the good fortune of raising our children in the vaccine era, now expect our children to live past childhood. Concern that they would become sick and die from a vaccine-preventable disease is anything but ridiculous.