Not So Marvelous Measles and Other Tragic Tales
Jan 10, 2013

childreadingMy eleven year old daughter has a wonderfully imaginative sense of humor and loves telling fancy tales. This may explain why one of her favorite authors is Roald Dahl.  Just the other day she was introducing her younger sister to one of his books and we were taking turns reading to one another. Perhaps this is why I was so touched and angered by two different stories I heard yesterday.
The first story was by Roald Dahl.  Unfortunately, this story wasn’t humorous or even something he created out of his wild imagination. Sadly, it was the story of how his daughter suffered and died as a result of measles.  I had heard the story before but yesterday, after reading the story in this link from the Encephalitis Society, I stopped to appreciate my precious children, and the time we get to cuddle up and read together.  The story appeared as follows:
MEASLES: A dangerous illness by ROALD DAHL (1986)

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.
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.

While one can conclude that losing his daughter to measles is what prompted Roald Dahl to speak out in support of vaccination, I was baffled to discover yet another story being told about measles –  only this one came from a parent who believes that “measles is marvelous”.  Sad, but true, Stephanie Messenger self-published a book entitled ‘Melanie’s Marvelous Measles’, in an apparent attempt to mock the efforts of people like Roald Dahl (and his book entitled ‘George’s Marvelous Medicine’).  While in Roald Dahl’s books the reader is often entertained by alliteration and similes, I’m concerned that Messenger’s book, motivated by the death of her son, is a hazardous suggestion to parents that may ultimately result in further and unnecessary suffering.
The idea of promoting childhood illness seems to epitomize the growing attitudes of many dangerously mislead parents.  It’s not enough for them to enjoy their freedoms by choosing not to vaccinate their children.  No.  For some reason they feel they must validate their own misguided opinions.  They do they best to spreading untruths and make unsubstantiated claims in hopes that their efforts will encourage others to question immunizations and instead encourage diseases known to cause death.
It’s clear that immunizations try to create a community immunity that not only protects the individual, but is also intended to help protect those too young or medically unable to be immunized.  I’ve reconciled with the fact that there will always be some people who choose not to vaccinate.  While there may not be much we can do to change their minds, it saddens me that parents like Messenger continue to declare that getting measles is good and getting vaccinated is bad.  It’s scary to think that parents will read this book and share it with their children, perpetuating these ideas for future generations to come.
As a regular contributor to this blog I know that many people wake up each day with a goal to convince others that vaccines are unsafe and unnecessary.  Yet, I still can’t help but wonder how any parent could honestly believe that having your child suffer with a disease that is known to be deadly could ever be a good thing.  Even if you’re not a big fan of immunizations.
To me, it’s like rolling the dice.  Playing Russian roulette.  Betting on a perfect immune system and not realizing that there are no second chances.  
I’m just not willing to gamble with my child’s health and I only wish all parents would see it that way – not to validate my own scientific beliefs, but to prevent children from suffering and to spare parents like Roald Dahl from having to live with the pain of losing a child.
Tonight I intend to cuddle up and read another Roald Dahl book with my children.  You can bet that I will make sure they read the dedication page and I will share Olivia’s story. They are going to need to be prepared to deal with Messenger’s children someday.   

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