This quote is from a letter written in 1988 by Roald Dahl, the beloved children’s author, who wrote many memorable and brilliant stories such as ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘The Witches’. His daughter Olivia passed away from measles complications in 1962 because there was no measles vaccine at the time. Even though he penned this letter to parents around the world nearly thirty years ago, it is still very much as relevant today as it was in 1988.
As you have read in our previous post, the recent measles outbreak in Disneyland, California was a result of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The outbreak is ongoing and continuing to expand. More than 100 cases have now been confirmed in 14 states across the US, with 58 of them being linked to the original outbreak in Disneyland.
If we have not convinced you yet, or you would like some clarification on the topic, here are ten important reasons why you should vaccinate.
The full version of Roald Dahl’s letter will be at the end of this post.
1. Vaccine-preventable diseases still exist in our world today.
The viruses and bacteria that cause illness and death still exist and can be easily passed on to those who are not protected by vaccines. In a time when we can travel across the world in just one day, it’s not hard to see just how easily diseases can travel too.
2. By being vaccinated, you are protected against the disease without ever having to catch it from someone else first.
Vaccines contain the same antigens that cause diseases, but these antigens are either killed or weakened to the point that they cannot cause disease anymore. However, they are strong enough to make the immune system produce antibodies that lead to immunity against that specific disease. Basically, a vaccine is a safer substitute for you or your child’s first exposure to a disease. If you ever do get infected with the REAL pathogen, your previously primed immune system can respond quickly and effectively to prevent any disease occurring.
3. Vaccines are one of the most effective, safe and convenient preventative care measures available.
Scientists, researchers and doctors only approve vaccines to give to humans after a very long and careful review. Vaccines may involve some discomfort and may cause pain, redness, or tenderness at the injection site but this is nothing compared to the pain, discomfort, and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent. Serious side effects following vaccination, such as severe allergic reaction, are extremely rare. Here, the benefits unquestionably outweigh the risks.
4. Immunisations can save your family time and money.
If your child is sick with a vaccine-preventable disease, they can be denied attendance at school or childcare. Sick children can also cause parents to lose time (and money) from work. These diseases have a costly impact, resulting in doctor’s visits, hospitalisations, and premature deaths. Also, some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged complications or disabilities and can be a financial burden because of lost time at work, medical bills or long-term disability care. Therefore, getting vaccinated against these diseases is a good investment. People who have a higher risk of getting infected because of their age, pregnancy, ethnicity or current diseases may be offered free yearly government vaccines. For example, in Western Australia, pregnant women can receive their yearly influenza immunisation for free. Once again, the benefits of vaccination definitely outweigh the costs in the long run.
5. Immunisation helps to protect the health of people who can’t receive vaccines.
This encompasses the concept of ‘Herd Immunity’, which was discussed in our previous post. This includes children who are too young to be vaccinated, people with severe allergies or weakened immune systems (e.g. cancer) and the few people who don’t respond to a particular vaccine. So if you get sick, your children, grandchildren, parents and the community are at risk. Remember that a vaccine-preventable disease that might make you sick for a couple of weeks could be deadly for your loved ones if it spreads to them. For example, adults are the most common source of the serious whooping cough infection in infants, which can be fatal.
6. Immunisations can save your child’s life.
Because of advances in medicine, your child can be protected against more diseases than ever before. Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children have been eliminated completely and others are close to eradication– primarily due to safe and effective vaccines. One example of the great impact that vaccines can have is the global elimination of smallpox and of polio in the United States. Polio was once America’s most-feared disease, as it caused death and paralysis in children. However, thanks to vaccination, today there are no reports of polio in the United States, and incidence is decreasing worldwide.
7. Vaccinations not only help you to avoid a certain disease, they protect you from getting its complications.
This is important for people with weakened immune systems such as the very young or elderly and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease. These people are more likely to develop complications from vaccine-preventable diseases, such as limb amputation, paralysis, hearing loss, convulsions, brain damage, and death. Other complications include reactivation of the disease when your immune system is weak. An example of this is infection with the varicella zoster virus. The first infection, which usually occurs in childhood, causes chicken pox. The virus can lie dormant in the nerves of the body for many years before becoming reactivated due to stress, old age or sickness, causing the painful shingles rash in adulthood.
8. Being vaccinated can prevent you from getting sick overseas.
One of the preventative health measures that all travellers should take is to be immunised against certain diseases before travelling to another country. The World Health Organisation has listed the vaccines that are specifically for travellers:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis E
- Japanese encephalitis
- Meningococcal disease
- Tick-borne encephalitis
- Typhoid fever
- Yellow fever
These vaccines prevent diarrhoeal diseases (cholera, hepatitis) as a result of unhygienic food preparation and mosquito-transmitted diseases (yellow fever), which are prevalent in some developing countries. They may also prevent diseases transmitted by other animals (rabies, tick-borne encephalitis).
Also, in some countries you may be refused entry if you are not vaccinated, or you may be required to have the vaccination at the border. An example of this is the requirement of travellers to be vaccinated against yellow fever before entering yellow fever-endemic countries. Ask your doctor about travel vaccines and check with the embassy or consulate of the countries you are intending to visit. You can also visit The Travel Doctor website to find out what vaccines you need.
9. While some of us take vaccines for granted, people living in developing countries go to great lengths to get vaccinated.
In Australia and other developed countries such as the United States, vaccination is a normal practice that is often taken for granted, as parents question their effectiveness and safety. While these people are hesitant to vaccinate their children, women in developing countries are taking advantage of every opportunity they get to protect their children against disease.
For developing countries, vaccines are expensive and difficult to transport and store. There are not enough health workers to deliver them. We don’t realise how lucky we are to be given the life-saving option of vaccination.
10. By vaccinating yourself and your family, you are contributing to the eradication of vaccine-preventable diseases for future generations.
As you have read in our previous posts, vaccination has reduced, and in some cases, eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. For example, children today don’t need to get smallpox shots anymore because the disease no longer exists in the world. Also, by vaccinating against rubella (German measles), the risk that pregnant women will pass this virus on to their baby has dramatically decreased, and associated birth defects such as deafness and blindness are no longer are seen in developed countries. If we continue vaccinating now, properly and completely, we can protect future generations. Parents in the future will be able to trust that the diseases of today will no longer be around to harm their children.
That concludes our post on ’10 Important Reasons to be Vaccinated’. Thanks for reading! We hope it has helped you to appreciate just how crucial it is to vaccinate. To bring the message home, here is the full version of Roald Dahl’s letter that we promised in the beginning of the post.
Measles: A Dangerous Illness
A letter to parents around the world, published in a pamphlet by the Sandwell Health Authority.
By Roald Dahl, 1988
Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.
It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.
Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.
LET THAT SINK IN.
Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.
So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?
They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.
So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.
The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.
Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more posts on debunking vaccination myths, current programs and future research!
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