By Angie Seth
Each year, Canada is faced with multiple cases of the measles. Last year B.C’s Fraser Valley was front and centre of an outbreak with a huge 433 cases. This year, the numbers are not as high, but Ontario is being faced with a slew of cases, eight so far, that has parents and caregivers very concerned.
So what is measles? It is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus. Symptoms include a fever, cough, runny nose, and a total body skin rash. Anyone with measles is contagious for about five days before the rash appears and for four days after that. It has a 21-day incubation period from the first exposure to the illness. The most contagious period is while the person has a fever, cough and runny nose because the virus is airborne, and a sneeze or cough can spread it very quickly. Those who have not been vaccinated for measles have a 90% chance of getting it if they have been exposed to an infected person. When I refer to those, I mean everyone – infants, children, adults, the elderly. Measles can be fatal, especially to those under the age of five.
The solution? Simply to vaccinate. But it is not as simple as we think. Not everyone chooses to get vaccinated, leaving them susceptible to getting the virus and making others, who have yet to be vaccinated, also at risk – a child cannot be vaccinated until they are a year old. Risk, exposure, potential death are the main concerns – very real concerns expressed by a Pickering, Ontario mother whose infant son, not even a month old, has quite possibly been exposed to measles. At the end of January, Jennifer Hibben-White took her son to a doctor’s office in Markham for a check-up. A week and a half later, she received a call from York Region Public Health informing her that she and her son may have been exposed to measles. Her fear and outrage prompted her to take to social media and write a detailed, very emotional post on Facebook. Here is the link to that post:
Fortunately for Jennifer and her son, he did not develop measles and is safe from infection (until he can get vaccinated). But since the first outbreak here in Ontario this year, the debate over whether to vaccinate or not has resurfaced – parents on both sides arguing for the well-being of their children. But when real exposure becomes an issue, and like in Jennifer Hibben-White’s case, the real fear of potential death for her son (this mother has already lost a child due to another illness not related), the question has to be asked: Why would you not vaccinate?
So I went to the source and posed the question directly to those who are anti-vaccination. Neil Miller, a spokesperson from thinktwice.com says, “Some parents choose not to vaccinate because they had a personal experience that convinced them vaccines are dangerous. Other people have read peer-reviewed studies showing vaccine safety deficits and decided that the risks are greater than the benefits. For example, numerous studies have confirmed a link between vaccinations and cancer. Children who are permitted to contract measles naturally are significantly protected against various cancers later in life. In fact, the wild measles virus has oncolytic (anti-cancer) properties. Tumor remissions after measles infection are well documented in medical literature. Children who are required to be vaccinated against measles have had this anti-cancer protection stripped from them for life. They have been forced to trade a reduced risk of contracting measles, for an increased risk of developing cancer later in childhood or as an adult.”
However Dr. Michael Gardam at the University Health Network, Infectious Disease Centre, warns that there is a very urgent need for measles vaccinations. “Very contagious – one of the most contagious viruses we know of. One person can spread to more than 10 susceptible people just by being in the same room with them. Because it is airborne, they don’t even have to touch them”, he tells me. He also explains that the issue of death when contracting measles is dependent on the individual’s immunity – it is not the end result in every case.
“If they are otherwise healthy, not very (likelihood of death). Although people can get quite sick, the mortality rate in developed countries like Canada is around 1 in 1000.”, says Gardam. “If someone has a weakened immune system then the mortality rate can be considerably higher.”
Miller’s response maintains the stance of anti-vaxxers, urging the vaccination community to stop bullying them with statistics. “Health authorities have done their best to bully and shame non-vaccinators. They have instigated fear and animosity within families that choose to vaccinate, their anger misdirected at non-vaccinators. Everyone’s responsibility is to make the best decisions for their families regardless of what others may think. Both vaccinators and non-vaccinators believe they are doing what is best for their children. However, it should be noted that at least ten different studies have confirmed that parents who choose non-vaccination are significantly more educated than parents who adhere to the recommended vaccination schedule. People who are crying out for all kids to be vaccinated, and for vaccine exemptions to be rescinded, may be next in line. What if you don’t want a new adult vaccine that comes on the market in a few years but you need it to retain your job or healthcare or to go shopping in public places. People, be very careful about what you are demanding for our society!”
But after reading Jennifer Hibben-White’s very detailed Facebook post, as a mother, I have to question them. If one chooses not to vaccinate, should those around them face the same fate whether they want to or not? Many parents would argue they do not want to take the chance of having their kids face exposure because someone decided not to vaccinate. The anti-vaxxers say they rely on the vaccination community to keep everyone safe, but doesn’t safety mean everyone should get vaccinated? In Jennifer Hibben-White’s case, her son would not have to have gone into isolation for 2 weeks had the person who contacted the measles been vaccinated.
In her post she says,
“If you have chosen to not vaccinate yourself or your child, I blame you. I blame you. You have stood on the shoulders of our collective protection for too long. From that high height, we have given you the PRIVILEGE of our protection, for free. And in return, you gave me this week. A week from hell. Wherein I don’t know if my BABY will develop something that has DEATH as a potential outcome.”
She goes on to dispute the fears of those anti-vaxxers with this:
“You think you are protecting them from autism? You aren’t. There is no, none, nada, nothing in science that proves this. If you want to use google instead of science to “prove me wrong” then I am happy to call you an imbecile as well as misinformed. You think you are protecting them through extracts and homeopathy and positive thoughts and Laws of Attraction and dancing by candlelight on a full moon? You aren’t. I PROTECT YOUR CHILD. We protect your child. By being concerned world citizens who care about ourselves, our fellow man, and our most vulnerable. So we vaccinate ourselves and our children.”
Her words are curt, direct, and are those of a mother desperately fighting for her child. The vaccination debate will continue, but what we have to remember is the consequences and decisions on both sides of the coin go far beyond just a needle…prompting the question, should you vaccinate?
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