Dear vaccine opponents:

I wonder whether the reason so many young parents are refusing to vaccinate their children is that they themselves have never had measles, mumps, chickenpox, or rubella — especially measles. They were born so long after these vaccines were developed and widely used that they have no idea what it feels like to be sick with these diseases or to watch a child suffer their ravages. These “usual childhood illnesses,” as we used to call them in medicine, are no longer usual. To some young parents of today they are an abstraction.

Let me tell you what it’s like to have measles. I came down with measles when I was about 10 years old, in the mid-1950s. I had never been as sick before then, and have never been so sick since. I was sent home from school one morning with a fever, a sore throat, and nausea, an infection which by that evening had rendered a normally healthy little girl into a weeping child with a temperature of 104.5, vomiting, and a throat so sore she couldn’t swallow. My pediatrician came to the house the next day (yes, a house call!) and diagnosed measles based on the above symptoms and the prevalence of the illness at that time in our area. The diagnosis was further confirmed by the “Koplik spots” I had in my throat and mouth and the rash that emerged a couple of days later.

I remember that I was seriously ill and, for many days, barely able to get out of bed. Of course there was no attending school or spending time with my little brother — for more than two weeks. I have hazy memories of taking aspirin and of my parents packing my feverish body in cool towels to try to bring my temperature down. I remember the rash, the irritability. As Dr. Paul Offit remarked about measles in an L.A. Times article Jan. 26, “there’s a miserableness quotient.” Regaining my strength took weeks; I wasn’t well even after the acute illness was over.

I also had an interesting case of giant hives all over my body soon after I recovered — an allergic reaction to something random that I had eaten. Apparently there is a period of increased vulnerability to allergies, even transient ones, following measles.

I was fortunate. Some children developed measles encephalitis followed by permanent brain injury or death. And many got pneumonia, the most common cause of death in young children.

Modern medicine had eliminated this potentially devastating infectious disease by the year 2000 when, thanks to the MMR vaccine, the disease was no longer native to the United States. And now, 15 years later, we are in the middle of a serious and completely unnecessary outbreak. The U.S. is at risk again. Why? Because of pockets of unvaccinated people (cdc.gov).

Please do not be the mother or father who buys into urban myth and pseudoscience when hard, actual science has shown that immunizations on the schedule approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) do not cause autism and do not overwhelm a baby’s immune system. Please don’t think your child is more special than my grandchildren or your neighbors’ children who do get vaccinated. Please educate yourselves, be responsible to your children and your community, and contribute to the “herd immunity” that we all must strive for again. I’m sure you would not need further convincing if you saw a child suffering with measles.

Margo Herman Ciesla, RN, MN, PMHNP
Nurse Practitioner, Pacific Palisades

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