Many years ago, during a night I shall never forget, I sat helplessly at the bedside of a child who was dying. I was a young pediatric resident doctor, learning that the child’s disease, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (a severe, total destruction of the brain) was untreatable and fatal. The disease is rare, but exists to this day as a complication of measles. A simple and safe immunization against measles would have prevented this tragedy.
The news that at least one case of measles has been confirmed in Oklahoma has created a focus on the national controversy over immunizations — particularly against measles, a disease which had previously been eliminated in the United States. Currently, unimmunized children and adults are susceptible to measles, which is a highly contagious disease.
Along with a rash and fever, measles can cause bronchitis, pneumonia, ulcers and scaring of the corneas of eyes, brain inflammation and a weakened immune system resulting in bacterial infections.
Fortunately, most children who are not immunized and consequently exposed to the measles virus, now increasingly common in our country, do not experience serious complications. However the disease itself is unpleasant and creates many significant symptoms.
There really should not be any controversy about immunizations against measles. The scientific evidence proving the measles vaccine is safe is solid, consistent and backed by numerous well-conducted studies and reviews. However, there are people, some with famous names like Kennedy, who, without any reasonable information or valid science, oppose vaccines and support parental choice. This to me is a shame, because their premise that the vaccine is not safe is not true.
I advise all parents, especially those with infants and young children, to speak with their pediatrician or family doctor about measles and other available vaccines. Also, the Health Department can supply information and access to immunizations. We may hear stories of calamities following immunizations, but these are usually problems appearing close to the time of, but not related to vaccinations. My children, now adults, certainly received all available vaccines. I wish the same child I sat with many years ago had experienced the same safeguarding vaccines.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the national organization for physicians board certified in pediatrics, strongly recommends and supports childhood immunizations. Having had the honor to serve as president of the AAP a few years ago, I can assure everyone that the organization’s unwavering support for vaccines is based on careful and consistent review of vaccines and the continuing scientific verification of their safety. As our country, and now again in 2019 our state, is confronting the threats associated with vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, I urge everyone to know the truth and protect their children by complying with the national standards for immunization against measles and other diseases, which can be devastating.